Know Thy Enemy: Miami Dolphins

Time to get back to football or strenuous two-handed touch as the Lords of the NFL seem intent on making it…

After a league record 10 win improvement in 2008, the Miami Dolphins figured to take a step back last year and they did not disappoint anyone but their fifteen diehard fans in south Florida.  The Fins started 0-3, rallied to 7-6, then lost their last three games to finish the season below .500.  The drop-off really was inevitable as so often happens in the NFL, the Dolphins went from having one of the best turnover ratios in the league (+17) to one of the worst (-8).  One of the main reasons the Saints are struggling this season is their abnormally high turnover ratio from last year has baselined in 2010.   Miami’s sitting at a -3 so far this year despite boasting a solid 3-2 record, highlighted by impressive road wins over the Packers and Vikings.

STEELERS DEFENSE vs. DOLPHINS OFFENSE

Last year, Miami ranked fourth in the league in rushing at 139 yards per game but thanks to a poor passing game they were only 20th in total yardage.   To remedy this problem, the went out and got one of the most explosive wide receivers in the game, Brandon Marshall.   Marshall’s presence has elevated the team’s overall offensive output to 12th in the league, although they’ve had problems finishing drives as they rank only 24th in points.

Success on offense will depend heavily on the continued development of QB Chad Henne.  He was expected to improve drastically on his 12/14 TD-INT ratio of last year but is off to a disappointing 7/5 start.   This is only his second full season as starter so growing pains are to be expected.   However, with the wealth of talent around him, he has the luxury of letting others win games for him rather than trying to shoulder that responsibility himself.

Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown make up arguably the finest one-two punch in the NFL.  They split carries pretty evenly although Brown holds the edge in yardage 299 to 240.    At 33, Williams is still a solid runner although the explosive Brown is more of a big play threat.  Brown is also adept at running out of the Wildcat formation, which Miami likes to use on occasion.

The Steelers will be missing Bret Keisel, who did not practice this week due to a hamstring injury.  As we saw on his Pick-Six against Tampa, the Diesel is nothing without his blazing speed.  Nick Eason replaced him against the Browns and even ended up with a half sack.  I expect Ziggy Hood to also get some playing time since the former #1 draft pick seems to be languishing on the bench.  When’s this guy gonna do something?

It’s an interesting match-up because the Steelers have been absolutely dominant against the run, surrendering a minuscule 64 yards per game.  However, they’ve fallen into the bottom third of the league in pass defense.  Granted, the stats are skewed because a) teams quickly realize running is a lost cause so they pass more and b) two games have been blowouts where the other team accumulated a bunch of garbage time yardage.   Still, the Fins have some decent receivers with Marshall, Brian Hartline, and up-and-coming Davone Bess so the secondary will be tested.

STEELERS OFFENSE vs. MIAMI DEFENSE

Miami boasts a top-ten ranked defense although they measure that by yardage which ignores the fact they’re surrendering well over 20 points per game.  And that average is helped by games against the putrid Bills and inept Vikings.  The Patriots dropped 41 on them a few weeks back and Mark Sanchez put up crooky number (31) as well.

The Fish have retooled their defense by getting rid of veterans Joey Porter and Jason Taylor and bringing in former Cardinals star Karlos Dansby.  First round pick DE Jared Odrick broke his leg week one and is out for the season.  However, fellow rookie Koa Misi is having a solid season at OLB.   Misi plays opposite Cameron Wake, a budding superstar out of Linebacker U, who has already notched six sacks this season.

The Dolphins don’t appear particularly bad in any single area, giving up a little over 200 yards/game through the air and a smidge over 100 yards/game on the ground.  So I expect the Steelers to mix it up and go with what works.  As I noted in my game recap, the pass/run ratio last week was ideal.  Rashard Mendenhall is quickly moving into discussions of best backs in the league so ignoring him in favor of chucking 30+ passes per game would be foolish.  Of course, I’ve learned to never underestimate Bruce Arians ability to be stupid.   Hopefully, he’s finally learned that a big play offense is more about the quality of plays you make rather than the number of times you throw.

Speaking of the running game, Trai Essex continues to nurse an ankle sprain so Doug Legursky is expected to take his place.   Legursky was injured last week and replaced by Ramon Foster.   Personally, I don’t understand why the Steelers don’t like Foster as he seems to be a monster at run blocking.   The O-line didn’t surrender any sacks last week and have only allowed 9 total thus far which is a huge improvement over prior years.  As mentioned, the Fins have some guys who can get after the QB so this week will be an interesting test for them.

Ben Roethlisberger nudged the Steelers’ last place passing game up to 28th this week.   I expect it to continue to rise as Ben gets more in synch with his receivers.  Yes, despite his veteran status, Ben did leave a few plays on the field which I fully expect won’t be the case as time goes on.

This group of wideouts, Mike Wallace in particular, continue to impress me with their ability to get open all over the field.  I don’t know if teams aren’t giving Wallace the respect or they just aren’t familiar with him or what but he can’t be covered.  We’re five games into the season and he continues to get wide open on a regular basis.  Now that we have a QB who can get him the ball, I expect more big plays from this big play threat.

The Black and Gold look to go undefeated in Florida this season in front of Dolphins minority owner Marc Anthony and his wife Jennifer Lopez.  Will Jenny from the block be in for a bad day thanks to the boys from the Steel City?  Very likely.   With the  hardest part of their schedule on the horizon, this is the type of  very winnable game the Steelers would be well-served to pick up because those victories may prove the difference down the line.

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