The Miami Dolphins are 6-6 and currently tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC's sixth and final wild-card spot. Ryan Tannehill and company will travel to Heinz Field on Sunday for a crucial matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dolphins could essentially eliminate the Steelers from playoff contention with a win, which should provide extra motivation for both squads in today's contest.
Miami hasn't won in Pittsburgh since 1990. That has to change if the Dolphins want to stay in serious playoff contention. Here are five keys to victory over the Steelers.
1. Contain Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben could be the best quarterback in the league when it comes to extending plays. His size, strength and vision provide a unique challenge for opposing defenses. Cameron Wake and the rest of the Dolphins defensive line will have to stay aggressive and display flawless tackling to keep Roethlisberger from escaping the pocket.
I would expect a good mix of linebacker blitzes and multiple looks from the defense in an attempt to confuse Roethlisberger and the Steelers offensive line. The Dolphins secondary has allowed just one touchdown reception by a wide receiver this season. Pittsburgh's receivers have 19 touchdown receptions this season, so the Miami secondary will need to be at its absolute best.
2. Build Off of Last Week
The Dolphins had a season-high 453 yards of offense in last week's game with the Jets. For the Dolphins passing game to excel, the running game must make an impact. Tannehill has played well over the last two games; he has made quick reads and improved his accuracy, and that needs to continue today.
A balanced attack can be a quarterback's best friend. Lamar Miller and Mike Gillislee need to duplicate their performance from the Jets game in order for Miami to succeed against the Steelers. A solid performance on the ground can open things up through the air.
3. Get Mike Wallace Involved Early and Often
Wallace is making his first trip to Heinz Field since leaving the Steelers last season. This should make the downfield competition a bit more interesting. Wallace will have extra motivation to perform well against his old squad, and the Steelers' secondary will want to prove that the organization was right to let Wallace walk after last season.
Wallace downplayed the situation earlier this week. When asked about playing his old team, Wallace told the AP (via CBS):
It’s going to be exciting but I don’t want to get caught up in too much hype about a personal battle with these guys, because it’s not really about that. It’s about moving forward. These guys stand in the way of our playoff hopes. They’re another team in the way that has to go down.
Miami fans have to like seeing Wallace take a business approach to this game. Over the last two games, Wallace has totaled 12 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Wallace is far too important for Miami to not utilize early and often.
4. Improved Performance from Caleb Sturgis
Miami's rookie kicker has been anything but consistent this season. Sturgis has connected on just 13 of his last 20 kicks after starting the season 10-for-10.
The conditions for the game will be less than ideal for any kicker. Cold and windy conditions combined with an intense crowd could make things difficult for Sturgis. It is crucial that he return to his early-season form and start consistently making field goals.
Points have been at a premium for the Dolphins, and they have left far too many on the field. The Dolphins offense simply does not score enough points for them to have empty possessions. A Sturgis field goal could very well be the difference in this contest.
5. Handle the Environment
Heinz Field is as difficult a place to get a victory as any in the league. Miami has never won at Heinz Field and hasn't won in Pittsburgh since 1990. With a winter storm currently marching through the U.S., weather conditions in Pittsburgh will be nightmarish for the squad from South Florida.
The forecast in Pittsburgh calls for temperatures in the 20s and a 50 percent chance of snow. That's just another day at the office for Pittsburgh; quite the contrary for Miami. How the Dolphins adjust to the weather will certainly play a role in this critical AFC showdown.
Pittsburgh's fans are some of the most passionate in the league and like to make each play difficult for the opposing offense. A fast start by Miami could take the crowd out of the game early and negate some of the home-field advantage Pittsburgh has.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com