Who Needs Aaron Smith? Banged-up Pittsburgh Steelers Defeat Miami Dolphins
The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of Miami with a 23-22 win over the Dolphins but suffered several losses on the field.
LaMarr Woodley, Aaron Smith and Flozell Adams all left Sunday’s game with injuries, with Smith’s being the most significant. It is believed that Smith has a torn biceps muscle and he could miss the rest of the season.
Adams left the game with an ankle injury and Woodley with a hamstring. Both are less severe.
As the injuries mounted, so did the drama as Pittsburgh struggled to muster out a one-point win.
The win was not without controversy, either.
Instant replay overturned a last-minute touchdown by Ben Roethlisberger, who fumbled the ball just before crossing the plane of the goal line. However, the same replay did not determine who came up with the ball, allowing the Steelers to maintain possession.
This lead to the eventual game-winning field goal by Jeff Reed.
Though the Steelers did not want to win this way, they will take it and head to New Orleans with a 5-1 record.
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Ben Roethlisberger had to shoulder much of the load against Miami, given the lack of a running game.
Roethlisberger completed 19 of 27 passes to seven different receivers for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh was able to exploit the Dolphins defense deep for both touchdowns.
Though key in the win, Roethlisberger also nearly fumbled the game away. He was credited with a total of three fumbles.
On the first Roethlisberger was trying to make an ill-advised play while being sacked, leading to a Dolphins field goal. The second one came when Roethlisberger was trying to fight off the defenders.
The final fumble nearly cost Pittsburgh the game.
On a designed quarterback draw from the shotgun, Roethlisberger nearly found his way to the end zone before a defender knocked the ball loose right before the ball crossed the goal line.
Luckily for the Steelers, the referee awarded them with possession, which ended with Jeff Reed kicking the game-winning field goal.
Despite the fumbling problems, without Roethlisberger’s play, Pittsburgh would have suffered their second loss of the season.
Season GPA: 2.40
Running Back: B
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Rashard Mendenhall had a good first half, averaging just over four yards per carry but was completely shut down in the second half. Miami’s defense clamped down on Pittsburgh’s running game, holding Mendenhall to 37 yards on 15 carries.
Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman were also held in check as Pittsburgh could not establish control of the line of scrimmage. Moore only had 11 yards on four carries, and Redman nine yards on three carries.
Pittsburgh was only able to pick up two of their 15 first downs on the ground.
However the backs did contribute in the passing game, catching five passes for 54 yards.
Moore led the way with four receptions for 48 yards, including a big 29-yard reception on a third down that set up the Steelers' game-winning score.
Season GPA: 3.28
Wide Receivers: A
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Hines Ward had another classic touchdown, battling through three defenders to get into the end zone on a 21-yard catch-and-run early in the second quarter.
It was just one of seven receptions for Ward, who finished with 131 yards, including a 43-yard reception.
Mike Wallace had two receptions for 53 yards, with the big play coming on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger that hit him in stride.
The impressive aspect of the play was that Dolphins cornerback Jason Allen began accelerating downfield at least seven yards ahead of Wallace in hopes of not allowing a big play. Wallace was just too fast in catching his fourth touchdown of the season.
Antwaan Randle El and Emmanuel Sanders added one reception each, with Sanders being on yet another third-down conversion.
Season GPA: 3.40
Tight Ends: A-
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Heath Miller was a little more involved in the offense with three catches on the day for 33 yards, with a possible fourth getting called back because of a penalty.
Roethlisberger targeted Matt Spaeth as well, but he was unable to reel in the pass.
The tight ends were required to stay in to help block a good pass rush by the Dolphins; otherwise they may have been more involved in the passing attack.
Still, Miller made the most of his opportunities and the look to Spaeth will at least give future opponents something else to consider when defending inside of the red zone.
Season GPA: 3.23
Offensive Line: C-
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The Steelers offensive line took a big hit when Flozell Adams went out after having a defender fall on his ankle.
Almost immediately the rush offense began to falter as Miami was able to penetrate and hit Mendenhall in the backfield.
It was overall one of the worst offensive line performances of the year.
Roethlisberger had to rush throws and was sacked three times, two resulting in fumbles, and the ground game only had 58 total yards for a putrid 2.1 yards-per-carry average.
Beyond the poor blocking, Doug Legursky took two costly holding penalties.
Pittsburgh will need Adams to return so its running game can regain form next week, because a repeat performance will not be enough against New Orleans.
Season GPA: 2.68
Defensive Line: B-
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Though the Dolphins only gained 64 yards at a rate of 3.0 yards per carry, Ricky Williams turned it on after Aaron Smith went out with a triceps injury, rushing for 48 yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
As we have seen in the past, the Steelers rush defense—and the defense as a whole—struggles when Smith is out of the lineup.
If Smith is indeed out for the season, Pittsburgh will need its backups to play at a higher level.
Already without teammate Brett Keisel, Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood had to play a significant number of snaps in the hot and humid Miami weather.
Beyond Eason, Hood and Casey Hampton, Chris Hoke was the only other defensive lineman healthy at the end of the game.
Spending much of the game rushing only three or four, Pittsburgh’s defensive line look tired and was not able to get any penetration on Miami, giving Chad Henne plenty of time to pick apart the Steelers secondary.
Season GPA: 3.52
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The linebackers were not asked to rush the passer much Sunday and instead spent much of their time dropping back into coverage.
At the end of the day, Larry Foote, of all defenders, was the lone Steelers player to sack Henne.
LaMarr Woodley, who was having a strong game, left early with a tweaked hamstring, leaving Lawrence Timmons to shift to the outside and giving rookie Jason Worilds time in the base defense.
Before leaving, Woodley was playing strong against the run and helped force a fumble that was recovered by James Farrior.
Worilds asserted himself well, applying pressure on Henne three times, including hitting Henne on a fourth-down play and causing a poor pass that was intercepted by James Harrison.
Speaking of Harrison, he was held in check after dominating opponents for much of the season.
Though their stats will not show much, the linebackers did not play poorly; they were just not as aggressive as usual. Expect things to get back to normal next week against Drew Brees.
Season GPA: 3.12
Defensive Backs: C
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Brandon Marshall was held in check with only five receptions, while Davone Bess stepped up with six catches and had a touchdown.
For the day, Chad Henne had plenty of success when given time against the Steelers defense. Henne finished 23-of-36 passing for 257 yards, including one point completing 11 straight passes.
Pittsburgh’s pass defense picked up right where they left off last week when Colt McCoy had success.
With Drew Brees and Tom Brady coming up in the next few weeks, the Steelers will have to figure out how to better shut down the pass.
Teams cannot run against Pittsburgh’s defense, but if they are able to successfully throw the ball as Miami did, the Steelers will struggle to win the tight games.
A highlight from the secondary was when Bryant McFadden teamed up with Woodley to force a fumble.
Season GPA: 2.60
Special Teams: A-
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Jeff Reed looked more like his normal self, connecting on all three of his field goal attempts, including the game-deciding 19-yard field goal with 2:26 to go in the game.
He also added to his touchback total and helping the coverage units hold the Dolphins to only 18 yards per return.
Daniel Sepulveda had another strong day with one punt inside of the 20 while averaging 47.3 yards per punt. Bess averaged 13.5 yards per return for the Dolphins.
This is a vast contrast to the Steelers punt-return unit, where Randle El only picked up two yards on two returns. Even a fake reverse could not help them get anything on punt returns.
The kick return game was a different story.
Emmanuel Sanders twice gave the Steelers great field position, averaging an impressive 28.8 yards per return on five returns with a long of 48 yards.
It may be time to give Sanders a look as a punt returner as well.
The lone downside to the special teams units was the opening kickoff fumble by Sanders that led to a Dolphins field goal.
Season GPA: 2.99
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It is hard to argue against a coach when the Steelers go on the road to face a tough opponent and pull out a close win, but there were several questionable calls on both sides of the ball that could have given the Steelers an easier time.
The offense became predictable running the ball on first down and will need to continue to mix things up.
However, the worst call of the day was a reverse right before the half after the Steelers were driving on Roethlisberger’s arm.
Coordinator Bruce Arians called a reverse in which Moore was suppose to hand off to Wallace. The Dolphins read it and tackled Moore for a big loss. It was yet another failed reverse attempt.
Roethlisberger was sacked on the next play, pushing the Steelers out of field goal range.
In a rather surprising move, Mike Tomlin did not call a timeout after the sack to allow Reed to attempt a long field goal with the wind at his back right before the half.
Defensively the Steelers sat back virtually the entire game, sending only three or four men at Henne.
When Henne was pressured, he struggled getting the ball to his receivers. Why the Steelers did not pressure him more is a mystery.
Coordinator Dick LeBeau called a rather conservative game, then had to work short-handed without Woodley and Smith.
To the coaching staff’s credit, Pittsburgh did come out with a win while losing three starters, but it did not have to be that close.
Season GPA: 2.78
Study Up: What Must Improve
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Priority No. 1 for the Steelers will be to add defensive line depth following the loss of Aaron Smith.
Steve McClendon will most certainly be an addition, but they may also look to sign of their recent defensive line draft picks, whether it is Sunny Harris or Doug Worthington.
Getting Keisel and Woodley back on the field will be important, as without these two in addition to Smith is a huge hit to Pittsburgh’s run defense.
In game-planning for the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh will have to find a way to pressure the quarterback, as that was non-existent Sunday.
Pittsburgh will also need to improve its pass defense if it wants to slow down one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Drew Brees.
Offensively, the Steelers will need to get the ground game back in gear so they do not have to rely solely on the pass. Roethlisberger is more than capable of winning games with his arm, but the Steelers are at their best when they can offer a balanced attack.
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