Turn back the clock, not to the first meeting between the Steelers and Dolphins this season, but to December 30, 1979. Miami fans may remember it more as Larry Csonka’s final game. The “Steel Curtain” defense held the future Hall of Famer to 20-yards rushing in the Dolphins’ Divisional Playoff loss at Three Rivers Stadium.
This Sunday at Heinz Field the Pittsburgh defense will once again keep their primary focus on shutting down the featured running back in aqua and orange.
But how well did it work out for them in their previous meeting back in Week 6, when Jay Ajayi held a coming out party at their expense to the tune of over 200-yards rushing and two touchdowns.
“There’s tangible evidence we need to respect this preparation process and have an understanding what occurred the last time we played these guys was not a lightning strike,” said Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
Ajayi once again could serve as the jolt to the Steelers system if he can get a big push up front. His punishing style, mixed with Adam Gase’s admittance that has to keep feeding Ajayi the ball in the fourth quarter could take out the clock and the crowd.
MOORE SEASONED or MOORE-TUARY?
With Ryan Tannehill ruled out, 9-year veteran QB Matt Moore will get his first crack at playoff action. “This is my second time being apart of a team to ever gone to the playoffs (3rd string with Carolina), I’m excited,” said Moore.
But how overly excited will he be? Moore has proven he can lead the offense with eight touchdowns in his three relief starts. But if the excitement leads to poor decisions like the three interceptions in as many starts, could mean the turning point in a one and done game.
“Statistics don’t really matter at the end of the day, turnover margin is really the key,” said Gase.
You can use any synonym you like, but cold is how the conditions will be Sunday. Pittsburgh finished in the Top 10 in the regular season in giving up 20.4 points per game. Which just happens to be right on the mark of the Dolphins 20-point average on the road.
But in the playoffs, scores, nerves and defenses tighten up. Don’t expect a shootout, especially in the 20-degree cold. Both teams will look to pound the rock behind their Pro-Bowl caliber running backs.
Defensively, you can expect Steelers’ Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler to blitz Moore unmercifully, but keep in mind, Moore has only been sacked once in three starts.
GONE FISHING OR SWIMMING ON?
We all know Miami wasn’t expected to be in the playoffs, not with a rookie head coach and not after a 1-4 start to the season. This won’t be the same Steelers team or game plan we saw in Week 6 and it’s not the same “Phins” team with Moore running the offense.
And while you could say the injuries to key players are killing Miami’s chances of advancing, don’t rule out another Gase genius planning performance. And do you really think Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph wants a “One and Done” to put on his resume when he interviews for head coaching jobs?
Miami 17-14 over Pittsburgh (Calling for their first Playoff win since 2000)
Dolphins grabbing RB Frank Gore looking smarter and smarter
The Dolphins were right about Frank Gore.
And the risk they took in signing the 35 year-old as a free agent in March and making him a prominent part of their run game, paid off in their dramatic 31 – 28 win over the Chicago Bears in overtime Sunday.
Gore gouged the Bears for 101 yards on 15 carries and ran stronger and harder as the game wore into the extra session.
His 32 yard run help set up the potential winning touchdown, only to have fellow running back Kenyan Drake cough up the fumble at the goal line to keep the Bears alive.
Still, when Chicago missed their field goal and the Dolphins had new life, Gore was again out there pounding on the Bears defense, as Miami eventually lined up and kicked the game winning field goal with rookie Jason Sanders.
The Colts elected not to resign the the 14-year veteran this past March. And, Gore’s desire to come back home, where he grew up and starred for the Hurricanes made the marriage with the Fins a natural one.
Still, the Dolphins could have elected to go get another back in free agency, but did not. They did draft Arizona State Kalen Ballage in the fourth round and have hopes that he will mature into an every-down back.
For now, Gore is not only a mentor to Drake and sharing the load, but he actually delivered when the Dolphins were desperate and Drake’s confidence was shaken.
Gore was limping at the end of overtime after taking a shot on one of his runs late, and who knows how much more he can give Miami as this season wears on at 35 years of age?
However, you cannot disagree that the Dolphins took a calculated risk and it’s already paying off to have Frank Gore in their backfield.
As the saying goes, there’s no substitute for experience, and Miami’s backfield has it with #21.
Dolphins continue trend of winning wild home games
Say this for Dolphin fans buying tickets at Hard Rock Stadium: they have gotten their money’s worth and then some, on crazy plays and drama. Oh, and Sunday was no exception, as Miami needed every second of five periods to triumph 31-28.
By the time rookie kicker Jason Sanders (above) booted through his game winning field goal, as time expired in overtime, it had to feel more like Fins fans had been on a three hour roller coaster ride against the Bears Sunday.
After all, Miami controlled the first half and led Chicago 7-0 at the break. This after the Bears in their last game, two weeks ago against the Bucs, set a franchise reord with 38 first half points in a blowout win.
However, in the third quarter Chicago capitalized on backup QB Brock Osweiler’s interceptions and scored three touchdowns-all in less than two minutes off the clock each time.
You couldn’t blame fans for thinking “here we go again” as Miami was staring at a third straight bad loss.
Still, the Fins dealt with a circus 7 hour twice weather delayed game with the Titans that opened the season with a victory. Then two weeks later, beat the Raiders with plays that included a flipped “jet sweep” TD to speedy Jakeem Grant and eventually, a clinching score from Albert Wilson for a long catch and run TD.
Sunday was “Deja Vu” for Wilson and the big play: a replica catch and run by Wilson that tied the game late:
ALBERT WILSON AGAIN!
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/dYSNqbdHs5
— NFL (@NFL) October 14, 2018
75 yards on the scamper by Wilson tied the game and set into motion a wild “bonus period” of football, too.
A period that had the dramatic low of Kenyan Drake fumbling on the one yard line going in for the game winning TD-only to have Chicago recover and move into winning field goal range.
Only, wouldn’t you know it, former Dolphins kicker Cody Parkey, who left for the Windy City and big bucks, misfired wide right for the win to give Miami life, again.
Drake redeemed himself, along with Osweiler, with a 15 yard catch and run of his own into Bears territory to set up Sanders winning boot. And once it went through, the third year back went to his knees and then face on the ground with tears in his eyes, relieved that Miami had won 31-28.
Kenyan Drake fumbled on the goal line, forcing overtime.
After his team rallied back to win, he couldn’t hold back the emotions. pic.twitter.com/IY1oMy723V
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 14, 2018
It hasn’t been pretty in all cases, but it also hasn’t been boring.
And Fins fans can’t complain about being 4-2 at this stage, when they won only six games all last year. Most of all, when Miami plays at home, big plays and wild endings have been the norm.
And if you stay until the end, you are rewarded.
Gameday- Suddenly struggling Dolphins host Bears
What: Dolphins (3-2) vs. Bears (3-1)
When: Sunday 1 p.m.
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens
Spread: Bears by 4 points (Courtesy Vegasinsider.com)
Can the Dolphins, who were once 3-0, stop their sudden slide of two awful road losses? Will the Bears, off their bye week, be ready to deal them another defeat? Here’s what we are watching:
Is there a psychological crisis in Miami?
The Dolphins responded off of their blowout loss in New England playing good football for two and a half quarters in Cincinnati last week. However, leading 17 – 0, Miami proceeded to melt down, including giving up too easy defensive scores deep in their own territory as part of a Bengals 27-17 win.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was under duress, had two of those giveaways get returned for the scores, and has to take better care of the ball in this match-up with the Bears.
And there is now doubt as to whether he can make the throws or complete the game:
And if Ryan Tannehill cannot start against Chicago due to a right shoulder injury, Brock Osweiler would start against the Bears…. https://t.co/sqP39xX2Eg
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 14, 2018
Osweiler has started 25 games previously in Houston and Denver (seven last year) over the last three seasons. It will also be interesting to see if David Fales or rookie Luke Falk will the be the active “third QB” today in this scenario.
Will Trubisky continue his roll?
When last we saw Chicago second-year quarterback, he was torching the Tampa Bay secondary for five first-half touchdown passes and six of them overall in a 45 – 10 victory
The Bears, have had the week off, have good weapons in the backfield in running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, but it’s trubisky play that will help them sustain some drives.
Trubisky has to stay away from turnovers, as well. The Dolphins secondary has more interceptions than any other unit in the NFL.
Get Khalil Mack blocked
It seems simple enough, yet through the first four games of the Season, no one has been able to get in front of the All-Pro pass-rusher acquired from the Raiders on the eve of the season.
Mack has five sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown in his first four games for Chicago. There was good news late in the week for the Dolphins when left tackle Laremy Tunsil cleared concussion protocol and will be able to block Mac some one-on-one when he lines up on right defensive end.
That will be a match-up to zero in on as the game unfolds.
The rest of the time? You might have to have two or three people try to engage Mack, but you’ve got to contain him or it will be a tough day for the offense.
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