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 coach Flores already dealing with lots of 2020 changes
For almost every NFL team not named the 49ers and the Chiefs, the draft evaluation process is now well underway, and most all teams are represented now in Mobile, Alabama for this weekend’s Senior Bowl. That includes, the Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and his staff (some of them brand new), who are taking it all in.
And on Monday night, Flores met with the Dolphins assembled media and beat writers about the changes that have already taken place within his coaching staff and how it will shape this offseason.
First, Flores took the drastic action of firing first-year offensive coordinator, Chad O’Shea, whom he had brought with him from the Patriots this past season. Part of that decision was based on Miami’s poor play offensively, but a bigger part is the person that Flores could bring in to run his offense.
That’s former Cowboys and bills head coach and longtime NFL offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey.
As we wrote when these moves were made earlier this month, Gailey has a long-standing relationship with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Gailey was his head coach in Buffalo and also his offensive coordinator with the Jets, photo above,. It also further signals the Fitzpatrick apparently will be heavily involved in the 2020 offensive plans.
Speaking to the media and with the quotes being relayed via Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post, Flores emphasized that Gailey’s in-game adjustments and his ability to teach is what appealed to hiring him,
“He does a really good job of adjustments in-game,” Flores said. “If you’re playing cover one, he’s got cover-one beaters, if you’re playing zone, he’s got zone-beaters. If you’re diamond front he’s got his diamond runs. He’s a good coach that way. I think he’s seen a lot of football.”
“I know he’s a great teacher,” Flores said. “Just in my conversations with several players and coaches that have spent time with him, and that’s obviously very important. The first thing I should have said is that.”
Flores also is dealing with having lost defensive coordinator, Patrick Graham, whom he allowed to take the same job with the New York Giants. Instead of going outside for his replacement hire, Flores instead promoted from in-house with defensive backs coach Josh Boyer getting the promotion and much more responsibility.
As for Boyer, Flores said Monday night from Mobile,
“He and I see things through the same lenses,” Flores said. “A lot of ways. He coached corners and I coached safeties and we spent a lot of time together. Defensive philosophies and fundamentals and techniques, the things we teach. We’re very much on the same page.”
Defense is obviously Flores’ specialty and Boyer is following his same path from when they were with the Pats. This, as Flores ascended from DB coach to defensive coordinator two seasons ago before getting the Dolphins job.
Miami will obviously have to remake their roster with numerous premium draft picks they acquired for this year and next year, plus, significant money under the salary cap for free agents.
And, all of that evaluation, including with Senior prospects practicing and playing this weekend, is now underway.
’85 Dolphins were part of dubious AFC playoff history
The Tennessee Titans are looking to make NFL playoff history and join four other teams as the only ones to ever win three straight road games and make a Super Bowl. That’s when they take on the Chiefs Sunday afternoon in Kansas City.
And, longtime Dolphins fans will remember that they were on the wrong end of one of those teams who pulled it off for the first time in NFL playoff history 34 years ago.
That’s when a Raymond Berry coached New England Patriots team behind Tony Eason at quarterback and an opportunistic defense stunned the seemingly invincible passing attack of second-year quarterback Dan Marino and Don Shula’s Dolphins in a shocking 31 – 14 upset at the Orange Bowl.
To set the scene, New England had already upset the New York Jets at the Meadowlands in the AFC Wildcard game and then, gone out to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and defeated the Raiders, who were the number one in AFC seed, 27 – 20.
The Dolphins, who were the AFC Champs the previous year behind Marino’s record-setting passing season of 1984, had struggled just to make the Championship Game a year later.
That’s because the Cleveland Browns actually led Miami the previous week 21 – 3 in the third quarter before Marino and the offense kicked it into gear for 21 unanswered points and a comeback 24 – 21 win.
However, on this day, they made simply too many mistakes and New England made them pay, including grinding the clock with over 40 minutes of possession to shorten the game.
Patriots ran for over 250 yards on the withering Dolphins defense and Miami had six turnovers in all including two critical Marino interceptions in the defeat.
New England surprisingly led 17 – 7 at the half, when Miami’s rookie kick returner and former Gator Lorenzo Hampton fumbled, while being tackled. A few plays later New England scored on a 4th and goal touchdown pass from Eason to Robert Weathers with a stunned Orange Bowl looking at a scoreboard that read 24 – 7, Pats.
Marino led the Dolphins down the field and looked like he was going to get them quickly in the end zone and right back in the game. However, he threw a critical bad pass that was picked off by Fred Marion at the New England goal line to keep the Dolphins off the board.
New England worked another four minutes off the clock before missing a few goal, but most of the damage had been done with most of the third period was erased with the Dolphins down by 17.
The Patriots Mosi Tatupu iced the game with a 1 yard touchdown midway through the final period and New England was on its way to a Super Bowl matchup with the Chicago Bears.
As you probably know by now, the ’85 Bears with their devastating “46 Defense,” Hall of Famer Walter Payton and brash quarterback Jim McMahon destroyed New England in the Super Bowl two weeks later.
Still, 1985 version the Patriots will always be remembered as a team that was able to pull off three straight wins away from home, including the shocker that ended Miami’s bid to capture the World Championship.
If you are wondering, the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, and Green Bay Packers have also all since done this “road trifecta” in the NFL Playoffs. However, in all three of their cases, they finished what the Patriots could not, by also winning the Super Bowl.
The most recent was the Packers and their 2011 postseason run that saw them defeat the Steelers to win the title.
So, on Sunday, it’s former Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Derrick Henry and the Tennessee defense’s turn to try to match what four others have done before them.
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