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)