Dolphins-Steelers Preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers feel Mike Wallace and the Miami Dolphins

are in the way.

Coach Mike Tomlin will certainly try to avoid doing that

again.

Tomlin hopes the Steelers can put his bizarre antics behind them

as they welcome Wallace back to Pittsburgh on Sunday in a meeting

against the Dolphins with major playoff implications.

Pittsburgh (5-7) and Miami (6-6) are trying to improve their

respective playoff chances, but a defeat Sunday could be the final

blow to the Steelers’ hopes after falling 22-20 at Baltimore on

Thanksgiving.

The importance of the matchup certainly overshadows the return

of Wallace, who left the Steelers for the Dolphins via free agency

after spending his first four seasons in Pittsburgh.

The coach was fined $100,000 earlier this week for stepping on

the field and in the way of the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones on a 73-yard

kickoff return last week. Tomlin wasn’t flagged for a penalty

despite Jones having to swerve to avoid him, possibly causing him

to be tackled from behind.

“I apologize for causing negative attention to the Pittsburgh

Steelers organization,” Tomlin said in a statement. “I accept the

penalty that I received. I will no longer address this issue as I

am preparing for an important game this Sunday against the Miami

Dolphins.”

The Steelers have won five straight meetings with the Dolphins

dating to a loss at Miami on Sept. 20, 1998. They haven’t lost to

them at home since Sept. 30, 1990, winning three in a row.

The Dolphins are hoping Wallace can help them end those streaks

by continuing his recent success, while eventually helping them to

their first playoff berth since 2008. The wide receiver, who

Pittsburgh deemed too expensive during the offseason, has 12

catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns over the last two games

after grabbing just one through the first 10.

“I’m feeling more comfortable every week in the offense,”

Wallace said. “It’s time to hit my stride. No more warming up. It’s

time to go. It’s December. You’ve got to make plays now. You don’t

have time to wait.”

A return to Heinz Field may provide added motivation.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Wallace said. “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.”

Wallace helped the Dolphins take care of another one of those

teams last weekend with a 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown in a 23-3

road victory over the New York Jets. He finished with seven

receptions for 82 yards.

Miami is tied with Baltimore for the sixth and final playoff

position in the AFC, winning two of three in the wake of a bullying

scandal that threatened to derail its season.

Now, the schedule may play into the Dolphins’ favor since three

of their remaining four games are against teams currently owning a

losing record.

“We are in the playoff hunt, and we have to win every game,”

said linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, a member of Baltimore’s Super Bowl

championship team from last season. “But it’s very important to not

look too far down the road.”

Another big performance from the offense could get the Dolphins

rolling. They gained a season-high 453 total yards – 328 passing –

last week, as Ryan Tannehill turned in his best performance of

2013.

The quarterback, who has an 83.2 rating, had 331 yards with two

touchdowns and one interception while completing 28 of 43 passes

against the Jets.

Brian Hartline had his own season high with 127 yards and caught

Tannehill’s other TD pass.

They could be in for another strong effort since the Steelers

are allowing an average of 287.6 passing yards with nine TDs over

the past five games.

Pittsburgh may have running back Le’Veon Bell in the backfield

after he suffered a concussion against the Ravens. He’s returned to

full practice this week, and leads the Steelers with 528 yards

while accounting for all five of their rushing touchdowns.

He had 73 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in Week 13 before

being knocked unconscious on a blow to the head while trying to

dive for his second score of the fourth quarter.

Ben Roethlisberger has completed 64.2 percent of his passes for

841 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions and a 105.8

passer rating over the last three games.

Roethlisberger has only been sacked once in that stretch, but is

facing a Miami defense that has 10 in the past three games.

Olivier Vernon has accounted for six of them, giving him a

career-high 10.5.

“We’ve talked about how the performance level on the field has

to be better in December, and part of that now is consistency,”

coach Joe Philbin said.