For the first time since 2008 the Miami Dolphins will be playing at least one extra game at the end of the season.
A lot has been said about how the Dolphins got to the post-season. Clawing, fighting, and never giving up. The team has earned a lot of respect from a season ago. Even though much of that respect isn’t found in the mainstream media but frankly, it’s time for the Dolphins to put that disrespect to bed and for us to stop talking about it this week.
There is after all a football game to be played.
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The Dolphins have not won a playoff game since 2000 when they beat the Colts in overtime. That may sound really horrendous but the Dolphins in reality have only been to the post-season twice since losing to the Raiders in 2000.
Tomorrow’s game will feature a tough opponent in the Steelers who Miami beat in the regular season. The Dolphins, in that game, rushed for over 200 yards on the legs of Jay Ajayi and held star Steeler receiver Antonio Brown to just one catch for six yards. And they knocked Ben Roethlisberger to the ground often.
Miami is going to need more of the same on Sunday. The Steelers are deep in talent but they are exploitable. Especially on the defensive side of the ball. This is where Miami is going to win or lose the game.
The Dolphins can’t expect their defense to keep up with the talent on the Pittsburgh offense. Especially given the fact that Reshad Jones will miss this contest unlike the first one. Jones was a big factor in the first match-up as he stacked the box and helped keep LeVeon Bell in check. Miami may employ the same tactics with Michael Thomas or Isa Abdul-Quddus but neither are as solid as tackling as Jones.
A big key on defense will be how well Cameron Wake can disrupt the passing attack of the Steelers. Pittsburgh is not a “quick-pass” team although they very well may try to take a page from the Patriots and Ravens who have had success with those types of game plans. If Wake and Andre Branch can collapse the pocket, it will help Miami’s defensive line tee off on Bell.
The Miami defense has been gashed and gutted by receivers and running backs the last four weeks and shoring that defensive hole up now is not going to be easy. LeVeon Bell has been the best performing runner in the final month of the season and earned NFL honors as the best offensive player in the AFC in December.
Assuming that his play and the trend on defense continues, it’s on the offensive shoulders for a victory on Sunday. The defense? They just need to keep it close.
Miami matches up well with the Steelers defense. Miami should be able to run the ball but it’s likely that the Steelers will game plan to stop Jay Ajayi and force Miami to beat them in the air. This is where Miami can dominate.
Matt Moore has proven to be capable of winning games and if he can reel himself in and play the short game, Moore should find Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker options across the middle behind the linebackers. If the Steelers stack the box, Miami should be able to exploit the Steeler defense with their tight-ends.
This is where Adam Gase becomes the most important person on the Dolphins team. Gase must call a near perfect game and the execution must be near flawless. Like New England, the Dolphins best options for success is keeping the Steelers offense off the field.
In order to do that, Gase has to keep the ball moving and must improve on 3rd down. Staying out of third and long will be paramount and more importantly keeping the defense fresh with time to get warm on the sidelines.
While it will be cold, the Dolphins shouldn’t have a problem dealing with the weather. If the Dolphins can establish a positive ground attack on offense, they will eat clock and combined with a shorter passing game, could and possibly should come away with a late game win.