Miami Dolphins

Dolphins have to find a way to disrupt Steelers one-two punch

Miami Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase after a practice session at the Dolphins training facility at the Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)
Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire

The Miami Dolphins’ season is flying off the rails as they come into their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With a 1-4 record and two straight losses, it’s not mathematically impossible to make the post-season, but it is mathematically unlikely.

And nearly impossible if they lose.

The challenge the Dolphins face this week is twofold. First, they have to find a way to slow down LeVeon Bell. When they accomplish that, they have to contain Antonio Brown.

Both are difficult tasks for a defense which has slowly been imploding under the weight of the incompetence of the secondary. The defensive line has no time to get after the quarterback and the corners are so inept that the Dolphins cannot move a safety into the box to help against the run.

They certainly can’t afford to risk leaving anyone in single coverage on Brown, who has had one “bad”  game all season, against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals were successful against Brown in part because they were able to pressure quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As Pro Football Focus wrote about that game, “Roethlisberger was not at his best against the Bengals, struggling to connect with his top target Antonio Brown and throwing a pair of interceptions.” Furthermore, they point out that Roethlisberger “was under pressure on nearly half of his snaps, and was least-effective when blitzed.”

per Pro Football Focus

per Pro Football Focus

Which brings us back to the biggest problem the Miami defense faces—time. The defensive line has some athletes and could get after Roethlisberger, but the secondary has to do its part. If Brown (or any other receiver) is gaining separation too quickly off the snap, it almost doesn’t matter how quickly Ndamukong Suh or Cameron Wake or anyone else gets to Roethlisberger—he’s going to get the ball off before they get there.

It’s not getting any easier with rookie Xavien Howard out for the foreseeable future, but they have to do it. Pressing Brown and the other receivers at the line, trying to disrupt their timing and routes immediately at the snap could buy the defensive front the time it needs to get after the quarterback and, hopefully, take him down.

Of course, the Bengals lost their game, so limiting Brown isn’t the end all be all, and if the Dolphins had a better defense (as the Philadelphia Eagles did in their Week 3 win over Pittsburgh) even Brown blowing them up wouldn’t matter much if he was kept out of the end zone and rest of the receivers were shut down.

Mind you, the Eagles didn’t have to contend with Bell in that win, and the Steelers abandoned the run game even before Philadelphia dropped 21 points on them in the third quarter.

Head coach Mike Tomlin won’t do that again this week, as he has had Bell touch the ball 52 times in two weeks. Bell has responded with 210 yards on the ground and 14 receptions for 122 yards. Tomlin will continue to lean on Bell, who is clearly playing with a chip on his shoulder.

This is no easy task, but also not impossible for the Dolphins. While they have been generous on the ground, allowing a league-worst 150 yards on the ground per game but they have only allowed three touchdowns so far. If they can keep Bell out of the end zone—and contain the Steelers receivers—perhaps they can limit the Steelers to field goals.

If they can do that, and keep the game close, they will give their offense a chance to get some traction without having to dig itself out of a deep hole.

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