By Tyler Sweet
With the snow falling down onto Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers took on a surprising Miami Dolphins team that despite the bizarre off the field issues, are right in the thick of the wildcard race in the AFC with the Steelers. The winner of this game would continue to keep their head above the water in this extremely tight playoff race, while the losing team will ultimately have their season come up short. With below freezing temperatures and a dusting of December snow, anyone betting on the outcome of this game most likely would pick against the team from South Beach and expect a clumsy game by the Dolphins, but as I mentioned, this Dolphins team is not to be taken lightly and can surprise any team in the league. Perhaps it was an early Christmas present from Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins, but an end to the Steelers playoff run was just the surprise the Steelers were hoping to avoid.
Despite the injuries and constant damage control, the Steelers offensive line has played pretty well for several weeks. The talented Dolphins defensive line however was causing trouble for most of the game. Even if they failed to sack Ben, they were disrupting the backfield consistently. Given the tough matchup up front, the offense put together a great drive early in the game that led to an Emmanuel Sanders touchdown catch. They mixed the pass and the run and Ben hit his targets on that drive beautifully. The problem with this unit all season long has been consistency. The offense will look incredible on one drive then follow it up with a penalty plagued drive resulting in a three and out on their next drive. Penalties killed the Steelers in key moments throughout the game. With several inches of snow on the ground, the last thing you want to do is put yourself deeper into your own territory.
The most disturbing thing about this game to me was the playcalling late in the first half and late in the game. With the lead and the ball under 6 minutes to go in the game, the offense was only able to run off a minute and a half off the clock and failed to move the ball at all. Later, with almost a full 3 mins left on the game clock and two timeouts remaining, Ben tried to go for the homerun ball play after play instead of doing their short catch and run offense that was effective early on. The offense failed to rise up in big moments and take control of this game. Despite the average offensive outing, they still almost came away with a win if it werent for Antonio Brown stepping on the sidelines after several desperate laterals to end the game. Maybe if Tomlin stood a little closer, he would have “helped” Antonio back into the field of play. (too soon?) Overall Offensive Unit Grade: B-
Before I start to pick at the defense for their second half collapse, I will say that this was one of the hardest hitting Steelers games I have seen this season. Hard hits came frequently, but unfortunately so did the missed tackles. Ryan Tannehill and tight end Charles Clay looked like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski in the second half. After a short out route towards the sidelines, Cortez Allen and Troy Polamalu looked like they were playing patty-cake instead of football and missed tackles on Clay as he walked into the endzone. Backup running back Daniel Thomas and quarterback Ryan Tannehill both had runs over 45 yards. Thomas ended the game with 105 yards and an easy touchdown almost untouched. Troy Polamalu was going for the big play as he always does and it payed off with an interception returned for a touchdown after dropping an easy interception earlier in the game. Much like the offense however, great moments of hard hits and big plays followed up by horrible play in the second half. Overall Defensive Unit Grade: B-
I would love to write a post game report card without bashing the special teams unit. Week after week the Steelers special teams is consistent with horrible play. Another blocked punt that put the Dolphins almost in the redzone to start their drive. Again, special teams is all about field position and allowing the opposing team to start in your own territory in horrible weather is always a worst case scenario. After a Dolphins touchdown, the ensuing kickoff return by the Steelers was backed up due to a holding penalty. This unit does not have to try to win games, but simply try to not lose them. But different week same story. Awful. Overall Special Teams Unit Grade: F
Please comment below with your grades as always or you can tweet us @SteelersGab or myself @Tylersweet87.