The Dolphins join the Raiders in the ranks of teams who have lost their starting Quarterback to injury in December but unlike Derek Carr in Oakland Ryan Tannehill may not miss the playoffs (it has recently been reported that Tannehill will play no part on Sunday, but an underdog team trying to get the jump on their opponent is not unheard of in the postseason), he has been able to practice but with the assistance of a knee brace. Should Tannehill be able to take the field from the start on Sunday night then Miami’s chance will greatly improve, not because his replacement Matt Moore is a bad player but because Tannehill is more au fait with the players around him and lead them to 7 wins (that included a 6 game winning streak with a home win against Pittsburgh). When the teams met in week 6 Tannehill did throw for 252 yards with a 75% completion rate as the Dolphins won but the real damage was done by Jay Ajayi who ran for 204 yards and scored 2 touchdowns. In the game at the Hard Rock Stadium Ben Roethlisberger controversially suffered a knee injury when Ndamukong Suh’s foot made contact with Roethlisberger. Suh was engaged in a David DeCastro block when the incident occurred and controversy surrounded whether or not the Suh acted deliberately or if the contact was incidental (the league did not punish Suh, so the official view was that he did not deliberately kick out), either way Suh will probably come in for some close attention at Heinz Field and it would be very surprising if he’s not double teamed on every down.
During the regular season both teams recorded fairly similar numbers on the Defensive side of the ball, with the Steelers allowing an average of 342.6 pass yards per game compared to the Dolphins average of 382.6 pass yards. The Steelers have been better at stopping the run than the Dolphins this season though, but they have given up on average 100 yards per game, whereas the Dolphins have surrendered a rather whopping average of 140.4 yards!
The weather forecast for Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon is a seasonably cold -6 degrees (Celsius) so Quarterback’s will have to battle numb fingers when throwing the ball. Catching the ball will not be an easy task either so Wide Receivers, Defensive Back’s and anyone involved in Special Teams play are going to have to be on top form. Running the ball will be the order of the day and in La’Veon Bell and Jay Ajayi both teams posses their own elite Back’s, Bell has the 5th highest number of rushing yards in the league this season 1,268 and with 4 more yards Ajayi has the 4th best total. They have both averaged 4.9 yards per carry, Ajayi has run in 8 touchdowns and Bell has recorded 7 of his own, Ajayi has fumbled 4 times, Bell 3 and both have had rushes of 20 plays yards this season, 10 for Ajayi but just 4 for Bell. Really the only difference between the pair is that Bell was suspended at the start of the season and so his average number of yards per game is 105.7 compared to Ajayi’s 84.8, although Ajayi has recorded more than 200 yards in 3 games this season, a feat only matched by Tiki Barber in 2005, Earl Campbell and he who shouldn’t be mentioned (O.J. Simpson).
Fumbles could be the difference maker in the game, the Steelers have recovered 10 fumbles this season, one more than the Dolphins but they have only surrendered 3 of their own all season which leads the league, the Dolphins on the other hand have given up 8. Slightly bizarrely they have both given up 15 interceptions, but Miami have made 16 compared to the Steelers 13, although it should be pointed out that the Steelers Defence have grown together throughout the season as they suffered a number of injuries which have seen them use many different personnel combinations. Earlier in the season the defensive secondary and linebacker corps were particularly affected, now they have to deal with the loss of players on the defensive line and a few linebackers, so James Harrison may well feature more prominently in this game than most other 38 defenders in the league would.
The conditions will make it difficult for either team to fire up their high octane Offences and while neither team may not score as many touchdowns as they’d like it wouldn’t be a surprise if the tough Running Backs on display excel in adversity. Special Teams will probably be vital because punting and place kicking in the sub-zero temperatures will incredibly difficult so coverage and returning kicks (even attempted Field Goals or Extra Points) will be invaluable. Home advantage will be crucial in determining the result of this fixture and ultimately the temperature difference between the City of bridges and the tropical climbs of Miami, it’ll be around 18 degrees in Miami when the game kicks off will be too much for the Dolphins to overcome. Adam Gase has had a very impressive first season in charge though leading a team with just 6 wins last year to 10 wins this season, if they have better fortune with injuries next season they may be improve even more.