The dreaded “letdown game” has once again proven to be an affliction for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This time, the injury-plagued Steelers traveled to hot and humid Miami to face the 1-4 Dolphins, and Pittsburgh failed to deliver in a game the team was expected to win. The inspired Dolphins rushed for 222 yards and scored 10 points off two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions to cruise to a 30-15 victory.
The good news is everyone in the AFC North lost on Sunday, which means the 4-2 Steelers still sit atop of the division by one game over the Baltimore Ravens.
Another week means another edition of “Three up, three down.” Here’s the best and worst from this week’s disappointing loss in Miami.
Young, under-the-radar players making a mark: In such a lopsided loss, it’s hard to find many positives. However, the play of several young players gave fans something. Rookie free agent linebacker Tyler Matakevich continues to prove he belongs in the NFL with his workmanlike performance in Miami. With both Vince Williams and Lawrence Timmons struggling in the heat, Matakevich stepped up with nine tackles, seven solo, in the loss.
Former Miami Hurricanes standouts Artie Burns and Anthony Chickillo didn’t remind anyone of Mel Blount or Jack Ham in Pittsburgh’s game against the Dolphins, but they do continue to show improvement.
In spite of relatively paltry numbers, Le’Veon Bell is hitting stride: Every time Le’Veon Bell touches the ball, he’s making something happen. Against the Dolphins, he had 108 total yards and once again looked like a wide receiver when utilized as a pass catcher. The big question is: Where was Bell much of the game? Why only 10 carries? This has to change next week against the Patriots — especially because the Steelers will be without Roethlisberger and will rely on their run game.
It wasn’t pretty, but at least he came back: I’m reaching here, but after Roethlisberger left in the second quarter with a knee injury, he did return to play the second half. Granted, his play was pretty dismal, but it gives fans hope that Roethlisberger, who will have surgery Monday to repair a torn meniscus, avoided a more serious injury if he was able to play on it.
Missed opportunities, miscues and poor play calls give Dolphins life: When you have a chance to get a team down early, especially a 1-4 team on life support, you better execute. Unfortunately for the Steelers, a number of key moments in the first half where plays weren’t made doomed the Steelers in Miami.
The first missed opportunity came with the Steelers holding a 8-3 first quarter lead and the Dolphins deep in their own territory. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill attempted a pass to Kenny Stills, and Steelers cornerback William Gay jumped the route and looked to have a sure pick, if not a pick six. Unfortunately, Gay was get his hands under the ball to secure the gift-wrapped interception that may have zapped the will out of a team lacking confidence.
It didn’t take long for another missed opportunity. This time, with the Steelers’ offense driving and closing in on the red zone, pass rush specialist Cameron Wake beat tight end Jesse James to sack Roethlisberger, pushing the Steelers out of field goal range and forcing a punt. Why in the world is James blocking Wake on a third-down passing play?
The next head scratcher came late in the first half when, after Bell ripped off 26 yards on three runs on the first drive with backup quarterback Landry Jones in the game, the Steelers called a pass play on a third and one (which was nearly intercepted by Tony Lippett). Weird call there.
Turnovers lead to 10 points, poor tackling helps Ajayi rush for 204: There’s certainly something to be said for Roethlisberger struggling on the road. Once again, Roethlisberger looked off, and he wasn’t helped in the least by an offensive line that simply couldn’t keep the Dolphins from getting consistent pressure. It was that pressure that helped force two interceptions — the first of which not only led to a Dolphins touchdown but also the knee injury to Roethlisberger.
The last time a Steelers defense allowed a 200-yard rusher? That would be Fred Taylor in 2000. Who would have though Jay Ajayi would be the guy to do it, but he was thanks to a Dolphins offensive line that took advantage of injuries to multiple Pittsburgh defensive starters. They got a push throughout and, couple that with Ajayi’s tough running style, it made for a long day for the rush defense.
Once again, injuries pile up. How many more can the team handle? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re well aware that injuries have been stacking up for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although a number of the issues in Miami seem to be heat related (cramps), the team is really pushing the “next-man-up” mantra to the max.
Critics will point out that today was yet another loss to a lesser team on the road, but, to be fair, this team keeps losing key pieces and, in turn, is asking players who are more cut out for special teams or supporting roles to step in as starters. This team needs to get some good fortune on the injury front in the worst way.
The bye week — which comes after the game against the New England Patriots and before Pittsburgh plays the Baltimore Ravens — can’t come soon enough.
Image credit: Al Diaz/Miami Herald