3TFO: Dolphins @ Steelers, Week 14
A game with direct meaning in the AFC Wild Card race, the 6-6 Dolphins travel to Pittsburgh to take on the 5-7 Steelers with each just on the outside looking in as Week 14 begins.
Taking different paths to this point, Miami opened on a roll with three wins out of the gate only to follow with a run of inconsistency that has seen them go 3-7 since. The Steelers, on the other hand, started off 0-4 but have backed it with five wins in their last eight.
Each will go on to face division opponents in the weeks that follow, but with division titles beyond reach, their real hopes lie in focusing on the final wild card that the 6-6 Ravens are guarding.
Here are a few areas to focus on, including a pair of receiver-cornerback face-offs from opposite ends of the spectrum.
In the first of these WR-CB matchups, Antonio Brown brings the third-highest receiving grade in to face Brent Grimes and the league’s second-best coverage grade. Brown moves around the formation, showing a 49%-40% split favoring a wide-left lineup, so their direct interaction might be limited (Grimes spends nearly 70% of his snaps on the defense’s left), but when they do match up, it’ll be interesting to see how often the test comes their way.
Grimes has faced a pair of target-heavy days against ‘focus point’ receivers, allowing a 5-of-7, 99-yard day to Torrey Smith in Week 5 and a 5-of-9, 76-yard outing to A.J. Green in Week 9, but he also logged a pair of PDs and a pick in those two efforts. He’s given up a passer rating of just 62.6 while getting hands to 17 balls (four interceptions and 13 passed defensed) – a mark that leads all corners.
Brown boasts a Top 10 Yards Per Route Run mark of 2.28, a WR Rating of 106.5, and a Top 5 Drop Rate with only four miscues on 89 catchable passes. It could be up to Pittsburgh as to how often he’ll go toe-to-toe with Grimes (if Miami keeps him at LCB) and that dance will be one to watch.
The Other End
The second WR-CB matchup to mention is of an opposite nature as these two are having season set far off from the combo noted above. By coverage grade, Ike Taylor is sitting 111th of 112 qualifying corners and Mike Wallace’s receiving grade has him 93rd. With Brian Hartline proving the more dangerous option for much of the season, the Steelers may have opted to tie Taylor to him (as they like to do), but given Wallace’s history with the team and relative awakening in recent weeks, we could see the Taylor-Wallace pairing on Sunday.
If so, we’ll be treated to a battle between a corner who has surrendered more yards than any other this year (854, on pace to be the most we’ve seen from a corner in the PFF Era) and a receiver who, despite being the NFL’s 15th-most targeted, is 61st at his position in receiving yards. A 116.9 QB Rating into Taylor’s coverage against a 63.5 on throws toward Wallace. A corner with one of the four worst Yards per Cover Snap figures against a receiving holding a Bottom 5 Drop Rate built on 11 flubs. Truly a stoppable force against a movable object.
Pittsburgh’s top choice for a running lane this season has been off the center’s right shoulder, going for 185 yards on 35 attempts (a 5.3-yard average) on attempts that way. It’s no coincidence that, as a gap-opening contributor there, right guard David DeCastro holds the line’s top run-blocking grade. If the pattern is maintained this week, the Steelers will be churning inside against a defensive tackle rotation that includes two of the NFL’s top interior run defenders – Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, a duo that has posted a combined 37 run stops on the season. While DeCastro’s year on the whole has been a positive one, a look at his game-by-game grade log might persuade Pittsburgh to try another tack. His three worst run-blocking days have come against the D-lines of Detroit, Buffalo, and the Jets — a Who’s Who of destructive fronts — and the Starks-Soliai proposition is in their company.
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