ReFo: Dolphins @ Steelers, Week 14
The snow wasn’t quite as intense as it was for some other games, but it still provided the backdrop for an exciting game in Pittsburgh. It was a cleaner game than you might’ve expected, with just two turnovers between the two teams, as the Dolphins and Steelers went down to the final play. The game featured four lead changes in the final quarter and a half, with the Dolphins coming out on top. They had to sweat it out, though, as the Steelers nearly scored on a wild, lateral-filled final play.
While both teams are mathematically still alive in the AFC, the Dolphins are in much better position at 7-6 than the Steelers at 5-8. With three division games ahead of them, Miami has a tough, but winnable slate with two of the three games against the Patriots, Bills, and Jets coming at home. Likewise, Pittsburgh gets two of their last three at home, but they need help and no victory is a given, with the Bengals, Packers, and Browns on the schedule.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
In a game with four second-half lead changes, no player was more impactful than Charles Clay (+3.8). Miami’s tight end finished with seven catches on eight targets for 97 yards and two touchdowns, giving Ryan Tannehill a near-perfect 156.8 QB rating on those throws. Putting his versatility on display, Clay, impressively, did much of his work against the Steeler corners – he spent just 26 of his 53 snaps lined up in-line – with four of his eight targets occurring with a CB in primary coverage. For a sample, take a look at his play at 7:19 of the third, when he beat Cortez Allen deep down the right sideline for a 40-yard gain. And at 3:02 of the fourth, he proved hard to bring down, taking advantage of some extremely shoddy tackling by Allen and Troy Polamalu to turn a routine stop route on 2nd-and-6 into the go-ahead touchdown for the Dolphins.
Not Quite as Good, But Still Really Good
Although he hasn’t quite matched the level of play from a year ago, Cameron Wake is still a nightmare for offenses to block, and there was little the Steelers could do in this one save using a repertoire of screens and quick passes. Wake still finished with two sacks, a hit, and four hurries in 33 rushes, compiling a +3.8 grade on the day. No play was better than his sack-fumble at 10:54 of the second, when his speed was just too much for RT Marcus Gilbert, and he knocked the ball loose for Miami’s only takeaway – which they cashed in with a touchdown five plays later. With some strong work in run defense as well, Wake’s grade would have been even higher if not for a couple of mishaps on passing plays: he got taken out by a screen block on the first offensive play of the game, and later missed a tackle (1Q, 6:24) defending a flare to Le’Veon Bell.
Not What They Paid For
Continuing a discouraging theme this season, the Dolphins’ pair of big money free agent linebackers, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, both finished with negative grades. Ellerbe had his fair share of struggles in coverage, despite a decent-looking stat line of two receptions allowed for eight yards in primary coverage. What that stat doesn’t show is that he bit hard on a play action early in the game to open the middle of the field on a slant, over pursued on Antonio Brown’s third quarter touchdown reception, and missed a tackle defending a screen pass. With a declined defensive holding penalty as well, it wasn’t a good day for the former Raven.
Likewise, Wheeler didn’t fare too poorly in primary coverage, but still had his share of blunders in the passing game. Those included getting himself out of position on two dropped passes, as well as his 17th missed tackle on the season. Wheeler also had some trouble in the run game, sealed by a number of players throughout the contest, with guard Ramon Foster besting him multiple times. He rushed the passer 12 times (he’s at 115 rushes on the year compared to 63 for Ellerbe) but only generated a single pressure, which wasn’t too difficult coming unblocked.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
Wallace struggles at C
It wasn’t a good display for center Cody Wallace in his first major action of the year, having played only 38 snaps in Week 8 and two snaps in Week 13 coming into this game. His pass protection wasn’t terrible with just two pressures allowed in 45 pass blocks (though centers aren’t often blocking one-on-one). The problem was, both of those pressures were sacks, the first of them occurring on Pittsburgh’s second offensive play (1Q, 14:23) when Paul Soliai beat Wallace center left to take down the QB and set up a quick three and out. Soliai proved a steep challenge in the 21 snaps he played, besting the center on a number of plays (e.g., 1Q, 10:10 and 2Q, 12:18) before leaving the game with an injury. The matchup wasn’t completely one-sided, however, as Wallace returned the favor a couple of times, notably at 7:34 of the first, where Soliai came up injured. As one might expect for a player with limited snaps coming in, discipline was a problem, with false start and unnecessary roughness penalties costing the Steelers valuable yards in a close game.
One of Pittsburgh’s best defenders this season came up with another big game against Miami. Cameron Heyward clocked in with his second-highest grade of the season at +3.1, in part due to some strong pass rush – he picked up a sack, two hurries, and a batted pass in 36 rushes. With four other stops on the ground, he was also solid in run defense. Check out his sack at 12:13 of the first quarter (Miami’s first drive), when he bulled LG Nate Garner eight yards deep, and disengaged to take down Tannehill, forcing a punt. His pressure at the expense of Garner’s replacement Sam Brenner, which helped force an incompletion was similarly impressive (3Q, 7:23).
Continuing his hot streak from his previous three outings, Jason Worilds (+1.3) once again stuffed the stat sheet against the Dolphins. The second-year OLB harassed Tannehill with seven total pressures, including a sack, two hits, and four hurries, to go along with five other stops. For an example of his work against the run, take a look at 2:10 in the first quarter as he easily beat the cut block of TE Dion Sims to stop the RB for a short gain. At 12:38 in the fourth, he flashed a spin move, beating the Miami RT inside for a sack. Worilds has really come on late in the season, after an underwhelming start to his career. The Steelers surely hope this type of play continues; the team drafted Jarvis Jones (-0.6 in 21 snaps) in the first round, but it appears that Worilds isn’t ready to relinquish the spot opposite Lamarr Woodley just yet. If his play keeps up (and Jones develops), the team should have a solid OLB duo going forward.
– Tyson Clabo has rebounded from a rough start to the season. Through the first six games, he graded at -12.4 overall. In the last six, he’s compiled a +5.5 grade, including his positive effort against the Steelers.
– Receiving his highest workload yet, Daniel Thomas posted a season-high 6.6 YPC with 105 yards and a TD.
– Ben Roethlisberger was one of five starting QBs to not complete a pass over 20 yards this week (pending MNF).
PFF Game Ball
Charles Clay’s two touchdowns were the difference in this one.
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