In the most unexpected outcome of the Week 6 slate, the Miami Dolphins beat up on the Pittsburgh Steelers, prevailing 30-15, in a game in which Ben Roethlisberger was injured.
Roethlisberger had knee surgery on Monday and his status is currently up in the air, and while he didn’t play well before his injury, he did throw an interception on the play he was injured and clearly was a shell of himself after the injury occurred.
But Roethlisberger’s poor play and injury were not the only reason why the Dolphins dominated this game. Not to make excuses for the Steelers, who were the much less physical team, but this was the game this season in which they entered the most banged up thus far.
Pittsburgh was without their top two defensive players, Ryan Shazier and Cameron Heyward, and was dealing with numerous other lesser injuries, including on the offensive line and in the secondary.
Meanwhile, Week 6 was far and away the healthiest Miami has entered a game this year. The Dolphins’ offensive line, which had been downright offensive to this point, finally had all of their starters. And contrary to popular belief, Miami’s offensive line is not short on talent. It can be a very good group if it develops some continuity and maintains a level of health.
We saw this in a big way on Sunday as Miami’s front utterly dominated the Steelers in the trenches and Jay Ajayi was very impressive as he rumbled for 204 yards on 25 carries.
Clearly Ajayi is Miami’s best running back and although it might have taken five weeks to finally figure that out, hopefully Adam Gase now realizes what he has in the second year back. Previously, this backfield resembled a game of musical chairs and behind an awful line, provided zero running game for Gase and Ryan Tannehill to lean on.
Tannehill didn’t have to do a lot in this game, but he was very efficient and more or less played the Dak Prescott type of role, which as we are seeing in a big way in Dallas, is exactly how you want to bring a young talented quarterback along. Rarely pressured, he took what the Steelers gave him in what was one of Tannehill’s best outings this season.
Tannehill threw the ball well and didn’t make huge mistakes and Jarvis Landry shined, showing rare toughness for a wide receiver. Not only was Landry his usual reliable self, but he was also very good after the catch and brought a fire to the game that Pittsburgh was lacking.
In fact, in the Miami sun and in their black jerseys, the Steelers looked fatigued. Lawrence Timmons threw up on the field at one point and Vince Williams had to be taken to the locker room for an IV.
Sun and black jerseys or not, being on the field for 36:30 while being dominated by Ajayi and Miami’s offensive line also had quite a bit to do with it. The tackling overall was very poor. Jarvis Jones was dominated at the point of attack and Pittsburgh needs much more from their outside linebacker position, which has traditionally been a great area of strength in their 3-4 scheme.
On the other side of the ball, it was very surprising that Pittsburgh only handed the ball to Le’Veon Bell 10 times, especially considering Roethlisberger’s injury and how bad the Dolphins had been against the run coming into this game. Yes, the Steelers were down on the scoreboard at that point, but ignoring what Bell can bring to the table as a runner is just downright foolish.
We did see end around calls from the Steelers and that worked well, especially a highlight-reel run by Darrius Heyward Bey. That 60-yard run was clearly the high point of the day for this offense. Still, it was shocking that Pittsburgh’s great offense couldn’t move the ball in more traditional ways.
Maybe the most shocking development of the afternoon was the exceptional play of Byron Maxwell, though. Coming into this game, Miami’s cornerback play looked as though it would be a tremendous weakness, but Maxwell did some outstanding work against Antonio Brown. Tony Lippett also played well. Pittsburgh’s wide receivers, without Markus Wheaton and with Sammie Coates as basically a decoy, caught just 10 passes in this game.
This is obviously highly encouraging going forward, as the Dolphins are pretty well set at the safety position as well as up front on their defensive line.
Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and Andre Branch gave Pittsburgh’s offensive line more than they could handle and Pittsburgh’s offensive tackles were especially overmatched. And for some reason, the Steelers had Jesse James blocking Wake all alone on one play. That predictably ended up in a sack for Wake.
Kiko Alonso came to Miami in the same trade from the Eagles as Maxwell. He too showed up big in the contest and like the cornerback position, linebacker looked like a major area of weakness for the Dolphins this year. Now it was only one game and that isn’t to suggest that all of Miami’s problems are solved at cornerback and linebacker, but it was encouraging nonetheless.
This was a huge win for Miami and very much something to build on. This is especially true on offense, Gase’s area of expertise, where the Dolphins now have their top players healthy to build around Tannehill.
As for Pittsburgh, losing on the road against a sub .500 team is a trend that has become all too recurring for Mike Tomlin. Roethlisberger hasn’t played well overall in these contests either, and now he will miss at least Pittsburgh’s Week 7 game against the Patriots, which surely won’t go well if the Steelers play anything like they did in Miami.
The Steelers then have a much-needed bye to heal their wounds and if Roethlisberger can return somewhat quickly after that point, Pittsburgh very well could go on a run and get back to being one of the top teams in the AFC.
But games like this stinker in Miami have happened far too often under Tomlin.