PITTSBURGH—Few outside of South Florida are giving the Dolphins a chance to go into Pittsburgh and win Sunday, but it’s not out of the question.
Miami beat the Steelers solidly in October, and there’s a formula for that to happen again. Here’s what the Dolphins need if they’re going to pull the upset and move on to New England next weekend:
1. Jay Ajayi has to be a factor in the ground game.
The Dolphins don’t need another 200-yard performance by Ajayi like had against Pittsburgh in Week 6, but he has to hit at least four yards per carry. He managed that rate twice in the final six regular-season games. The Steelers are better against the run than the pass, and getting Ajayi going would shake them.
2. Someone in the battered secondary has to play the game of his life.
Miami goes into this game without its top three defensive backs, assuming Byron Maxwell sits out with an ankle injury. That’s not ideal considering the Steelers’ arsenal of receiving threats. The Dolphins need someone to show up with an excellent day in coverage, perhaps Tony Lippett or Xavien Howard, if they’re going to reasonably contain the Pittsburgh offense.
3. There’s no margin for missed kicks.
The Dolphins are decidedly at a disadvantage personnel-wise and need every possible point. They don’t have the firepower to overcome Andrew Franks costing them on field goals and extra points. Franks missed a pair of 46-yarders and an extra point on the road in December, but has been kicking frozen footballs all week and is confident he’ll be able to hit from 50-plus yards at Heinz Field.
4. Set the bar at four sacks.
Miami had seven games with at least three sacks in the regular season, and its $40 million defensive line has to come up with some against a quarterback who takes his time like Ben Roethlisberger. In those seven games, the Dolphins held the opponent to an average of 213.4 passing yards. That kind of containment should be good enough Sunday.
5. Get something in the first quarter. Anything.
It’s not imperative that the Dolphins strike first or even close the first quarter with a lead, but they’ve got to get something going. Miami averaged 2.7 points per first quarter this year, a little over 11 percent of its total scoring, and went scoreless in that period six times in the second half of the season. The Dolphins must establish some offense early or they’ll be forced out of their game plan by playing from behind.
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