The Road Stops in Pittsburgh: Grades and Analysis from Miami’s 30-12 Season-Ending Loss
Sunday marked the first time the “Killer B’s” all played together in a playoff game and, with the Dolphins having sustained key injuries in their defense, they proved to be no match for the Steelers’ high octane offense. Right from the get-go, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell came out firing on all cylinders. While it seemed the Dolphins had a chance to make it a one possession game right before halftime, a costly Matt Moore fumble fiercely shifted momentum back to the home team’s side. Miami never seemed to fully respond as the entire second-half felt rather moot. On the day, there were only a few bright spots for Miami as most of their units graded out poorly.
Matt Moore: B
For a backup quarterback making his first ever postseason start, Matt Moore’s stat line doesn’t look too shabby. His 97.8 QB rating looks nice as well as his completion percentage and total passing yards on the afternoon. However, the reason Moore didn’t grade out higher is because of the three turnovers produced by the Oregon State product. With the Dolphins in a first and goal situation right before halftime, it seemed Miami was primed to make a second-half push. What followed suit was anything but. Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison comes around the edge untouched largely due to Branden Albert missing his assignment; Harrison is able to make a straight v-line to Moore and knock the ball free. While it’s difficult to place too much of the blame on Moore’s shoulders for the fumble, the fact of the matter is this: Moore has to get rid of that football. Right before Harrison arrives at the point of impact the Dolphins’ signal caller looks back and notices the Steelers’ linebacker.
Moore’s second fumble of the afternoon came with the Dolphins again driving into enemy territory. Here, the pocket collapses forcing Moore to escape in attempt to extend the play; Jay Ajayi loses track of where his quarterback is and it leads to a fumble-producing collision.
Matt Moore’s third turnover of the game was an interception thrown to Steelers’ linebacker Ryan Shazier. However, some will argue the game was already a lost cause by then.
Running Backs: D
The Dolphins’ ground unit picked a bad time to have one of their worst performances of the season. You could argue the unit’s struggles might have been the biggest surprise of the game. While Pittsburgh’s run defense had improved since these two teams last met in Week 6, seeing Jay Ajayi held to 33 yards on 16 carries was shocking.
But besides the group’s lack of production, there was also several blown blocking assignments. The Dolphins’ running backs truly struggled in every facet seeing as they also proved to be ineffective in the passing game. The only reason the unit didn’t grade out with an “F” was because of Damien Williams’ late game touchdown reception. It would have been cruel for Miami to bow out of the postseason without at least getting inside the end zone once.
Wide Receivers: A
Miami’s best unit once again played up to its usual standard. Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills all had over 50 receiving yards on the afternoon. Also, both Parker and Stills had catches that went for more than 35 yards respectively. In his playoff debut, Landry showed he was up for the moment; the LSU product had 11 receptions for over 100 yards. If the Dolphins can retain Stills in free agency it should be a treat to watch this trio of wide receivers continue to blossom.
Offensive Line: F
Matt Moore had been sacked only once since stepping in for the injured Ryan Tannehill; he was sacked five times at Heinz Field. While it should be noted that during the closing stretch of the regular season no team had more sacks than the Pittsburgh Steelers, today was still disheartening. Moore was consistently flushed out of the pocket and took his fair share of hard knocks. However, the pass protection wasn’t the sole problem; the run blocking was just as putrid. Jay Ajayi had absolutely no creases to attack on the afternoon; this is highlighted by his measly 2.1 yards per carry average. Truth be told, after the Mike Pouncey injury, the running attack was inconsistent the rest of the way. It will be important for the Dolphins to explore possible additions to improve the line’s depth as well as getting younger at right guard.
Defensive Line: F
The Dolphins were severely outdueled in the trenches. Miami’s best defensive unit did not play like it at Pittsburgh. Le’Veon Bell was able to set a Steelers’ franchise record for rushing yards in a playoff game while, most of the game, Big Ben had ample time to throw and find his playmakers.
Credit must be given to the Steelers’ offensive line and how they held the Dolphins’ two Pro Bowl defensive linemen at bay. However, you just can’t help but feel a little befuddled by the unit’s inability to do more on the afternoon.
Miami’s worst unit in general lived up to their putrid billing. While the Dolphins have several needs to tend to in the offseason, the linebacker corps should be number one on the list of needs. Early on, Pittsburgh feasted in the middle of the field as they attacked Miami’s linebackers. At times, it felt as though Pittsburgh could get whatever they wanted underneath at will. The Dolphins should feel fortunate that Steelers’ tight end Ladarius Green was inactive. If he had been active, things could have been even uglier for Miami’s linebackers.
Defensive Backs: C
The case could be made that Miami’s defensive backs were the defenses best unit on the day. Outside of Antonio Brown’s 1st quarter assault, the unit wasn’t all too bad. However, Brown’s first touchdown of the game should have reminded everyone why Miami misses their starting safeties. Simply put, neither Bacarri Rambo or Michael Thomas possess the ability to close out the way Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus can.
That being said, Thomas did find himself at the right place at the right time to make what seemed to be a momentum shifting interception.
Of course, Miami would go on to fumble the ball inside of Pittsburgh’s 10-yard line to make Thomas’s interception a moot point. Xavien Howard also picked off Big Ben when the game was all but decided late in the 4th quarter; it was his first career interception.
Special Teams: B+
Miami’s special teams’ play was solid. The unit made several impressive tackles to bring down Pittsburgh return men, and Kenyan Drake once again showed his strong capabilities as the Dolphins’ main return man. Also, Andrew Franks deserved more credit for nailing a difficult 47-yard field goal which kept the Dolphins in the game for longer than it seemed they should have been. The only reason the unit didn’t grade out with an “A” was because of Tony Lippett’s inexcusable offside-hurdle which gifted Pittsburgh a first down.
Adam Gase was able to adjust well to his offense’s struggles with running the football. Miami found success throwing the ball but they were doomed by their two turnovers while driving in Steelers’ territory. Despite the ground game going nowhere, you still have to credit Gase for being reluctant in abandoning the run.
As far as Vance Joseph and his defense, it’s hard to blame the Dolphins’ first year defensive coordinator. Since the beginning of the season, the Dolphins’ defense’s deficiencies have been well documented. The past two weeks against elite competition, those same deficiencies along with multiple injuries finally seemed to catch up to Joseph’s defense.
The loss won’t be memorable, but the season sure will be. The Dolphins should feel no shame in losing to the Steelers at Heinz Field; Miami was severely shorthanded, and it makes you wonder how things would have shaped up if the Dolphins would have had some of their key players healthy for this matchup against Pittsburgh. The performance was poor, but it should make it easy for the front office to identify the needs for the 2017 season.