By BOB LABRIOLA
Steelers.com The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers visit Miami for a 1 p.m. game against the Dolphins on Sunday:
STEELERS WRs HINES WARD AND SANTONIO HOLMES VS. DOLPHINS CBs VONTAE DAVIS AND SEAN SMITH: Even though the Dolphins have fewer sacks than the Steelers, they still come into the game ranked first in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt. Based on the rest of their defensive statistics, however, it seems that a fair way to describe the Miami pass defense is that if it does not get to the quarterback then some bad things happen. Coming into the game against the Steelers, the Dolphins ranked 27th in the league in passing yards allowed, but the 20 touchdowns they have allowed ranks in the top half of the league. Davis and Smith are both rookies; Davis has started nine games, and Smith has been a starter since the season began. Davis has four interceptions and 11 passes defensed, while Smith has 12 passes defensed. The Steelers passing attack has been the strength of the offense all season, and Holmes and Ward already have cracked the 1,000-yard plateau. On paper, this seems to be a mismatch of established veterans vs. inexperienced rookies.
STEELERS OLB LaMARR WOODLEY VS. DOLPHINS RT VERNON CAREY: Woodley has put on another of his late-season surges, this one good enough to erase Greg Lloyd's team record of posting at least half-a-sack in six straight games. During his seven-game sack streak, Woodley accumulated 9.5 sacks to give him 11.5 going into the regular season finale. The Dolphins rank in the top half of the league in sacks allowed per pass attempt, with Chad Henne going down 24 times in 431 attempts. Henne is an inexperienced quarterback, and those kind can be pressured into turnovers at times. Woodley has been the team's most potent pass rusher of late, and he is coming off his best game of the season – vs. the Ravens – to go along with being snubbed for the Pro Bowl. Woodley may see this as an opportunity to prove those voters wrong.
STEELERS KICKOFF TEAM VS. DOLPHINS KOR TED GINN: The Steelers have allowed Joshua Cribbs, Bernard Scott, Percy Harvin and Jamaal Charles to return kickoffs for touchdowns this season, and Ginn has more return yards than any of them except Cribbs. Ginn's critics question his tendency to try to bounce everything to the outside, and there have been games when he was completely stymied by the coverage. Ginn averaged 18.8 yards per return vs. Buffalo, 18.0 vs. Tampa Bay, 17.3 vs. Tennessee. But then there was the game against the Jets, where he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and had 299 yards on six returns, or the game against Carolina where he averaged 42.5 yards per return. The thing about kickoff returns is that it only takes one to have a big impact on a game, and Ginn has the speed and the pedigree as a return man to give his team that one.
STEELERS NT CASEY HAMPTON VS. DOLPHINS RB RICKY WILLIAMS: The Dolphins are coached by a former offensive line coach in Tony Sparano, and he has brought a toughness to the job that is reflected in the way his team plays. This is illustrated by the way the Dolphins run the football, and the fact they will continue to try to run the football even if things aren't going well with it early in a game. Ricky Williams has 1,090 yards and a 4.8 average coming into the game, and his six-year gap between 1,000-yard seasons (2003-2009) in the longest in NFL history. Williams also is the seventh running back in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season that he began as a 32-year-old man. The intent for the Steelers every week is to render an opposing offense one-dimensional, and they traditionally are tough against the run. But the Dolphins won't be influenced by reputation, and they obviously will have seen the video of Baltimore's Ray Rice running for 141 yards on 30 carries last week. Hampton was voted to his fifth Pro Bowl, and even though he has 2.5 sacks this year, the honor is for his work against the running game. Hampton's five Pro Bowls ranks fourth in Steelers' history among defensive linemen for appearances behind Joe Greene (10), Ernie Stautner (nine), and L.C. Greenwood (six).
By BOB LABRIOLA