DOLPHINS 34, STEELERS 28**
Steelers' record: 5-8
One year ago: 7-6
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 13-12
Another productive pass-rushing front four. Another starting offensive line combination for the Steelers. In this, the 13th game of the 2013 season, the Steelers opened against the Miami Dolphins with their sixth different combination of five offensive linemen. The change again involved the center, where Cody Wallace replaced Fernando Velasco, and an injury to Kelvin Beachum served to give Mike Adams a second chance at left tackle. Would the Steelers be able to cobble together an effective offensive line despite being without Velasco and Beachum, despite having David DeCastro nagged by a sprained foot?
The Steelers held a 28-24 lead when the Miami Dolphins got the ball at their own 20-yard line following a touchback on a punt by Mat McBriar. A 9-yard pass to Brian Hartline set up a second-and-1, and the Dolphins decided on a running play to try to pick up the necessary yardage to get the first down and extend their possession. But the simple running play turned into a 55-yard gain when Daniel Thomas exploited some shabby tackling by the Steelers, and Miami had a first down at the Pittsburgh 16-yard line. Two plays later, the Dolphins had re-taken the lead, and this time for good.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT I
Every week when he's asked about what the Steelers need to do to win that particular game, Coach Mike Tomlin always references protecting the football first. It was no different in the run-up to Sunday's game against the Dolphins.
"We have to take care of the football. That has been a signature of our football in terms of being a team on the rise throughout the season," said Tomlin. "We were terrible in turnover ratio in the first part of the season, and our record reflected it. In the third quarter of the season we were 3-1, and I think the turnover ratio reflected that. We want to get off to a good start in this quarter and be the type of team we need to be, and to win this outing that's going to be a significant part of it."
The statistics that go along with Tomlin's assessment are these: In the season's first four games, the Steelers were minus-11 in turnover ratio and 0-4; in the next four games, they were even in turnover ratio and 2-2; and in the most recent four-game stretch, they were plus-7 and 3-1.
Against the Dolphins, the Steelers had one turnover – a fumble by Ben Roethlisberger on a sack/strip by DE Cameron Wake – and one takeaway – that coming on an interception by Troy Polamalu that became a touchdown after his 19-yard return. That made the Steelers even on the day in turnover ratio.
Only once all season did the Steelers win a game in which they finished with a minus turnover ratio. That was against the Ravens at Heinz Field, when they were minus-1 in a 19-16 victory.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT II
The Steelers were quite efficient in three critical areas during a first quarter ending with them holding a 7-3 lead. The offense converted 3-of-4 on third down and was 1-for-1 in the red zone, while the Pittsburgh defense allowed Miami to convert 1-for-3 on third down and forced the Dolphins to settle for a field goal on their only trip into the red zone during the period.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT III
What was working well in the first quarter fell apart in the second. The Steelers were only 1-for-5 on third down, and after gaining 36 yards on nine carries in the first quarter, Le'Veon Bell only got the ball once in the second quarter.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT IV
The Dolphins finished with 181 yards rushing on 24 attempts for an impressive 7.5 average, but 103 yards of that total came on two plays. The first was the 48-yard run by QB Ryan Tannehill on a read-option type play, and the other was the 55-yard run by Daniel Thomas in the fourth quarter. On their other 22 attempts, the Dolphins rushed for 68 yards.