The Steelers have run the gauntlet in recent weeks of NFL passing attacks. And they've done so at less than full strength.
Two weeks ago, it was a failed effort against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in a game they played without strong safety Terrell Edmunds and Ahkello Witherspoon, with corners Cam Sutton and Levi Wallace and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick all banged up in the 38-3 loss, as well.
Last week against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Steelers got Edmunds back, but were missing Witherspoon, Sutton, Wallace and Fitzpatrick. It didn't matter, as the Edmunds-led secondary did the job against Brady and company in a 20-18 victory.
Now, the Steelers (2-4) face a completely different task this week in slowing the passing attack of the Miami Dolphins (3-3) Sunday night at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Dolphins, who have played the last two games without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa because of a concussion, will get him back in the starting lineup. But more importantly – and concerning for the Steelers, is the combination of wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
The two might be the fastest wide receiver duo in the NFL. And regardless of who has been at quarterback for the Dolphins, they've been dangerous. Hill, acquired via an offseason trade with the Chiefs, leads the NFL with 701 receiving yards, while Waddle, a former first-round draft pick, is fifth with 533.
So, how does Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin plan on having his guys keep up with the speedy duo?
"We could put our guys on a car or a motorcycle," Austin joked Thursday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex. "I don't know if you can get ready for that speed. That speed is unique. It's not just (Hill). You've got Waddle across from him. Those guys can really run."
Fortunately for Austin, he just might have a full complement of defensive backs available to him.
Fitzpatrick, Sutton, Witherspoon and Wallace all have a chance to return this week, which would mark the first time in the past month the Steelers have a possibility of having them all on the field together at the same time.
Not that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin or Austin were unhappy with the play of fills in such as Joshua Jackson, Tre Norwood, James Pierre and others who were forced to fill in, particularly last week against Brady.
"Those guys did well. They played hard," Austin said. "They did what we asked them to do. They executed the game plan really well. They showed up. They played varsity ball for us, and that's always good moving forward. If we get in a pinch and those guys have to step into the game, they can play varsity football."
The Steelers will need more of that this week against the Dolphins, who rank second in the NFL behind the Bills in passing yards per game at 286.
The Steelers have faced Hill before in the past, including twice last season when he was with the Chiefs. In six career meetings with Hill, the Steelers have allowed him to post more than 57 yards just once. His career high against Pittsburgh is 90 receiving yards set in 2018.
But the Steelers aren't looking at that and assuming they'll shut Hill down.
- Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast
"That's a whole different quarterback, whole different situation," Edmunds said of having faced Hill twice last season with the Chiefs. "We've just got to focus on what we've got to do."
That will mean keeping both speedy Miami receivers in front of them and not allowing big plays. Waddle leads the NFL with four receptions of 40 or more yards this season, while Hill is tied for second with three. That's more even than the Bills, who hit the Steelers for three such plays in their win Oct. 9.
"Any time you play a team with speed like that, you're obviously aware of it, but you can't be scared of it," Austin said. "You know what they're good at and you try to take it away. We're not going to be able to cover them all, man-to-man running around all day. We're going to have to put our guys in good positions to maybe kind of catch some of these things on these crossers and deep balls and keep them in front of us."
And tackle the catch.
That's where strong play from the safeties will come into play.
Yes, Hill and Waddle are going to make catches. But if Fitzpatrick and Edmunds are there to help get them on the ground quickly, those plays can be minimized.
Fitzpatrick and Edmunds have been good at that this season. Fitzpatrick has missed just two tackles this season and is third on the team with 33 overall, despite missing last week's game with a knee injury. Edmunds, meanwhile, had a season-high 10 tackles in the win over the Buccaneers.
"(Edmunds) played really well last week. He triggered. He did a lot of really good things," Austin said. "It was good because he was the veteran out there. He was the guy who has played a lot of football for us. I thought he did a really good job leading the way for us on the back end."
The Steelers will obviously need more of that this week, regardless of who is out there.
"Everybody was just locked in," Edmunds said of the team's play in the secondary last week. "We all bought into the same job because we all just wanted to win. We were 1-4, now we're 2-4. Not much has changed with our mindset with things. We've just got to try to get another win."