By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins faced off for a Week 6 matchup in Miami. The Steelers entered the week with the chance to keep pace with the Patriots atop of the AFC. However, the game got out of hand quickly, with the Dolphins coming away with a 30-15 and knocking the Steelers d0wn to 4-2 on the season. Just after it appeared that the loss to the Eagles was in the rearview mirror, the Steelers lost to another sub-.500 team that has become a characteristic for the franchise.
After every game, there are players who deserve praise, and others not so much. With another solid performance under their belts, who are the winners and losers for the Steelers this week?
Darrius Heyward-Bey: While it might have been just one play, DHB’s 60-yard touchdown run was enough to land him on the “winners” list as it served as the only real bright spot during an otherwise dreary performance for the Steelers. While he is far-removed from his time as the #7 overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, his speed is still elite, which he demonstrated by bursting through the hole. The icing on top of the cake? His hit-stick trucking of Dolphins safety Reshad Jones.
Le’Veon Bell: While the Steelers offense was abysmal during the entirety of the game, Bell was able to put up 53 yards on 10 carries (5.3 yards per rush) and 55 yards on 6 receptions (9.2 yards per reception). What was confusing about the Steelers gameplan was how little they used their top playmaker during the game. Bell arguably had the best positive impact for the Steelers and when he had the ball in his hands, he was able to consistently get positive yardage.
Ross Cockrell: The Steelers secondary still has problems. Cockrell is not one of them. Cockrell was able to contest passes (2 passes defended) while being effective in coverage. He was the best player in the secondary yesterday (which isn’t saying much), but there is no question who the Steelers #1 cornerback is at this point.
Stephon Tuitt: I know, the Steelers run defense was terrible yesterday, allowing Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi to become the first player to gain 200+ yards rushing against them since Fred Taylor did it back in 2000. Yes. 2000. But it was not all bad, as Stephon Tuitt put together a solid defensive performance, grading out as the best player for the Steelers according to Pro Football Focus. Tuitt tallied three tackles (all solo), while also having a positive impact as a pass-rusher. It might not seem like much, but without Tuitt, Ajayi could’ve put up even bigger numbers.
Javon Hargrave: Just as with Tuitt, Hargrave put together a solid performance individually, being a disruptive force against the run. Hargrave looked like a rookie at times but that was for two reasons: 1) he is a rookie and 2) he did not have much help around him. Hargrave is showing nice development for the Steelers and will be their guy in the middle for the foreseeable future.
Tyler Matakevich: After Vince Williams left the game due to an injury, Matakevich stepped in for his first meaningful snaps of his career. All he did was lead both teams in tackles (nine total, seven solo). What was more impressive about Matakevich’s performance was the fact that a large portion of his tackles came downfield due to running backs quickly getting to the second level. He was far from perfect, but he was solid in relief, considering the Steelers had to play him since their first- and second-string inside linebackers were unavailable.
Ben Roethlisberger: A person who knows nothing about football could tell you that Roethlisberger had a poor performance. Sure, he was injured for over half of the game. But before that injury, he was still playing bad football. His two interceptions were disastrous and left you scratching your head at his decision making. Both interceptions also helped give Miami excellent field position and put up two touchdowns. Roethlisberger did not look to be in-sync with his wide receivers and at this point in the season, you can’t have that.
Antonio Brown: I understand that Antonio Brown went into the game leading the league in receptions and that he is routinely double- and triple-teamed in coverage to prevent his big-play ability. But here are his receiving stats so far this season: 126, 39, 140, 64, 78, 39. Sure, those stats aren’t terrible and give him 486 yards on the season. But as the best receiver in the league, you are expected to make a huge impact on the field. Brown’s performance against the Dolphins was arguably his worst of the season (with the exception of one amazing catch). It wasn’t all Brown’s fault this week as Roethlisberger was having one of his “off” games and no receiver around him did anything to help him (here’s looking at you, Sammie Coates), but Brown needs to be able to make a difference.
Brown was far from the biggest loser of the game, but my point still stands. Roethlisberger needs to find a way to get Brown the ball and let him take care of the rest.
William Gay & Artie Burns: Unlike Cockrell, Gay and Burns both looked out of place during the game. Both allowed huge gains on separate occasions during the game. One the first occasion, Gay lost coverage on MarQueis Gray that almost ended up as a touchdown. One the second occasion, Burns looked like a rookie and bit inside hard after being led off by Ryan Tannehill. This caused the Steelers to go into double coverage over the middle, leaving Jarvis Landry streaking across the top for the easy deep reception. To add insult to injury, the typically sure-handed Gay dropped an easy interception that could have been returned for some nice yardage and maybe even a score, which could have completely changed the landscape of the game.
Offensive Line: For the second straight road game, the Steelers’ offensive line got beat up physically and simply outplayed. The Dolphins controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the day as the Steelers’ offensive line struggled in pass protection and run blocking. The line allowed two sacks and Roethlisberger was under pressure for most of the game. The Steelers offensive line has too much talent on it for performances like these.
Pass Defense: Not only was the pass coverage horrendous, the Steelers gave Tannehill enough time to throw just about any pass that he wanted. The Steelers finished the game with just two pressures and zero sacks. This was against the same Dolphins team that had allowed 11 sacks over the two previous games. Tannehill was getting rid of the ball quickly, but at some point, the Steelers need to find a way to consistently get after the quarterback. With no pressure up front, the secondary will continue to be left in isolation and will continue hemorrhaging yards to any quarterback in the league.
Side note: although I praised Stephon Tuitt earlier, it is worth pointing out that through the first 6 games, the star defensive end has yet to record a single sack. After finishing second on the team last year in sacks, You would expect him to put some sacks together. This is unacceptable.
Run Defense: For the sake of all of our sanity, I will not repeat the Fred Taylor stat that I mentioned earlier. But in short, this was a historically terrible performance for the Steelers run defense. The team’s tackling continues to be atrocious. Not only that, the team seems to be struggling to get off blocks, which will only cause headaches for the linebackers and safeties. At some point, the Steelers need to figure out ways to fix this issues, specifically with the tackling. The Steelers made Ajayi look like a 1st-ballot Hall of Famer and the Dolphins could do whatever they wanted with the football.
The defense looks noticeably different without Cam Heyward. Here’s hoping he can come back after the bye week.
Injuries: The NFL has been plagued with injuries this season, but very few teams have had the injury bug that the Steelers have caught. The Steelers went into this game without key players like Marcus Gilbert, Ryan Shazier, and Cam Heyward. After this game, the biggest blow of them all came when Ben Roethlisberger temporarily left the game due to a knee injury. Since the game, we have found out that the injury is a torn meniscus that will put him out for about 1-3 weeks. The Steelers win and lose with Roethlisberger and if his injury ends up being longer than expected, the Steelers will be in for a long remainder to the season.
Injuries have the ability to derail season’s. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the case for the Steelers.