Five Storylines Ahead of Dolphins-Steelers

Things to accomplish against a tanking team

Matt Koll
October 28, 2019 - 12:38 pm
Ryan Fitzpatrick

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I don't know if there's ever been a game in which the final outcome was decided before it even began quite like this one. Not even because of anything the Steelers have going on or what they will do, but because of the open nature in which the Dolphins are completely throwing their season and actually WANT to lose games. But here we go...some storylines to watch for tonight. 

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5. The Tank Continues 

The Dolphins are intentionally depleting themselves of talent at an epic rate. Having already traded away their best offensive lineman in Laremy Tunsil and their top reciever in Kenny Stills...oh and a top young defensive back in Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins were at it again over the weekend. 

Starting running back Kenyan Drake was traded to Arizona on Sunday and did not travel with the team to Pittsburgh. So that leaves Kalen Ballage and Mark Walton, a second year running back out of the U and former 4th round pick of the Bengals as the next men up. Guys are leaving town left and right, it's almost hard to keep up with. They've picked up players from the waiver wire and started them the very next week this season. That's where they stand right now. This "tanking" is truly historic by NFL standards and the Dolphins are putting all their eggs in their future basket unlike ever before. They seem completely content with going 0-16. 

4. FitzMagic or FitzTragic?

I can't take the credit for that line, that goes to RADIO.COM Sports NFL insider Armando Salguero who covers the team and has for years. Ryan Fitzpatrick has had a remarkable career, just by the fact that he has been able to stay in the league for this long while bouncing from team to team. Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said that he's played Fitzpatrick four times throughout his career for four different teams. 

With that, every couple years or so Fitzpatrick bursts on the scene wherever he is and comes up with a few good games. At least he wows you with a stat line or a deep throw or a gutsy play. Folks are always drawn to it and then he shows his true colors. 

Let's be real here...there hasn't been "FitzMagic" since the 2015 season. He threw 31 TD's with 15 INT's that year and did lead the Jets to 10 wins. But that's it. He'll put up some fantasy football numbers for ya. He'll maybe throw for over 300 yards, he threw for over 400 twice before his game against the Steelers last year as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

But he'll also turn the ball over. He'll also make reckless decisions. He did so against Pittsburgh last year, throwing 3 interceptions against a defense that only had 8 all year. Ultimately, he fizzles out, doesn't beat the good teams and loses important games. 

He's been on some bad teams, but his 50-78-1 record as a starter proves all of what I just laid out. Ultimately, he's a flash in the pan. He's just been doing it for 15 years somehow. 

Related: Mack: Steelers’ Mid-Terms Start Monday Night

3. Rusty or Refreshed? 

Talk about being well-rested. The Steelers haven't played a game since beating the Chargers in Pittsburgh West 24-17 all the way back on October 13th. 15 days ago. That's just about as long a break as you can get in the NFL. 

Mike Tomlin's teams are 8-4 coming off a bye week. But something tells me the Steelers may get off to a bit of a slow start. That they may be a little more rusty than refreshed at least through the first 15 minutes or so. Remember, Mason Rudolph is coming back into the fold and he hasn't played since October 6th. It's been almost a month since the offense was in his hands. 

This might be the one team that the Steelers can afford a slow start against, so long as it isn't prolonged beyond the 1st drive, maybe the 2nd. 

2. Rudolph Unleashed?

You've probably heard the calls from just about everyone covering the team calling for the Steelers to open things up with Mason Rudolph. If he is really your next guy, your potential predecessor to Ben Roethlisberger, then why not find out what he's all about? Why not tonight, against a putrid team, see what Rudolph is capable of? 

While he's been incredibly efficient with QB ratings right around 100 if not over for every game but one (81.4 against San Francisco), Rudolph has only thrown for over 200 yards once (229 vs. Cincinnati). The Steelers have done their part to limit his throwing opportunities as well, he's yet to attempt 30 passes in a game. 

I'd really love to see him go over those 30 attempts and 200 passing yards marks tonight, maybe even push that yards numbers to over 250. Obviously you don't do it at the expense of not keeping a balanced attack offensively, but open up the playbook fully to him. Give him the starting quarterback of the football team treatment instead of the backup quarterback of the football team treatment. 

If they don't trust him more this week, I'm going to really to start to wonder what they really think of him organizationally and if they trust he has a future here. 

Let him eat. 

1. Tune Up Game 

It's hard to break down a game that one side isn't trying to win. So maybe the focus isn't so much on the final score, which should go the Steelers way, but in how they do it. Is it too much to ask for a dominating performance? Is it too much to ask them to maybe put on a little bit of a show and stomp the Dolphins into the Heinz Field turf? 

For me, this is an establishment game. Use this game to establish what you are going to be, how you are going to play (and hopefully win) for the rest of the season. 

That being said, I want to hear Booger McFarland and the ESPN gang marvel over the work of the offensive line tonight. In years past, you'd hear the national broadcasters gush over how well the unit plays together, how they move defenders, create gaping holes down the field even. That hasn't been shown or said to this point. That needs to be established. 

Also, what is this running game going to look like for the rest of the year? Establish that. Is it James Conner as a true workhorse, getting close to 30 carries a game? Or is it what I think it ought to be more of, a split backfield with Conner, Snell and eventually Samuels sharing the workload? While Conner is a playmaker, he seems to get banged up in just about every game and I think it's silly to have two rather capable backs take a seat while Conner bears the brunt of the hits. Conner is still the top guy, but spells from Samuels and Snell should come more frequently. 

Also, I'm looking for the Steelers to continue what they've already established defensively which is getting after the quarterback and forcing turnovers. Though it has felt like he went down months ago, this will be the first game without Stephon Tuitt. I'm looking for the pass rush to not miss a beat and for the defense to continue to be turnover-savvy against a historically turnover-prone QB. 

Establish the identity tonight on both sides of the ball. I think the Steelers are still hanging on by a thread to the playoffs.  They'll need to know who they are before they take on a 5-2 Colts team next week.​

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