8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Steelers -14.5, Over/Under: 42.5
Two teams mired in disappointing seasons for very different reasons conclude the week of football, as the winless Miami Dolphins take their show on the road to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers, from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s hard to imagine this season unfolding any worse for the Dolphins (0-6, 4th in AFC East), other than the fact that this is actually all going according to plan. That’s right, folks, Miami s actively TRYING to lose games this year. With a new regime in place, the franchise entered 2019 in full-blown tank mode, looking to take a plethora of steps backwards so that they can tear the roster down and start anew. Needless to say, this something that while being quiet prevalent in other sports, is fairly unique in the NFL, with the club hastening their rebuild by dealing away just about any valuable piece found on their roster. Stud Left Tackle, Laremy Tunsil? Traded to the Houston Texans alongside veteran Receiver, Kenny Stills, for a bounty of Draft Picks, including First Rounders in both 2020 and 2021, along with a 2021 Second Rounder plus additional players. How about promising Sophomore Defensive Back, Minkah Fitzpatrick (32 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 INT, 3 PD)? He was jettisoned in a trade with tonight’s opponent, the Steelers, in exchange for another 2020 First Round Pick, and a pair of conditional mid-rounders in 2020 and 2021. Mind you these transactions took place in the first few weeks of the campaign, AFTER the Dolphins parted ways with Starting Quarterback, Ryan Tannehill (dealt to the Tennessee Titans), and veteran Defensive End, Robert Quinn (sent to the Dallas Cowboys), bringing back even more Draft Capital. Simply put, Owner, Stephen Ross, General Manager, Chris Grier, and Head Coach, Brian Flores, are collectively punting on this season in an attempt to position themselves to major players in not just next year’ Draft, but the following as well, where they’ll hold a total of FIVE First Rounders. Indeed, it’s absolutely fascinating to see a professional outfit come to the conclusion hat only logical way forward is to voluntarily step backward, but as we’ve seen from various franchises in other sports (I.E. the Philadelphia 76ers), if you have the patience and conviction to trust the process, the rewards can be great. In the meantime, there have been plenty of losses with likely more to come, for this is an extremely depleted football team that lacks the both the necessary talent and depth to properly compete with even the middling teams in the league. Case in point: two weeks ago in a battle of winless sides, Miami failed to best the lowly Washington Redskins, despite scoring a late Touchdown that would have sent the affair to Overtime, only for Quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s (59.0%, 717 YDS, 6.21 NY/A, 3 TD, 5 INT, 48.9 QBR) ill-fated Two-Point toss fall to the ground in failure ending in a 16-17 defeat. When we last saw them, Flores charges blew a reasonable 14-9 Fourth Quarter lead, their first of the season, relinquishing twenty-two of the game’s final twenty-nine points in the Fourth Quarter at home against AFC East rival, the Buffalo Bills, punctuated by a 45-Yard Kickoff Return for a Touchdown, clinching yet another loss, 21-31. It really feels like they’re inventing new ways to lose, folks. For all intents and purposes, the home side was the better of the two last Sunday, amassing more First Downs (24/17), Total Yards (381/305), and Time of Possession (33:31), while committing fewer Penalties (6-55 YDS/9-83 YDS) and performing better on Third (53.8%/30.0%) and Fourth Down (100.0%/0.0%). However, a pair of Turnovers, including an Interception thrown by Fitzpatrick and lost Fumble courtesy of Receiver, Preston Williams (23 REC, 314 YDS, 13.7 Y/R, 1 TD), directly led to Buffalo Touchdowns. At this point, players are truly competing for their jobs, if not on next year’s squad then perhaps a place on another teams’ as early as November 1st; after already making a flurry of deals, one would have to figure that the Dolphins would prefer to increase their Draft Capitol by dealing away some of their remaining pieces before the October 29th Trade Deadline, for the right price of course. Former Pro-Bowl Safety Reshad Jones (21 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 PD) would likely net a Mid-Round Pick, while former young prospects, DeVante Parker (18 REC, 284 YDS, 15.8 Y/R, 3 TD) and Kenyan Drake (47 CAR, 174 YDS, 3.7 Y/C, 0 TD), who have largely disappointed in their time with the franchise, may end up yielding something reasonable. And then there is Josh Rosen (53.2%, 567 YDS, 3.79 NY/A, 1 TD, 5 INT, 19.4 QBR), the No. 10 Overall Pick in the 2018 Draft of the Arizona Cardinals, who was sent to Miami after a dreadful Rookie campaign and a regime change in the desert. The beleaguered Quarterback must be feeling a nauseating sense of deja vu, for it’s nearly an identical situation from the one he left, though in this case, his playing time has been anything but promised; the Sophomore has started three games as the club has wafted back and forth between he and the journeyman, Fitzpatrick, failing to make any positive impact, posting a miserable QBR of 19.4, with One Touchdown in comparison to Five Interceptions. Basically, what we’re saying is that the team that takes the field tonight, may look a bit different the next time we see them when they welcome the floundering New York Jets on November 3rd.
Meanwhile, the Steelers (2-4, T-2nd in AFC North) clearly aren’t where they want to be, and a lot of that has been due to injuries and departures of top-tier talent. Of course, the exodus began in the Offseason when the club parted ways with a pair of All-Pro performers, namely mercurial Tailback, Le’Veon Bell, and borderline mad Receiver, Antonio Brown, with the former signing with the New York Jets following a season-long holdout, and the latter traded to the Oakland Raiders for a Third Round Pick in last Spring’s NFL Draft. Needless to say, it’s difficult to proclaim any team better for being without players of their caliber; from 2014 to 2017, no Tailback in the league was more productive, or versatile as Bell, with the averaging 137.5 Total Yards from Scrimmage per Game, while all Brown did was put together the most prolific six-year stretch for a Receiver in NFL history, totaling 686 Receptions, 9,145 Yards, and Sixty-Seven Touchdowns from 2013 to 2018. With all that said, neither individual had brought much positive press towards the organization over the previous twelve months, with Mike Tomlin & Co. ultimately coming to the conclusion that a quieter lockerroom would lead to a healthier lockerroom, which would in turn parlay into sustained success. Furthermore, their departures were thought to be all the more tolerable given the presence of their young successors, Tailback, James Conner (74 CAR, 235 YDS, 3.2 Y/C, 3 TD), and Receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster (25 REC, 340 YDS, 13.6 Y/R, 2 TD), with both players under the age of twenty-five. Unfortunately, while it certainly a good plan on paper, replacing the veterans with cheaper, less-divisive personalities, hit a snag with the one void that the franchise could not fill: the presence of veteran Quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger (56.5%, 351 YDS, 5.38 NY/A, 0 TD, 1 INT, 20.8 QBR). The 37-Year Old, Six-Time Pro-Bowler, and Two-Time Super Bowl Champion tore a ligament in his Right Elbow, undergoing the equivalent of Tommy John Surgery in the NFL, ending his sixteenth season during it’s second contest. Compounding matters, the Steelers traded away his primary Backup, Josh Dobbs, to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a week prior to his injury, leaving Sophomore Signal-Caller, Mason Rudolph (67.0%, 646 YDS, 6.40 NY/A, 7 TD, 2 INT, 44.6 QBR) to lead the attack. Operating in a much more conservative version of the Offense, Rudolph slowly began to expand his horizons, showing signs of promise before taking a frightening shot to the head during a 23-26 Overtime Loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens. Sidelined with a concussion for the ensuing trip to Los Angeles, Tomlin was forced to turn to yet the most obscure of options, Practice Squad denizen, Devlin Hodges (75.9%, 200 YDS, 6.90 NY/A, 1 TD, 1 INT, 88.4 QBR), who in addition to being the FBS’ all-time passing leader at Samford, was notably the state of Alabama’s duck-calling champion. Seriously. However, credit tot eh Coaching Staff, for Hodges acclimated himself well in Pittsburgh’s surprising 24-17 victory over the Chargers, which wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate. The visitors led 24-0 heading into the Fourth Quarter, before the hosts managed to make matters look respectable down the stretch. Make no mistake, the Steelers dominated this affair, with the Defense coming up huge, forcing Three Turnovers, including a 9-Yard Fumble Return courtesy of Rookie Linebacker, Devin Bush (52 TKL, 3 TFL, 1 QBH, 1.0 SK, 4 FR, 1 TD, 2 INT, 3 PD), who also had an Interception as well, for a score to open their account in the First Quarter. Hodges performed admirably in his first Start, completing an efficient 15-of-20 Passes for 132 Yards, a Touchdown and an Interception, while Conner channeled his inner-Le’Veon Bell, amassing 119 Yards from Scrimmage and Two Touchdowns on Twenty-Three Touches. Coming off a Bye well-rested, one would figure that Rudolph will get the nod on Monday Night, where Pittsburgh has enjoyed a great deal of success over the years, winning eight straight contests under those bright lights of primetime.