Dolphins running game: 115.6 rush ypg (14th)
Steelers running game: 131.0 rush ypg (9th)
Dolphins run defense: 109.4 rush ypg (16th)
Steelers run defense: 63.8 rush ypg (1st)
Dolphins leading rushers
Ronnie Brown: 67 att. 299 yds, 4.5 ypc, 1 TD
Ricky Williams: 56 att. 240 yds, 4.3 ypc
Steelers leading rushers
Rashard Mendenhall: 116 att. 495 yds, 4.3 ypc, 5 TD's
Isaac Redman: 21 att. 89 yds, 4.2 ypc
Doesn't the week go by so much more smoothly after a Dolphins win? I will admit, previewing the next week's game is always more fun and exciting after a W. After a loss, you just want to get away from football until the second the ball is kicked off the next game. But we have an awful lot to look forward to this Sunday.
Check power rankings all over the web, the Steelers are widely considered to be the best team in football right now. That's because they are. Their defense is simply dominating, and their offense just got a two time Super Bowl winning quarterback back. We have all week to talk about Big Ben, though, now it's time to preview the running game.
And what a tough matchup this will be for the Dolphins. Rashard Mendenhall is quickly establishing himself as one of the best backs in football, currently standing at sixth in the entire league in rushing yards. And the Steelers' defense has been busy eating alive any offense that tries to get a running game going.
Dolphins running game vs. Steelers run defense
What would you do if you were Dan Henning? That's a difficult seat to be in right now. We know the Dolphins have been opening things up a bit the last few games, having thrown the ball more than they have ran in each of the last three contest, but against the Packers Henning kept things pretty balanced. Henne had a nice rhythm and Ronnie and Ricky finally returned to form. That's when this offense will be at it's best, when they stay balanced.
Yes, they only put up 23 points against an injury riddled Packers' defense, but it wasn't because they were having trouble moving the ball. They turned the ball over a couple times in Packer territory, and settled for two field goals (not counting the game-winning kick in OT). Is it even possible to employ a similarly balanced attack against the brick wall that is the Steelers' defense, though?
It sure won't be easy, but they at least need to keep the Steelers honest by giving them a moderate dose of Ronnie and Ricky. If not, guys like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are going to pin their ears back and get after Henne.
But the bottom line is, the Dolphins won't be able to run the ball on the Steelers if the interior offensive line blocks like they have all season. They were much better Sunday, but they need to come together in a hurry and each individual on that line needs to have a career best performance if the Dolphins are going to go toe to toe with the Steelers front seven.
A realistic benchmark would be about 80 yards. If Ronnie and Ricky can pick up about 40 yards a piece, and manage to stay in the mid to upper 3.0's for yards per carry, that could be enough production from the running game to open things up a bit for Henne and the passing game to make plays down field.
Steelers running game vs. Dolphins run defense
Unlike on the other side of the ball, I think there is a little more hope here. Don't get me wrong, the Steelers are one of the better running teams in football, they usually always are, but they're not impossible to stop.
Of course, in the Dolphins' case, it once again will come down to their ability to set the edge. I think they're solid up the middle, and with Channing Crowder now back in the lineup, teams shouldn't be able to pound the ball down the Dolphins' throats.
Getting Jared Odrick back would also go along way in stiffening the Dolphins front seven, because Randy Starks could then move back to nose tackle where he impressed early on. But when the Steelers turn on the game film of the Dolphins' game in Minnesota and their home games against the Jets and Pats, they are going to see an open gate on the edge of the defense.
The Dolphins stopped the bleading against the run a bit last week. But lets be honest, the Packers don't have a very good run game, and didn't test Cameron Wake and Koa Misi like they probably should have.
Just like the Patriots did a couple weeks ago, I expect the Steelers to run Reshard Mendenhall right at Wake all game long. Not only will that test what has been his biggest weakness thus far, but that could also ware him down and make him a less lethal pass rusher as the game goes on.
Wake has the tools to excel as an edge setter, and has done so quite effectively on a few plays this season, but he's going to have to establish some consistency in a hurry. Also, the backside pursuit needs to be ready to fill cutback lanes.
Against New England, there were times the Dolphins were able to take away the edge and forced the ball-carrier back into the teeth of the defense. The only problem was, Green-Ellis and Woodhead found all kinds of room to operate once they cut it back to the middle.
That means Miami can't get caught overpursing, which puts even more pressure on Wake and Misi to shed blocks and get after Mendenhall.
Stopping the Steelers' ground attack will be a difficult task to say the least, but it may be the key to a huge Miami victory. Take away Pittsburgh's running game, you take away their play-action passing game, which could lead to shutting down their offense completely.