Well… those last three weeks were chaos, am I right? Downright frustrating too. We can look and blame whatever we want but Sunday against the Vikings we straight up beat ourselves. Offensive penalties especially were a killer for our progress and turned a winnable position into another frustrating loss.
Against the Jets, we questioned the defense. Their tackling, their collapse, their lack of getting to the quarterback, we questioned them plenty. Well, boy did they respond against the Vikings. In the 17 possessions the Vikings had, TEN of those ended in 3-and-out punts back to Miami and one of the other 7 was a victory formation. That gave the offense plenty of opportunity. Opportunities our own ill discipline meant we didn’t take advantage of.
Yet, even so, we find ourselves 3-3. A position that was not inconceivable during the pre-season. Have we been 3-3 but beaten the Jets, Vikings, and Patriots, but lost to the Bengals, Ravens, and Bills, we’d probably been feeling a whole lot more optimistic. But within that, we lost to teams we should have beaten. We have lost games when in winnable positions. That said, we lost games without QB1, without our LT and RT starters. All of these should return this week as we get into the “easiest” part of our schedule. If they can stay healthy in 3 more weeks we could really be talking about 6-3.
Indeed last season at this stage we sat 1-5 and still ended up only one game away from the playoffs after the awful Tennessee game, so coming into week 7, 3-3, and getting key starting players back is absolutely a position we can rebound from, but that rebound really should begin this week.
So with this week’s importance, and the added spice of a Brian Flores reunion, I was extremely keen to get stuck into this preview with a Steelers fan for this weeks Behind Enemy Lines. This led me to Derrick Bell (@Steelers_DB) as we sat down to discuss Sunday’s Prime Time match-up.
Hello man, great to have you on board. I was initially drawn to your after your bio said “father first” and I am ALL ABOUT that girl-dad life. I have exactly that same mentality, so after I dug through your stuff, it seemed like a perfect hook-up. But for those members of the Dolphins fanbase who have yet to come across you, give us an introduction…
Absolutely JMR, no problem. My name is Derrick Bell, I am a contributor for FanNation’s All Steelers and my primary focus for the site is on film reviews and draft analysis. I have been writing and giving my thoughts on the Steelers and the NFL Draft now and it’s opened doors for me that I never imagined were possible. As a kid, I grew up a diehard Steelers fan and attended a ton of games with my father which really made me fall in love with the sport as a whole. Now as a father, these are experiences that I hope I can share with my daughter as she gets older. Football is really one of my few hobbies and I’m very blessed to have the platform that I do which allows me to talk ball every single day.
Could not love that more. You’re an idol my man. Living that football dream and sharing it with your daughter the way your father shared it with you. Fantastic man. So let me dig into that football side of your brain. After a difficult start to the season with the team faltering at times, you picked up a huge win this weekend. What does the season look like from here on in?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are very much a team in transition and 2022 will be categorized as a rebuilding year for a proud franchise. The Steelers have had a tremendous amount of success over the years as Mike Tomlin has still never had a losing season as the head coach of the team but this team has some glaring weaknesses from a personnel standpoint that can’t be ignored. The roster isn’t devoid of talent by any means as they have a couple of fantastic cornerstones in Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt but this is one of the least talented squads in quite a while. The rest of the way is about evaluating this young nucleus of players, particularly on the offensive side of the football, and hopefully seeing developmental progress as the season continues.
Ah we know all about Minkah Fitzpatrick, although we have a much more sour memory of him with the way he went about getting himself out of the Dolphins. He is a hell of a player, but very much the wrong time of our timeline for Minkah when he showed up. But we completely understand the talentless transition roster, we’ve been there in recent seasons.
So with that roster, where did the win against the Buccaneers come from? Did any particular unit dominate, did you get lucky, or has this been brewing for a few weeks?
Well, any time you are a double-digit underdog at home, I’m sure that is an easy message to rally around in the locker room. The Steelers were playing against house money and they came prepared. When you’re trying to complete an upset like that, you need several things to go your way and Pittsburgh’s special teams was huge on Sunday. New return man Steven Sims chipped in with an 89-yard kick return and a 24-yard punt return. Chris Boswell nailed a 55-yard field goal that took a lucky bounce off of the crossbar as well. And I think you have to credit Mike Tomlin and Teryl Austin for their game plan defensively, slowing down the Bucs, particularly in the red zone with a depleted secondary comprised almost exclusively of backups.
Defense being key could mean we are in for a low-scoring game. Going back to the Vikings at the weekend, our defense also held strong for the majority of the game with the offense unable to capitalize. That could lead us to a defensive slugfest this weekend. That said, Tua coming back gives us hope and optimism.
While we’re on the subject of quarterbacks, there is SO MUCH going on in your QB room this year. Trubisky and Pickett both came in to fill Big Ben’s big shoes, with Mitch starting, then Pickett getting the call and having a good start before his injury allowed Mitch back in to claim the win on Sunday. So much going on, where does it go next?
I believe it will depend on how Pickett progresses through the concussion protocol. I would lean towards Trubisky starting this week as he’ll likely see the majority of reps early on in the week during practice. Trubisky took a lot of heat early in the season for the offense’s struggles but he delivered in a big way on Sunday, converting multiple third and longs to sustain drives. There’s really not a drastic difference between either guys current effectiveness in this offense at the moment but that’s to be expected when comparing a rookie to a veteran who’s been around the block. This is Pickett’s team but we may not see him again for another week or so.
This is Pickett’s team? Already? So you guys are locked in on him being the future then it seems. How I wish we’d had that certainty surrounding Tua when he first got his shot. There was so much noise around him NOT being the guy, that to have such conviction like you have must be incredible for the franchise.
QB aside, how are your other off-season additions contributing to this season’s start? Whether that be rookies or free agents, are they having an impact or is to the more established players leading the way?
It’s been a bit of a mixed bag, honestly. Minkah Fitzpatrick was playing lights out before the injury and doing a lot of the heavy lifting defensively. Myles Jack has constantly been around the football and I think he’s been an upgrade from what they have had at inside linebacker for the past couple of seasons. Larry Ogunjobi was the other big money free agent they acquired and he’s off to a bit of a slow start but was fantastic on Sunday against the Bucs, generating a ton of pressure up the middle. James Daniels and Mason Cole have been solid along the interior of the offensive line but Cole’s effectiveness has taken a hit as he’s been dealing with an ankle injury lately.
Oh god of course, I completely forgot about Myles Jack, he would be an upgrade for most teams in the NFL, and he seems a great fit for a Brian Flores led linebacker room.
Whereas we’re sat 3-3 and feeling very underwhelmed after three difficult losses and a number of players touch and go on the injury report. Is this the kind of thing you expected from the Dolphins? And how do the Steelers see us? The team that started 3-0 in the first three weeks, or the team that has gone 0-3 in the last three weeks?
I think anytime you’re working with a backup quarterback, the expectations have to be lowered. Tua Tagovailoa’s injury was a scary sight to football fans across the world and I’m glad he’s recovered and hopefully he is able to have a long career. I think he significantly raises their ceiling if he’s truly the guy that we saw early in the season. While he may not have the rocket arm that fans covet, his plus accuracy and anticipation are things that stick out on film, dating all the way back to Alabama. I will say that I’m intrigued to watch them on film this week and try to pinpoint some of their struggles defensively. Over the years, I really enjoyed studying them on that side of the ball so I’m a little surprised by their slow start this year.
I think if you watch tape, genuinely watch the first few weeks with one viewpoint and then watch last Sunday as a comparable. Josh Boyer and his team turned up BIG against the Vikings and we saw the kind of defense that we have grown to love and expect. We have to hope that with Austin Jackson, Terron Armstead and Tua coming back onto the offense this weekend that we can make the most of what the defense started to bring.
So, anticipating the same answer I get each week haha, who are you guys most concerned about on the Dolphins roster? Who do you think poses the greatest threat on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball?
Offensively, as I am sure you expect, I think it has to start with Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. Both are exceptional talents with rare, game-breaking speed. Even if the Steelers somehow get healthy in the back end between now and Sunday, that’s still a major advantage for Miami. I think new left tackle Terron Armstead and Alex Highsmith will be must-see TV and a good test to see if Highsmith can continue his hot start against one of the elite left tackles in football. I have a ton of respect for what Xavien Howard does on a weekly basis as I feel like he’s given as much responsibility in the league as Miami expecting him to win those one on one matchups without help shaded to his side. Former Steeler Melvin Ingram is over there as well I have loved his game since college and I’m still a little sad that things didn’t work out for him over here.
Armstead getting back from injury will be hugely important for us. Without both starting tackles in the last couple of weeks, it has been a hard watch OLine-wise. Rumour has it he was close to playing against the Vikings, which hopefully bodes well for this coming Sunday.
But with the QB talk around your team refusing to go away, what other talking points are we missing out on? Who should the world be talking about, but who is currently going deeply under the radar?
Easy answer! If the world doesn’t know Alex Highsmith’s name by now, they’re just missing out on a really solid football player. Highsmith is a former third-round pick who took the spot of Bud Dupree once he left for free agency. He has been almost single handily carrying the Steelers’ pass rush so far this season without T.J. Watt on the field. Entering this past week, he already amassed 18 pressures and was near the league lead in sacks, and had yet another strip-sack on Brady yesterday. Highsmith is a speed rusher first and has a myriad of pass-rushing moves as his disposal such as a cross-chop and a ghost move with an inside spin move being his signature counter.
Oh christ, even more, important for Armstead to get back on track then. In fact, this could well be the battle of the terrible OLines. I have seen so much on Twitter about the Pittsburgh dissatisfaction over their OLine play and we are in a very similar boat. How much is that having an impact on your season and is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
I think the offensive line has been largely “fine” given expectations. It’s still not good by any means but they are light years better than they were last season which is progress nonetheless. They have done a better job giving the tackles, particularly Dan Moore Jr. more help in pass protection. Last season, the Steelers were saddled with a black hole at center in Kendrick Green who was learning a new position on the job as a rookie but Mason Cole, even at less than 100%, has been a noticeable upgrade. Neither offensive line is much to give fans what they want but it could be worse in both cases, I think.
Well, I can’t lie, that’s more positive than I was expecting. Maybe I am just salty because I drafted Najee in fantasy this year and I’m sat watching him struggle haha. But this game has more significance for us with the Brian Flores aspect. What kind of impact has he had so far and does the Pittsburgh fanbase have any interest in that side of the narrative at all?
Pittsburgh was buzzing whenever the move was announced as Flores is a very well-respected figure around the league. As most people are probably aware, this is Mike Tomlin’s defense first and foremost. Then you have Teryl Austin who’s now their defensive coordinator and I think Brian Flores voice has surely been one of the louder ones in the room as well. I was honestly hoping to see some more of Flores signature blitz looks up front but that hasn’t exactly been the case but that could be due to Pittsburgh being banged up defensively. They have been utilizing more of a 3-3 front which is certainly different from what they have used in the past. I know Flores and the Dolphins organization ended on rocky terms but I think that’s probably more of a talking point for Dolphins fans more than anything though I don’t doubt some of the players will aspire to play well for him.
Yeah, you’re probably right, maybe that only matters to us. There was the rocky break up with both sides seemingly throwing shade towards each other, but there seemed to be more besides. There seemed to be the link between him and DeShaun Watson too, which has driven many of the fanbases to suggest that a lot of the Tua controversy started with Coach Flores, and that hasn’t gone down well and has this billed as somewhat of a revenge game. But as you say, that could well only be relevant to us.
And as for Tua, all signs are pointing to him being fully back this weekend. Do the Pittsburgh fans have any specific opinion on him? He was building up some fantastic form before the recent injury, do you think he can get back to that form, or do you feel he has already peaked?
I was pretty high of Tagovailoa coming out of Alabama and he was the second quarterback on my big board. I loved the quick release and pinpoint accuracy, particularly working across the middle. Early on, I had suspicions that the hip injury he suffered late in college zapped him of a bit of his mobility and torque which has made his arm appear weaker at times than it actually is. I still think Tua can be a really solid quarterback in this league, especially working in this offense from Mike McDaniel that takes advantage of the middle of the field. Sometimes, it’s hard to have patience with young quarterbacks, especially ones that go through injury problems, but this is a guy that can provide stability in Miami if he can stay healthy.
Another Tua supporter, that’s two in two weeks!! Maybe the narrative is changing, or maybe I have just got lucky, but I would be thrilled for the world to start convincingly see in Tua what we have always believed in him. Hopefully, his return sparks a response to the recent defeats.
Finally then, what is your score prediction? How do you see this one playing out?
There’s just so much uncertainty surrounding the Steelers’ overall bill of health at the moment that it’s hard to say. As I said above, it’s not as much about who the starter is for me personally but more about the guys in the secondary working their way back into the lineup. I would anticipate a bit of rust for both quarterbacks and potentially a slow start offensively. With Miami at home and with Tagovailoa coming back, I would towards a narrow victory for Miami. Something along the lines of 23-17 sounds about right.
I am tending to agree with you there, and I don’t believe this is biased. I look back at our recent results, had we had better protection and smoother QB play, then we could have come out of those games with much better results. To know that Tua should return to improve the QB play and that our top Left and Right tackles should be back to improve aspects of the OLine, we should hopefully be in a position to take the opportunities that we’ve wasted recently.
So with that in mind, I can see you getting a couple of touchdowns, and Boswell having some success too. But I also see a Tua Tagovailoa resurgence to put us in the endzone a number of times, especially if your secondary remains light.
Therefore I’m going to go for a Miami victory, 31-23.
Thanks a million for coming on board with my series for the week, I hope you have a great week, Sunday aside. Love to you and your little girl, enjoy your week and I hope we get a chance to hook up again in future seasons.
So a quick turnaround for Behind enemy lines this week. There may well be further narratives and plot twists as the week goes on. Today we have already heard that Byron Jones is unlikely to be back yet and that Nik Needham is done for the season, so there are likely to be more twists to come in the build up to Sunday.
But as we stand now, we have cause to be more optimistic about this coming week, and with Tua returning, on Prime Time and against Brian Flores, there is so much scope for us to re-announce ourselves to the league and get our season back on track with real purpose.
On the flip side, going under .500 and with our team back to fitness it would put us in a difficult spot regarding the playoffs with the Bills already looking to have taken command of the division and us looking to fight for a wildcard spot. And truth be told, if we keep finding ways to lose, then we don’t deserve the playoffs in the first place.
But if you know me, I will remain optimistic. There is too much trending in our direction this week not to be excited, this is a perfect time to get our season re-started, and with the world watching on prime time. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by Dolphins, go earn this one!