Miami Dolphins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Exclusive Preview
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics WriterSeptember 6, 2006
In the first game of the regular season, the Miami Dolphins will battle the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams finished the regular season last year on hot streaks, but the Steelers were the team to advance to the postseason and win the Super Bowl. Without Ben Roethlisberger this week though, will they be able to pull it off against a Dolphins team that looks to make the postseason for the first time in years?
Thursday Night Football - Week 1
Overall Record: 0-0 Road Record: 0-0
Overall Record: 0-0 Home Record: 0-0
Theoretically, Culpepper should be an outstanding acquisition for the Dolphins. In reality, it's no known yet whether or not he'll be a complete disaster instead. His gameplay was unbearable last year with the Vikings without Randy Moss. He fumbled, threw interceptions, and looked clueless on a consistent basis. It's a whole new season, but no one is sure if he's in sync with the Dolphins offense yet. In the best case scenario, Chris Chambers would form a similar connection with Culpepper that Moss did, in terms of production. Unfortunately for Culpepper, his first test comes against the Steelers defense. The Steelers will try and confuse him with blitzes, and Troy Polamalu will be ready to intercept any poor decision he makes.
The game would have been much greater if Ben Roethlisberger was in at quarterback. Although Roethlisberger should be considered an established quarterback in the league, there were questions regarding his health after his motorcycle incident. Batch will not light it up for the Steelers for one reason: he doesn't have to. Batch knows that if he only makes safe throws all game long, he'll be giving his team a great chance to win.
He'll be the exclusive back this year with Ricky Williams gone. After a solid rookie season, Brown is looking to become one of the top running backs in the AFC, and the best running back that Culpepper has ever had beside him. Everyone knows the Steelers' run defense is as good as it gets, so he needs to be on top of his game for Miami to have a chance.
Lee Suggs: Just recently acquired, Suggs will spell Brown if needed. Suggs faced the Steelers in the past while with the Browns, but his action should be very limited.
Fast Willie Parker was a surprise selection as a rookie last year to be named the team's starter, but it paid off. Instead of utilizing power, Parker was pure speed. Unfortunately, without Jerome Bettis this year, the team had trouble finding someone to take his role and give Parker a breather.
Verron Haynes: He will be the team's backup come Thursday, and will also come in on most third downs like he did last year. At the moment though, it looks like Parker could handle the goal line situations.
It may seem like Chambers has been underachieving since entering the past couple of years, but that's not the case. He has played very well, despite not having the greatest quarterbacks to throw him the ball. The rest of the Dolphins receivers are not threats on a consistent basis, meaning the Steelers defense will be focused on the talented Chambers often.
Marty Booker: He's been consistently average during the veteran's past couple of seasons. If he makes a play, it's often down the field rather than being a possession receiver.
Randy McMichael: Look for Culpepper to throw for the tight end often, but he'll have to make sure Polamalu isn't playing possum. If Culpepper makes an erratic pass over the middle to McMichael, the Steelers will capitalize.
Is there anyone more consistent in the league than Ward? Whether Roethlisberger, Batch, or even Tommy Maddox(ok, not Maddox) are starting, Ward is bound to make a game-changing play twice a game. With the losses of Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El over the past two years, he will need to compensate for a lack of a veteran receiving group.
Cedrick Wilson: After coming on strong for the role he was given last year, Wilson is expected to do the same thing this year: make plays. He won't be a person that teams worry about, but as long as he catches the ball when it's thrown his way, that's all the team needs.
Santonio Holmes: He's had some controversy already as a rookie, but Holmes hopes to be a big-play threat for the Steelers. It's tough to tell what he'll be able to do until he steps onto the field though.
Heath Miller: Miller could be the goal line threat that replaces Bettis, but in the passing game instead. He already performed that role well last year, and could see more looks this year.
After undergoing a new-look secondary, the Dolphins are still ready to defend the Steelers running game. Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor are incredible linebackers and will be looking to stop Willie Parker all game. Some people feel that it'll be better for the Dolphins to put eight men in the box and force Charlie Batch to make a play. It seems logical, but when teams tried it against Batch last year, all he did was make the necessary throws and move the football. The Dolphins will have to hope that their schemes are creative enough to force Batch into a mistake that he shouldn't be making with the way the Steelers' gameplan will be.
All but two players will be returning to the Steelers defense, and those positions will be filled rather quickly. Joey Porter and Troy Polamalu are two players that Culpepper will have to be aware of at all times. Both men can blitz very well, while Polamalu could appear to be blitzing one second, but drop back into coverage the next second. The Steelers know that Culpepper is a scrambling quarterback, but when he's pressured immediately and scrambles on plays not designed for it, the result is often costly. Running the ball will be tough, meaning that it's critical that Culpepper is spot on with his deep playaction passes.
The Dolphins entire game will most likely depend on how Culpepper plays. We already know that it'll be difficult for any running back to do well against the Steelers, meaning no one's expecting Ronnie Brown to rush for an automatic 100 yards, while eating clock at the same time. Culpepper will have to come out with a bang, because if he makes one mistake to give the Steelers an early lead, they will be able to milk the clock the rest of the game. On one series, he needs to be able to connect on a deep ball to Chambers, while on the next, he'll need to be able to scramble for a first down. The extra tangibles that he has will be what could allow Miami to pick up a victory.
Defensively, the Dolphins must hope that they can expose the Steelers potential weakness at running back. Despite Parker's success last year, the team does not have a Jerome Bettis to take the beatings of a one-yard run this year. Verron Haynes and Duce Staley may be good enough for that role, but we simply do not know yet. Parker's known for making 60-yard runs that change a game, and if eight men are stacked in the box too often, one slip of a defender means that there is one less man in the secondary for him to beat down the field. Guarding the tight end Miller will be Batch's main checkdown receiver.
Offensively, it has to be one thing: Steelers' football. When Bill Cowher let Tommy Maddox gun the ball a few years ago, it didn't work out. Since they've returned to their gameplan over the past two years, it's been nothing but success. Coming off a Super Bowl, the Steelers are facing their first test against a Dolphins team that was hotter than Pittsburgh to end the season last year. They're also attempting to win without Ben Roethlisberger, and although they were 2-0 under Batch last year, that doesn't mean a whole lot come gametime. Batch will be put in a role to where he won't need to force the ball, while the Steelers will need to utilize their running backs in a way to take some pressure off of Parker.
The Steelers have to gameplan that they are facing the MVP-form of Culpepper, and not the turnover-happy version of him. Although he wasn't the greatest in the preseason, Culpepper has definitely shown great qualities of a quarterback in the past. Ronnie Brown is coming off of a nice rookie season where he wasn't worn out too bad, but will be carrying a heavier load this time around, much like Parker on the Steelers. Pittsburgh's defense needs to make sure there are one or two spies on Culpepper at all times due to his mobility.
Winner - Pittsburgh Steelers
Last year, I almost fell for the hype in the first game that the "new and improved" Oakland Raiders would defeat the reigning Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. Instead, New England won, and the Raiders went down the tubes after a tough schedule. The game storyline is similar this year - reigning Super Bowl Champion versus a team that is supposed to do much better this year. Fortunately for the Dolphins, there's no way they'll be as bad as the Raiders were last year. However, it'll be too tough to upset the Steelers on their field on opening day, with or without Roethlisberger. It'll be a close game, with the Steelers establishing control in the final quarter.
Final Score: Pittsburgh Steelers 23, Miami Dolphins 16.