By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a setback on Thanksgiving night, losing by two points to the Baltimore Ravens in a game that could have placed them at an even .500 on the season. On Sunday, the Steelers will face a Miami Dolphins team (6-6) that is still in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs as well. With injuries on both teams being a factor, Pittsburgh expects rising quarterback Ryan Tannehill to present a challenge to their defense that will be without Brett Keisel.
Competition between Miami’s Mike Wallace will be stiff as he plays against familiar faces on the Pittsburgh roster, but the Steelers defensive backs know what to expect. It will be Pittsburgh’s offensive line that will need to pull together as they once more patch the vacancies caused by injury against a stout Dolphins defense.
In his two seasons with the Steelers, offensive coordinator Todd Haley has witnessed the revolving door of offensive linemen and the difficulty in producing answers in order to win games.
“Generally, teams that are able to stay healthy up front are usually the teams that end up getting some wins if they are any good,” Haley said on Thursday. “We’ve been shuffling guys and having to deal with some of that…The (offensive line) have fought all year long and have done a good job continuing to improve and get better, and try to keep Ben Roethlisberger as clean as possible.”
Cody Wallace will start at center due to injuries to both Fernando Velasco and Maurkice Pouncey. Velasco tore an Achilles and had it surgically repaired this week and will likely miss the rest of the season.
Wallace admitted that every week has been a challenge for the Steelers offensive line. “I’m definitely excited about the opportunity to get out there and play. I’ve been in the league now for six years and haven’t had a chance to contribute a whole lot during a game.”
Wallace came into the Ravens game when Velasco was injured and said of his preparation for the game against the Dolphins, “I work hard at practice and I’ve always been in pretty good shape…I feel like running around out here all season has definitely gotten me ready [to start].” Coach Mike Tomlin gave Wallace preps in his press conference. “[He’s] a guy that’s a professional, a guy that’s capable, a guy that’s been readying himself for some time since he’s been here to answer the call that he’s been given right now.”
Tannehill has proven to be a mobile quarterback for the Dolphins, moving quickly into a formidable opponent. Coach Tomlin called that mobility a “concern.” “(Tannehill’s) got a nice set of weapons that he utilizes,” said Tomlin. “He’s capable of creating when plays break down, scrambling, running, buying time, throwing on the run, all of those are assets to his game.”
“I see a quarterback on the rise, definitely,” said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “He has great timing, he’s really good mentally, good vision, he sees the field well and he knows the timing of his routes.”
LeBeau feels that Tannehill has taken advantage of good coaching. The Steelers will look to contain him, forcing him to remain in the pocket, with play from the defensive front, with Cameron Heyward emerging as a quality option and Al Woods’ recent entrance to regular season play. Jason Worilds will be given a green light to haunt Tannehill as well.
“[Heyward] has had the size, the strength and the speed,” said LeBeau. “He just works hard every down and he’s going to continue to get better when you work like that.”
As for Woods, LeBeau said he is comfortable with where the young defensive player is at. “(Woods) has played well any time he’s been in there. He’s going to give you everything he’s got. He’s very strong,” said LeBeau, “he’s big and he’s a focal point in there for us to scrape around…I feel good about having him in the lineup.”
The Steelers have seen deep balls sail past their defensive backs a few times for long yardage this season. It is an issue that LeBeau doesn’t see as any different than past seasons. “It just appears to me that (receivers are) catching it a little more often than they did. We’ve got to cut that out.”
As for defending Mike Wallace, LeBeau and cornerback William Gay agree that they can’t allow him to get downfield for a long throw from Tannehill. “I’ve said this many times,” said LeBeau, “that the best pass defense is sack the quarterback, so he can’t throw it. Barring that, we just have to get (Mike Wallace) covered and play the ball in the air. We’ve got to make it one of the weeks that (the Dolphins) don’t get us deep.”
When asked, Gay said, “[He’s been] getting behind the defense and scoring touchdowns, something that you can’t allow…Hopefully, we can put a stop to that.” Although Wallace is a threat, Gay feels that Brian Hartline is an equal challenge. “They’ve got two number one receivers,” said Gay. “That’s how you’ve got to look at it…You’ve just got to make sure you’re on your P’s and Q’s with both receivers.”
The Steelers have a mixed bag of injuries on both sides of the ball. With Keisel out and Steve McLendon only seeing limited practice on Friday, Pittsburgh has addressed the issues by finding capable replacements. Offensive guard Kelvin Beachum is doubtful to be ready due to a knee injury. Offensive tackle Mike Adams, running back Le’Veon Bell, offensive guard David DeCastro, and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley were all full participants in practice on Friday.
All of Miami’s injuries seem to be on defense, but only cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) is listed as out. Defensive end Cameron Wake is questionable with a knee injury and limited practice this week, as is linebacker Jason Trusnik (rib) and cornerback Don Jones (elbow). The Dolphins have six defensive players listed as ‘probable’.
Official Steelers Injury Report
- DE Brett Keisel (foot)
- OG Kelvin Beachum (knee)
- DT Steve McLendon (ankle)
- OT Mike Adams (ankle)
- RB Le’Veon Bell (concussion)
- OG David DeCastro (foot)
- OLB LaMarr Woodley (calf)
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on