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Dolphins 30, Steelers 15: Steelers full report card

Where have we seen this before?

Once again the Steelers laid a big egg against an NFL weakling, falling to the Dolphins 30-15 Sunday.

Unless the Dolphins (2-4) really are as good as the Steelers made them look Sunday, this will be the fifth straight year the Steelers (4-2) have lost to a team that finishes 5-11 or worse.

This time, there’s an extra layer of concern because assuming this loss does fall into that category, it’s the first such loss that has come by more than seven points. This didn’t come down to an unlucky bounce. The Steelers were beaten soundly.

The good news is the Steelers don’t face a bad team next week. They host the Patriots. The bad news is they won’t have Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee and was scheduled to have surgery Monday morning.

The Steelers have a bye in Week 8 and go to Baltimore in Week 9. Roethlisberger could miss just one game since Pro Football Talk is reporting that his surgery will only be a “cleanup” procedure. Just when the Steelers were starting to look like one of the best teams in the AFC, their season hinges not only on Roethlisberger’s knee but finding a way to handle teams they’re supposed to beat.

QUARTERBACK

Ben Roethlisberger has been a different quarterback on the road since 2014. He’s thrown 51 touchdown passes at home since then and only 18 on the road.

He went 59 minutes without throwing one Sunday before feeding Cobi Hamilton for his career touchdown. It turned out to be too little, too late.

Roethlisberger completed 19 of 34 passes for 189 yards, just 5.6 yards per attempt. He temporarily left the game with the knee injury, and CBS analyst Solomon Wilcots said that it affected his accuracy after he returned. But his two interceptions were more about poor decision making. He threw both into double coverage.

Landry Jones failed to complete his only pass when he subbed for Roethlisberger.

Grade: D

RUNNING BACK

Le’Veon Bell ran 10 times for 53 yards and was the Steelers’ leading pass catcher with six receptions for 55 yards. DeAngelo Williams added three carries for 10 yards. Running backs weren’t the Steelers’ problem Sunday. The problem was they could have been used a little more at certain points in the game.

Grade: B

WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END

Sammie Coates was a flop after last week’s breakout game. He caught no passes and was the intended receiver on both of Roethlisberger’s interceptions. No Steelers receiver caught more than four passes. That includes Antonio Brown‘s four catches for 39 yards, matching his season low in both categories. Cobi Hamilton played his first game since 2014 and caught his first career touchdown pass, but it doesn’t seem right that someone is wearing No. 83 so soon after Heath Miller‘s retirement. Speaking of tight ends, they were fairly quiet Sunday. Jesse James caught two passes for 13 yards and Xavier Grimble caught one for 11. James also was beaten on a sack. Darrius Heyward-Bey was this group’s saving grace with his 60-yard touchdown run on an end around.

Grade: C

OFFENSIVE LINE

For all the talk about the Steelers’ offensive line coming such a long way under coach Mike Munchak, this could be the second straight year that Ben Roethlisberger misses significant time because of a breakdown in pass protection. Roethlisberger was sacked twice and Dolphins defenders were credited with six quarterback hits. The most damaging play came in the second quarter when Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips grasped Roethlisberger’s left leg. Roethlisberger avoided the sack, but suffered a torn meniscus. The line did a decent job opening holes in the ground game. Even taking away Darrius-Heyward Bey’s 60-yard touchdown run and Landry Jones’ kneeldown, the Steelers averaged nearly five yards per carry.

Grade: C

DEFENSIVE LINE

Jay Ajayi, taken in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, hadn’t run for more than 48 yards in a game. On Sunday he ran for 204, the most any player has run on the Steelers since the Jaguars’ Fred Taylor in 2000. Poor tackling at all three levels of the defense cost the Steelers, who yielded 8.2 yards per rushing attempt. Cameron Heyward‘s absence was noticeable.

Grade: F

LINEBACKERS

Ryan Tannehill had been sacked 17 times this season going in Sunday’s game. Only Andrew Luck had been sacked more. But the Steelers didn’t sack Tannehill and hit him just twice. The Steelers toughened up in the red zone early in the game thanks to a couple of James Harrison tackles. But Jay Ajayi was able to bounce to the outside on a lot of his long runs and get past the second level of the Steelers’ defense. Just as the defensive line missed Cameron Heyward, the linebackers are starting to miss Ryan Shazier. Because of injuries during the game, seventh-round rookie Tyler Matakevich saw significant action and it wasn’t pretty at times.

Grade: F

SECONDARY

The game might have turned out a lot differently if William Gay hadn’t dropped an interception in the first quarter. The Steelers had just taken an 8-3 lead on Darrius Heyward-Bey’s touchdown and could have owned the momentum if Gay had held on to the ball and given the Steelers a short field. In the second quarter, Gay blew his coverage on a 53-yard pass to MarQueis Gray that led to a Dolphins field goal. Artie Burns was the culprit on a 39-yard pass to Jarvis Landry on third-and-7 that set up the Dolphins’ first touchdown and gave them a 16-8 halftime lead. The Dolphins entered the game 31st on third-down conversions (29 percent) but made seven of 14 on Sunday. Ross Cockrell was the lone bright spot in the secondary with two pass breakups. Mike Mitchell committed two unnecessary roughness penalties, the first of which aided a Dolphins field goal drive.

Grade: F

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jordan Berry averaged just 36 yards on five punts. A 25-yarder in the second quarter gave the Dolphins the ball at their 29, and they scored their first touchdown on that drive. The punt took a bad bounce, but it went just 33 yards in the air. Justin Gilbert returned a kickoff to the 34, but the Steelers had to start at their 12 because of a blocking-above-the-waist penalty on Steven Johnson. Gilbert only got to the 13 on his other return. Daniel McCullers blocked a field goal early in the third quarter.

Grade: C-minus

COACHING

The coaching staff had to be aware of the Steelers’ history of losing to inferior opponents, but whatever was done to prepare the team for this game didn’t work. The Dolphins would have been an 0-5 team if the Browns hadn’t missed a field goal at the end of regulation in Week 3, so if anything that 1-4 record was flattering. What was Todd Haley thinking calling a pass to David Johnson on third-and-1 from the Steelers’ 46 with three minutes left in the first half? Landry Jones was in the game for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, and Le’Veon Bell had carries of 12, eight and six yards on that drive. The six-yarder came on the previous play. Jones’ pass, his only one of the game, was incomplete and Jordan Berry uncorked his 25-yard punt to help the Dolphins expand their lead to 16-8 before halftime.

Grade: F

OVERALL

The Steelers’ performance Sunday makes it hard to dismiss their debacle in Philadelphia as a one-time clunker, especially since the Eagles have lost two straight since then and Carson Wentz has looked human. The Dolphins’ 474 yards of offense are the second-most the Steelers have allowed since Mike Tomlin became head coach. Miami was last in the league in time of possession going into the game, but had the ball for 36:30 on Sunday. The Dolphins shot themselves in the foot early. They had a touchdown nullified by a penalty and couldn’t capitalize in the red zone, but the Steelers couldn’t take advantage.

The Steelers can’t play like this and be considered a Super Bowl-caliber team. Unless they learn to take care of business against underdogs, these losses will make it difficult for them to get a favorable playoff seed if they even make the playoffs.

Grade: F

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