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Steelers 27, Dolphins 14: Steelers untested against middle-of-the-pack teams

The Steelers didn’t lose their sense of humor during their bye week.

They defeated the Dolphins 27-14 Monday night at Heinz Field, but not before letting this 0-7 team take a 14-0 first-quarter lead and a 14-10 lead into halftime.

This came two weeks after the Steelers came dangerously close to blowing a 24-0 lead against the Chargers in Los Angeles, winning that game 24-17.

Very funny, guys.

We know the 2019 Steelers like to toy with our emotions, but what else do we really know about this 3-4 team?

The teams they’ve beaten have a combined record of 3-20. The teams they’ve lost to have a combined record of 26-4. They can bench press the bar, but we don’t know how much weight they can handle.

We should learn a lot more Sunday, when the AFC South-leading Colts (5-2) visit Heinz Field. This is a team that held Patrick Mahomes to one touchdown and a 91.9 passer rating (Mason Rudolph’s rating is 97.5) in a 19-13 win at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 5.

Rudolph looked like an elephant on roller skates before completing 11 of his 16 passes in the second half to finish 20-for-36 for 251 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Some of the passes he did complete went through the hands of Dolphins defenders, so he’s lucky he threw just the one interception.

The second-year quarterback is going to struggle at times during this year-long audition for the role of Ben Roethlisberger’s successor, but through four starts his numbers aren’t too far off from Roethlisberger’s in his rookie season.

Roethlisberger’s passer rating in 2004 was 98.1. He threw 17 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in 14 games. Rudolph has thrown nine TDs and three picks in four games.

Rudolph currently leads the NFL with touchdowns thrown on 6.9 percent of his passes, according to Pro Football Reference. Russell Wilson is second in that category at 6.8.

Roethlisberger, who like Rudolph was pressed into starting duty because of an injury, did go 13-0 in 2004 and led four fourth-quarterback comebacks. He didn’t have to carry that team, however, because that 15-1 Steelers squad boasted the league’s best defense.

The 2019 Steelers defense is growing into the kind of unit that can make life easier for Rudolph. It’s now a top-10 defense (336.6 yards per game) and tied for fifth in the league with 3.7 yards allowed per rushing attempt. The Steelers forced four turnovers Monday and are second to the Patriots in both  turnover differential (plus-10) and takeaways (19).

The Steelers have forced only one less turnover through seven games this season than the 2013 team did all year.

Because they won Monday, the Steelers no longer are walking in the footprints of that 2013 team. The Steelers started 0-4 that year, then won two straight to improve to 2-4, dropped to 2-6, then rallied to finish 8-8 and come within a missed Ryan Succop field goal of the playoffs.

That 2013 Steelers team also would have made the playoffs if Antonio Brown had stayed inbounds on an apparent lateral-party kickoff-return touchdown at the end of a home loss to the Dolphins in Week 14. Of course, neither that nor Succop’s miss would have mattered if the Steelers had just managed to avoid being 0-4 at the quarter-pole of the season and 2-6 at the halfway point.

Like the 2019 Steelers, the 2013 team was 2-4, winning two straight after the 0-4 start. But Raiders’ quarterback Terrelle Pryor stomped out the Steelers’ momentum five seconds into their Week 8 meeting in Oakland by running 93 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The Steelers lost that game 21-18 and dropped to 2-5.

The Steelers were faced with similar infamy in the first quarter Monday night, but bounced back and got ahead of their 2013 pace.

This week-by-week comparison to 2013 became necessary when the Steelers started 0-3 this season, their worst start since 2013. Considering how close that team came to the playoffs, the postseason remains realistic this year as long as the Steelers avoid the rocky depths they fell into in 2013.

The next step for the 2019 Steelers will be learning how to beat a real team, and they’ll get a shot at that on Sunday.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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