How Do the Dolphins Get There?

After watching the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in a fantastic finish in Super Bowl XLIII, we can't help but wonder what separates the Steelers from other teams in the NFL. More specifically, from the Dolphins. As in, what is it the Steelers have that the Dolphins need to get?

There are similarities between the teams, who both play a 3-4 defense and are led by a quarterback from the Mid-American Conference.

But the Steelers, judging by the way they beat Baltimore three times this year, obviously are a step above the Dolphins.

To gauge what the Dolphins need to do to get to that level, it might be a good idea to compare the teams.

We'll start on offense, where Ben Roethlisberger showed again on Sunday what a clutch quarterback he is. But as was evidenced last season, Chad Pennington looks to be more than good enough to get to a Super Bowl with the right pieces around him.

On offense, that means more help at wide receiver. Look at all the plays made by Santonio Holmes in the Super Bowl. It's obvious the Dolphins don't have a playmaker of that kind on the roster. Holmes has become for the Steelers what Ted Ginn Jr. was supposed to be for the Dolphins.

After two seasons, it's fair to wonder whether he'll ever become that kind of player. There's no question, though, that the Dolphins need that kind of game-breaking receiver to go along with guys like Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo.

One could argue that Hines Ward also is better than any receiver on the Dolphins roster and that Heath Miller is a better tight end than Anthony Fasano, but we're not talking about a huge difference in either case.

At running back, the Dolphins compare favorably with the trio of Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and Patrick Cobbs as opposed to Pittsburgh's combination of Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell.

In terms of the offensive line, this was not a typical Steelers line in that it was hardly dominating. In fact, if the Dolphins get guards Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas back at 100 percent and Vernon Carey is re-signed, the Dolphins offensive line has the potential to be very good.

It's on defense where there are major differences.

Pittsburgh had the best defense in the NFL in 2008, and there were difference-makers everywhere.

Start with the two outside linebackers, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Both are game changers. The Dolphins have one game changer, that being Joey Porter.

The recent signing of CFL Defensive Player of the Year Cameron Wake could help, but it might be too much to expect him to instantly become an impact player. Matt Roth just wasn't and isn't that kind of player.

Up front, the difference between the Dolphins and Steelers is at nose tackle, where Jason Ferguson is solid but Casey Hampton is one of the best. With Ferguson getting up there in age, this is an area the Dolphins will need to address soon, and getting someone like Hampton clearly would help.

In the secondary, the Dolphins aren't far behind the Steelers except when it comes to Troy Polamalu. He's a do-everything defensive back who just makes play after play. The closest thing the Dolphins have to Polamalu is Yeremiah Bell, but he's not quite in that league. Still, he's somebody the Dolphins would do well to re-sign this offseason.

In terms of special teams, there really isn't a big difference between the Steelers and Dolphins.

So, basically, it comes down to a few difference makers. The Dolphins have to get those -- a wide receiver, a nose tackle, an outside linebacker, a safety -- either in free agency or the draft, or they have to hope that one or more of their players (Ginn, for example) take a major step and reach that level.

Remember, the Dolphins finished at 11-5 in the regular season, which was only one game behind Pittsburgh's 12-4. Now, we're not suggesting that the Dolphins are that close to the Steelers, but they're also not THAT far.

The key will be continuing to move in the right direction in terms of personnel. The Dolphins did a great job of that last offseason; they need to do it again.

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