Game Day Matchups

Neal Coolong breaks down the top matchups in today's Steelers-Dolphins game:

LT Max Starks vs. OLB Cameron Wake

The rest of the league is starting to wake up and recognize who Cameron Wake is. Or, at the very least, he puts three sacks on the teams that haven't. The ultra-athletic Dolphins pass-rushing OLB has strains of Jason Taylor mixed into his game, and has whipped every tackle he's gone up against thus far in 2010. The former CFL Defensive Player of the Year is long and athletic, and bats down as many passes at the line as he gets pressure on the quarterback.

Starks has been up and down through four games, struggling a bit with premier DE John Abraham in Week 1, and the complex blitz schemes Baltimore runs. He hasn't faced an athlete like Wake yet, and while nimble-footed Ben Roethlisberger can avoid a few sacks, if the Steelers wish to utilize a strong deep passing game, Starks is going to have to find a way to keep Wake at bay.

CB Ike Taylor and CB Bryant McFadden vs. WR Brandon Marshall

Marshall exploded on the porous Packers secondary, who chose not to cover him with their best corner, Charles Woodson, every play. They relied on a holistic team approach, and Marshall had 10 catches for 127 yards (his second 10-catch effort of the season). The Steelers' depth at the position is comparable to the Packers, and will have both corners, along with nickel back William Gay, on Marshall at times. All will be counted on to provide support against Marshall, who's a big play waiting to happen, and still has excellent possession receiver skills.

Steelers cornerbacks will typically get deep help, giving them the ability to concentrate on defending the passing lanes on shorter throws down the seam. That's Marshall's bread-and-butter area. While it will take a group effort to effectively slow Marshall down, Taylor and McFadden's ability to stay with Marshall on the move and move Chad Henne's eyes to another target will be pivotal in stopping Miami's offense.

LB Lawrence Timmons vs. QB Chad Henne

Timmons is playing at a Pro Bowl level, and has been instrumental in shutting the opposition's run game down this season. His success is coming in part to his incredible sideline-to-sideline speed, and his ability to recognize plays and utilize that athleticism have resulted in an average of over 10 tackles a game. Timmons was outstanding against Cleveland in Week 5, picking up his first AFC Defensive Player of the Week award, but he did let TE Ben Watson slip behind him for a touchdown reception when the game was all but over.

Henne is going to have to use what little amount of negative film there is on him, as well as whatever formations the Dolphins can muster to stretch the powerful Steelers defense horizontally. Miami will likely want to keep OLBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley occupied in coverage, so Henne's progression of reads is going to have to key off Timmons, and whether he is rushing or is dropping into zone.

WR Mike Wallace vs. CB Vontae Davis

Davis is quietly creeping into "best corner in the AFC" conversations, particularly when it comes to the deep ball. He has good speed, and has kept up with all challengers down the sideline so far this year. Teams haven't thrown at him too much, and he's only giving up about three catches a game, mostly short hook and curl passes.

Wallace lives outside the hashes, and has arguably the best vertical speed in the game. Roethlisberger underthrew him on a deep pass against Cleveland, but if Wallace caught it in stride, he would have gone 70 yards untouched. Pittsburgh should make a point to test the uber-talented Davis once or twice, and Wallace is a guy who could pull it off. It's a tough challenge, though, and Wallace hasn't shown much production in shorter routes, where Davis is a bit more exploitable.


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