Game SnapShot Pittsburgh Steelers - Miami Dolphins

<i><b>KICKOFF: </b> Sunday, 1:00 ET ( Could be moved to Saturday, announcement should be today Friday, 24. <br><b>GAMEDATE: </b> Undetermined <br><b>SURFACE:</b> Grass <br><b>TV:</b> CBS, Gus Johnson, Brent Jones</i> <br><br><b>SERIES:</b> 20th meeting. Miami leads the series 11-8, including a 2-1 record in the playoffs. But Steelers coach Bill Cowher has a 3-2 edge on the Dolphins. They last met in Miami in 1998 and the Dolphins won, 21-0, one of only four shutouts of a Bill Cowher team.

2004 RANKINGS: Steelers: offense 24th (23rd rush, 21st pass); defense 15th (18th rush, 13th pass). Dolphins: offense 27th (32nd rush, 16th pass); defense 2nd (28th rush, 1st pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: With rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger making his first career start, the Steelers will rely heavily on a ground game that hasn't produced much to date. The Dolphins will focus on RB Duce Staley, but will likely see more of Jerome Bettis, whose power running could be effective against the middle of Miami's shorthanded defensive line. But if the Dolphins can stop the run and come after Roethlisberger, they will likely force the turnovers they desperately need to help their struggling offense. Miami benched LT Wade Smith and must get improved play out of the offensive line. RB Lamar Gordon has been hit in the backfield far too often and first-year starting QB A.J. Feeley has had precious little time to look downfield. But when he does, his decision making has been poor and Pittsburgh will look to capitalize with turnovers of its own.

FAST FACTS: Steelers: Roethlisberger is the team's first rookie starting quarterback since Bubby Brister in 1986. ... The three quarterbacks on the roster had thrown a combined four NFL passes before last week. Dolphins: First 0-2 start since 1988. They have not started 0-3 since 1969. ... Lead the series 11-8. ... LB Junior Seau has played in 217 career games, passing Darryl Talley for sixth-most all-time.

PREDICTED SCORE: Dolphins 17, Steelers 9

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at Miami Dolphins (0-2)


-- LB Kendrell Bell did not practice again on Thursday and it appears he will miss his third regular season game. Bell, who has a groin injury, has not played since the first exhibition game. Larry Foote will again replace him.

-- CB Chad Scott practiced for the first time this week on Thursday, so it's likely he will play in Miami. Scott left the game last week in Baltimore with a groin injury and he was listed as questionable this week.

-- RB Verron Haynes practiced on Thursday, so he should be ready to play on third downs again. Haynes had a hip pointer and is listed as questionable. If he did not play, Duce Staley would take all the third-down work.

-- RB Jerome Bettis has never dressed for two straight games in which he did not have at least one carry. Bettis was involved in several plays at Baltimore last Sunday but did not touch the ball.

-- SS Troy Polamalu leads the defense in tackles by a wide margin. He has 14 solo tackles and 21 total, compared to ILB James Farrior's 10 solo and 15 total.

--DT Tim Bowens (back) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and is unlikely to play Sunday against Pittsburgh. Bowens has missed the past two games and practiced just once during the regular season because of a disc problem.

--DT Jeff Zgonina is expected to start Sunday against Pittsburgh. Zgonina will replace Tim Bowens, who hasn't played this season or practiced this week because of a back injury.

--LB Tony Bua (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and is unlikely to play Sunday against Pittsburgh. The rookie backup for starting WLB Junior Seau and a core special teams player, Bua was injured in the second half of last Sunday's 16-13 loss to Cincinnati.

--FB Rob Konrad (infection) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and is unlikely to play Sunday against Pittsburgh. Konrad has missed the past two games because of thigh problems stemming from the infection.

--DE David Bowens returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session because of illness. Bowens will start Sunday against Pittsburgh.

--RB Travis Minor (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and is out for Sunday's game against Pittsburgh. Minor also missed last Sunday's 16-13 loss to Cincinnati after being injured in the previous game against Tennessee.


The Steelers moved up their departure date to Miami in order to avoid being shut out by Hurricane Jeanne, something they also hope to avoid when they play the Dolphins on Sunday.

The NFL requested the Steelers leave earlier on Saturday because of the possible affects the impending hurricane might have on airports. Coach Bill Cowher chose to leave Friday night instead because of some players' anxiety flying into that kind of weather.

There's a different kind of anxiety associated with the game because rookie Ben Roethlisberger will make his first NFL start at quarterback. They don't want to put all the pressure on him to make plays, which means their running game must get in gear.

So far, it hasn't. The Steelers average 100 yards rushing a game, 23rd in the league. They ranked an all-time low 31st last season at 93 yards a game. They average 3.4 yards a carry this year, up slightly from 3.3 last year. This, even though they added Duce Staley and emphasized the run all through the preseason.

"We've been saying that the whole offseason and this year, just to get the running game started in general for us," fullback Dan Kreider said. "It takes a little more pressure off your passing game, it allows you to do a little play action. I would suspect you'd want to get him comfortable, get his feet wet a little bit and then go from there."

A good ground game would take the heat off Roethlisberger.

"It's critical," halfback Jerome Bettis said, "because you know teams are going to try to blitz you and get (Roethlisberger) rattled early. It's important to run the football to keep us in third-and-short yard situations so you don't put the pressure on the quarterback."

A.J. Feeley is receiving the brunt of the criticism of Miami's offense after the team's 0-2 start, but tailback Lamar Gordon may also start feeling the heat if the running game doesn't begin showing improvement Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Making his first Dolphins start in last Sunday's 16-13 loss at Cincinnati, Gordon rushed for only 22 yards on 19 carries as Miami failed to pick up a rushing first down for the first time since 1969. Although Gordon caught a team-high eight passes, more of a ground game is needed if the Dolphins are going to take some of the heat off the inexperienced Feeley.

"It was a bad game," Gordon said. "We've got to stick together and get better. I know it can't get any worse."

Gordon is playing behind an offensive line that is now fielding five new starters from last season after Damion McIntosh was promoted earlier this week to replace struggling left tackle Wade Smith. Gordon also is still growing comfortable playing for the Dolphins after being acquired just before the season opener in a trade with St. Louis.

"I'm pretty comfortable with anything called," Gordon said. "I know what to do. But I still have to get comfortable with the line, other players, and just everything. Once I get comfortable, I could just go out there and be loose and play. Right now, I'm still learning a little bit."

But with the Dolphins ranked last in the NFL in team rushing average (45.0 yards) and yards-per-carry (2.3), Miami is hoping Gordon's acclimation doesn't take much longer.

"It's tough," Gordon said. "I don't care what the situation is. When you have 22 yards as a running back, it makes you just get angry and excited for the next game to go out there and run even harder."

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