Key Match-ups: Steelers-Dolphins

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's game between the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins.

LT Max Starks vs. OLB Joey Porter

Pittsburgh sees an old friend, J-Peezy, in their Week 17 Playoff game. Porter's been accused often recently of disappearing for long stretches of games, and has even been a healthy scratch a few times for Miami this year. As Steelers fans know, though, Porter takes anything he can find as motivation. Going up against his former team is more than enough for one of the most memorable players in Steelers history to ratchet his game up a few notches.

Starks played quite well against Baltimore in Week 16, but was beaten fairly often by Clay Matthew in Green Bay. It seems likely the Steelers are going to leave everything out on the field, and their weapon of logical choice will be the pass. Starks is going to be key in providing Roethlisberger enough protection to carve up the Dolphins' secondary.

WR Santonio Holmes vs. CB Vontae Davis

Davis has shown some flashes of elite ability this season, and in a game against a top-shelf receiver that most likely won't affect Miami's playoff status, he really has the opportunity to prove his value. He's physical, confident and has a nose for the ball.

It's not likely Holmes matches up on Davis in man coverage too often, but he will have Davis pressing him at the line, and Holmes' main assignment will be to create separation from the rookie and be able to open himself up for deeper dig patterns. He needs 155 yards against Miami to break Yancey Thigpen's 12-year-old single-season receiving yards record.

OLB LaMarr Woodley vs. RT Vernon Carey

Woodley did plenty of talking this week, saying the Patriots (at Houston) and the Bengals (at the Jets) are going to lay down in front of their opponents so Pittsburgh won't qualify for the playoffs. In one scenario, Houston and the Jets both have to lose for Pittsburgh to make it to the post-season. Eyes will be on him as he continues his outstanding 2009 season. His two sacks in two plays sealed a huge win against Baltimore in Week 16.

Carey is arguably the best right tackle in the league (respect paid to Willie Colon), and while his run blocking has been a bit stronger, his pass protection likely would have made him a Pro Bowl selection if he was in the NFC (the three best tackles in the game are in the AFC). While the match-up of James Harrison and Jake Long pits two of the best in the game, Woodley has been red-hot and has a lot of talk to back up in this game.

FS Ryan Clark and SS Tyrone Carter vs. RB Ricky Williams and RB Lex Hilliard

It's a heart vs. size battle for the Steelers' deep secondary. Neither Clark nor Carter are physically imposing, but both use 100 percent of themselves to tackle. The Dolphins are a run first and second team, as indicated by their 142 rushing yards per game average (4th in the NFL). Both Carter and Clark will be by the line of scrimmage and will be ready for a physical battle with two big running backs.

Williams is listed as questionable, and may not play. Even if he does, it's expected the Dolphins will attack with both he and Hilliard. Williams is listed at 230 pounds and Hilliard is 240. Since feature back Ronnie Brown went down, Williams has played well, racking up 11 touchdowns and 1,090 yards. Hilliard has only begun playing recently, but attacks downhill and looks for contact. He is a strong receiving threat too, catching 13 passes in Miami's last two games.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Dolphins
x Quarterback  
even Running backs even
  Offensive line x
x Wide receivers  
x Tight ends  
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
  Defensive backs x
x Special teams  

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