Week 1 Game Recap: Miami Dolphins 17, Pittsburgh Steelers 28
What you need to know
While it was amazing that he was on the field, QB Daunte Culpepper started better than he finished and his numbers were less than stellar. Culpepper completed just under half of his passes for 262 yards and threw two crucial interceptions in the fourth quarter. He moved around ok, but he looked like a guy that was still struggling to get his footwork down. He seemed to want to get rid of the ball very quickly and his accuracy was poor on several throws. Primary target WR Chris Chambers saw 14 passes come his way, yet he was only able to snare five for 59 yards.
WR Wes Welker had a remarkable game, as he entered the contest as the third receiver and the primary kickoff and punt return specialist. Welker racked up 67 yards on four catches and looked quite fast and agile in avoiding a good Steelers’ defense. He also added 153 total return yards, including a punt return that set up the Dolphins’ first touchdown.
RB Ronnie Brown was kept in check by a stingy run defense. Brown was able to pick up just 30 yards on 15 carries, with a long of just five yards. It is worth noting, however, that Brown did punch through from short yardage for two touchdowns.
QB Ben Roethlisberger was out for Week 1 with an emergency appendectomy just a few days before the Steelers’ home opener. Insert backup QB Charlie Batch to run the offense, and hardly a beat was missed. Batch finished with 209 yards passing and three touchdowns, and with a perfect 3-0 record as a starting quarterback for Pittsburgh. His performance as a passer overcame a gaffe at the goal line, where he fumbled and lost possession to the Dolphins in the fourth quarter.
Running back Willie Parker was the featured tailback, and he got more than his fair share of the workload. Parker finished with 29 carries and topped 100 yards rushing, carrying every running back run play except for two (and one was after he had a 32 yard run and needed a breather.) He was replaced at the one yard line by Vernon Haynes but this was not a situation where coach Cowher pulled Parker out to insert a goal line specialist. Parker had carried the ball seven times already on this drive and asked for a breather after a tough six yard rush to the one yard line.
Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward was able to start and play for the entire game, showing no ill effects of his previous hamstring issues. Ward finished the night with five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. Once again he was the most targeted receiver for the Steelers.
TE Heath Miller scored the longest touchdown by a tight end in over 30 years, catching a pass over the middle and running down the sideline for 87 yards and a touchdown. The play was not without controversy, as it appeared Miller was out of bound at the three yard line, but HC Nick Saban’s red challenge flag was not seen by officials before the extra point was kicked so the play stood.
Pittsburgh’s defense stole many moments throughout the game. They neutralized the Miami run game and came hard after QB Daunte Culpepper, hurrying him often and sacking him three times. They also forced two interceptions, one of which was returned by LB Joey Porter for a touchdown that put the Steelers up by two scores late in the game. Porter also added two sacks on the night.
What you ought to know
Culpepper looked ok under center and in the pocket, and seemed just a little skittish facing the Steelers’ pass rush. He started better than he finished. His statistics left a good bit to be desired. Culpepper completed less than half of his passes and often missed his receivers by a wide margin or threw at their feet. Forced to throw for much of the fourth quarter, Culpepper focused mostly on Chris Chambers (seven targets in the fourth) and Wes Welker (four in the fourth), but completed only five of 15 passes for 60 yards and two interceptions in the last 15 minutes. Culpepper looked healthy, however, and did not show any ill effects from his knee injury. On the Porter interception he threw, he attempted to tackle Porter at the end zone and went down fairly hard and popped right up. He did look like he was struggling with his footwork. He looked choppy and erratic with his feet and that seemed to cause some of his accuracy issues.
|RB Ronnie Brown, Rush: 15 - 30 - 2, Rec: 3 - 32 - 0 (3 targets)|
Brown was stuffed by the stingy Steelers’ defense all game, managing to get only two runs of five yards each for his longest carries. Brown had seven carries for just two yards or fewer, and averaged just two yards a carry on the night. He was not completely shut out, as he did convert two goal line carries for touchdowns. It wasn’t as much a case of Brown looking bad as much as it was the Steelers looking good. Brown scored the only Miami touchdowns, one each in the second and third quarters.
Barnes was targeted on one pass in the fourth quarter but it was thrown well out of bounds.
Chambers had a quiet game considering the number of targets he had. With 14 chances, he was the most targeted receiver by a wide margin. He was looked towards both deep and in the end zone, but he was unable to catch anything until the second half. Both goal line looks in the second quarter fell incomplete, with the first defended by the cornerback and the second badly overthrown. On the second incomplete pass at the goal line, Chambers broke his route off short to the outside and was wide open against Pittsburgh CB Ike Taylor but Culpepper threw the ball to the back of the end zone. It looked like a miscommunication between the QB and WR because a good pass would have been an easy TD.
Chambers picked things up in the fourth quarter, catching four passes for 52 yards on seven targets, but he was also thwarted by the Steelers on an interception by safety Troy Polamalu in the last period.
Welker was the highlight of the game for the Dolphins, amassing 220 all-purpose yards. Welker worked in triplicate, running back both kickoffs and punt returns in addition to his role as third receiver. His 47 yard punt return in the second quarter put the Dolphins inside the Steelers’ 20 yard line, setting up Miami’s first touchdown. Welker caught four passes, many in space, and often made the first man miss to pick up extra yardage after the catch. It should be noted though that much of his opportunity at WR seemed to come when Marty Booker was out of the game for a bit nursing what looked to be a head injury.
Booker started the game in slow fashion; he caught just one pass for four yards in the first half. On his first target of the third quarter, he was shaken up on the play but was able to return later in the game and catch the longest Miami completion of the game – a 52 yard reception in the third quarter. Booker added one last catch for eight yards in the fourth quarter.
Hagan had two targets in the second quarter, reeling in the first for 14 yards. The second target was in the end zone, but fell incomplete.
McMichael had four targets, but his one catch for ten yards does not tell the whole story. McMichael actually caught three of the four targets for 33 yards, but lost two receptions and 23 yards due to penalties on the plays.
Peelle had one target in the first quarter, catching in and picking up 16 yards and a first down.
Mare was perfect on the night, converting a 26 yard field goal in the second quarter and both extra point attempts.
RB Willie Parker ran through the Dolphins’ defense, racking up 115 yards on 29 carries and controlling the ground game. The Steelers controlled the time of possession by a wide margin (over ten minutes difference) as they ran 38 times for 143 yards as a team. They also recovered a QB Charlie Batch fumble at their one yard line.
Pittsburgh scored three touchdowns on offense, all via the pass. QB Charlie Batch hit three different receivers for scores and completed 60% of his passes, scoring on a short pass (seven yards to WR Hines Ward), a long throw (27 yards to WR Nate Washington) and a huge catch and run play (87 yards to TE Heath Miller). The Dolphins managed to sack Batch three times, but they could not come up with a big play or a turnover.
|QB Charlie Batch, Pass: 15 - 25 - 209 - 3 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 7 - 17 - 0|
Batch got the start in place of Ben Roethlisberger, who was sidelined after an emergency appendectomy earlier in the week. He upped his record as a starter for the Steelers to a perfect 3-0, as he passed for 209 yards and three scores. Batch also added 17 rushing yards to go with his 60% completion rate. His lone miscue was a fumble at the Dolphins’ one yard line in the fourth quarter, but his 87 yard touchdown pass to TE Heath Miller on the next drive more than made up for the gaffe.
|RB Willie Parker, Rush: 29 - 115 - 0, Rec: 3 - 13 - 0 (4 targets)|
Willie Parker was a consistent running back, exactly what HC Bill Cowher wants to see. He ran 29 of the 31 running plays by the Steeler running backs, picking up 115 yards and consistently running hard. When holes materialized, he blistered through them and picked up good chunks of yards. Parker had eight carries of six or more yards, including a 32 yard pickup in the second quarter, his longest of the night. Parker also added 13 more yards on a few short pass receptions. He was the key contributor to Pittsburgh’s ability to control the clock throughout the night. Don’t be alarmed if you see folks talking about Parker being pulled at the goal line in favor of Verron Haynes. Parker did leave the game with the ball at the one and was replaced by Haynes but it was because Parker asked to come out for a breather. He had run the ball seven times on that drive including two consecutive six yard rushes to get the ball to the one.
Haynes ran once for three yards in the second quarter immediately after RB Willie Parker ran for 32 yards, his longest run of the game. Haynes was just in to give Parker a play to recover. Haynes dropped a screen pass in the third quarter and was also targeted on a pass that was thrown wide of him later in the third, but the play was nullified by penalty. He was in the game for a play at the goal line when he replaced Willie Parker who needed a breather but QB Charlie Batch fumbled the snap and the Dolphins recovered.
Kreider caught one pass for four yards in the fourth quarter, and was allegedly the target on a throw away by QB Charlie Batch in the second quarter. That ball was nowhere close to Kreider.
Ward was able to go in this game despite missing time in the preseason with hamstring issues. He caught five passes, the most of any Steeler, picking up 53 yards and four key first downs in the second half. He started slowly, catching just one pass of seven yards in the second quarter, but it was for a touchdown in the back middle of the end zone.
Washington scored his first ever NFL touchdown in the second quarter against Miami, leaping for a 27 yard catch and fell into the end zone for the score. Washington later added a second catch of five yards in the third period and also carried for eight more yards on a fourth quarter reverse.
Holmes caught one pass for six yards in the first quarter of his first NFL game. His other target was another short pass in the second quarter on third and five from the Pittsburgh 11, but it was thrown behind him and he failed to catch it. It was a pass that most WRs catch. He made a very poor decision fielding a punt at the four yard line and then falling down untouched after losing his footing. He gained two yards on the return and received an earful from coach Cowher on the sidelines afterwards. All in all, a shaky start for the rookie.
Wilson had four passes thrown in his direction, but caught none. He did, however, pick up yardage for Pittsburgh as he drew a 23 yard pass interference call in the second quarter.
Miller scored the longest touchdown in Heinz Field history, catching a pass over the middle and running for an 87 yard score in the fourth quarter. Miller appeared to be tripped up and pushed out of bounds inside the five yard line, but Miami HC Nick Saban threw the red challenge flag just before the extra point attempt and no official saw the flag, so the touchdown stood.
Miller added two other short catches in the first half for 14 more yards, including a 12 yard catch for a first down in the opening period.
Reed hit all four of his extra points, but he did miss a 44 yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter which could have been crucial for the Steelers. The kick would have made the score 24-17 with under four minutes to play, but Miami’s interception to LB Joey Porter overshadowed this mistake. In fairness to Reed, it is possible the ball was deflected at the line as the video was not conclusive, but the kick was certainly low.
The Steelers stuffed the run game of the Dolphins, holding them to just 38 total rushing yards. RB Ronnie Brown ran for only 30 yards on 15 attempts. The one issue was that they did yield two rushing touchdowns inside the five.
Miami could not get on track all night through the air, as QB Daunte Culpepper completed less than half of his attempts and was sacked three times, twice by LB Joey Porter. Porter also intercepted a fourth quarter pass that he returned for a touchdown to seal the game. DB Troy Polamalu recorded the other interception for Pittsburgh.