The AFC wild-card game between the Steelers and Miami Dolphins is a rematch from the regular season. But really, the players who will participate in this game should go through a handshake line beforehand to introduce themselves to one another. That’s how many new faces will be playing.
The Steelers have five new defensive starters since they lost to the Dolphins Oct. 16. Rookies Artie Burns and Sean Davis, Bud Dupree, James Harrison and Ryan Shazier all did not start the game Oct. 16 in Miami. William Gay, Robert Golden, Anthony Chickillo, Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams did. Of those, only Gay had a regular role on defense as the nickel back over the final weeks of the regular season. On offense, starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert missed the game with an injury and was replaced by Chris Hubbard.
“They haven’t seen me and a couple or other guys who didn’t play the last time,” said Dupree, who missed the first eight games with a sports hernia. “It’ll be pretty good on our end. Now we just have to capitalize on it.”
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have seen their roster decimated by injuries in the second half of the season. Their starting safeties in the first game — Isa Abdul-Quddus and Reshad Jones — are on injured reserve. Starting cornerback Bryon Maxwell is iffy with an ankle injury. He did not practice the past two days. One of the new safeties, Bacarri Rambo, is dealing with a chest injury.
It’s no better for the Dolphins offense. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has already been officially ruled out for the game, and center Mike Pouncey will miss the rematch with a hip injury. Backup quarterback Matt Moore will play for Tannehill, and former Steelers offensive lineman Kraig Urbik will start for Pouncey.
“I know we’re totally different,” Burns said. “We’re definitely playing better. We’re executing better. They have new guys in there, but they’re playing really good now, too.”
Butler still ticked
It hasn’t been a pleasant week for defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who had to go back and watch Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi run all over his defense time and time again as he prepares for the rematch. Ajayi rushed for 204 yards in the first meeting, the single-game high against the Steelers this season.
“I don’t even want to talk about that,” Butler said Thursday. “It [ticks] me off to talk about it. Our guys know. It challenges your manhood when you give up 200 yards. The formula for us always has been we have to stop the run, and they have to be in situational football and they have to throw it. And then we get after them. We have to do that.”
Making matters worse this week is the fact that his defense, with all but one starter in the lineup, gave up 200 yards rushing to the Browns in the regular-season finale.
“I’m trying to get past that,” Butler said. “We’ve had words. We’ve talked about it and moved on. Last week we played in a game that was meaningless, but it was a game. Like [head coach] Mike [Tomlin] says, football is our game and winning is our business. I’m not at all happy about our performance defensively, and our guys aren’t either. Everyone knows we have to play better than we did.”
Baby, it’s cold inside
The Steelers practiced in their indoor facility Thursday, but they kept the doors open and had fans blowing the cold air in. Butler said practicing in the frigid conditions is a must because it accentuates to the players what it will take to win the game.
The high for Sunday is expected to be around 20 degrees, according to AccuWeather, with winds ranging from 10-20 mph.
“It’s going to be colder Sunday,” Butler said. “That’s a good thing. I think acclimation is a pretty good deal this time of the year. Everyone is talking about the old Steelers and stuff like that, running the football and being able to stop the run. This is the reason. It gets cold like this that ball doesn’t fly around very good. We have to be able to stop the run.”
No contact for Haley
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been mentioned as a possible head coaching candidate, but he cannot interview with any teams this week under NFL rules. He can interview next week if the Steelers win, and obviously, if they lose.
Haley said Thursday he has not been contacted by any team.
“I’m worrying about just what’s going on here which is winning this game,” Haley said. “I’ve said this before. I really believe that if you’re worrying about anything else you’re doing a disservice to the coaches and players you’re working with.”
Tight end Ladarius Green was a full participant in practice again Thursday, and all signs point toward him being available Sunday. Green will speak with reporters Friday for the first time since he had a concussion Dec. 18 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt (knee), receiver Sammie Coates (hamstring) and tight end Xavier Grimble (ribs) also were full participants for the second day in a row. Safety Robert Golden (ankle) and defensive end Johnny Maxey (ankle) were limited Thursday.
Linebacker Anthony Chickillo (ankle), defensive end Ricardo Mathews (ankle) and linebacker Vince Williams (shoulder) did not practice.