During a week when teams are requesting to speak to him about their head coaching job, Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has a much bigger concern: devising a game plan to stop a steamrolling Pittsburgh Steelers offense that has scored between 24 and 31 points in each of their past seven games, all victories.
Pittsburgh has “three very elite performers at critical positions on offense,” coach Adam Gase said, turning his attention on Monday to Sunday’s Dolphins’ playoff game at the Steelers (1 p.m., CBS).
Pittsburgh finished the regular season seventh in the NFL in offense – 14th in rushing offense and fifth in passing offense.
Conversely, the Dolphins were 29th in total defense – 30th against the run and 15th against the pass. This Dolphins defense allowed more yards than any Dolphins team in history.
And Gase made clear he’s not happy about their recent play, in particular.
“We have to play better team defense,” Gase said. “We’ve been a little off here the last couple games. Misfitting on certain things. We’re using the wrong technique. We’re not getting the call in where Vance calls the defense, we’re not getting it communicated fast enough or correctly. We have to be smoother in what our operation is and make sure we’re doing the right things.
“When we do our job, that’s where we have success. When someone is off, we’re not giving up three yard gains, we’re giving up 8, 10, 12 yard gains.”
Among the problems the Steelers pose:
• Running back Le’Veon Bell has rushed for 146, 120, 118, 236, 93 and 122 yards his past six games before being rested for the Cleveland game this past Sunday. He averaged 4.9 per carry this season, which tied the Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi for seventh best in the league.
The Dolphins limited him to 53 yards on 10 carries in their 30-15 win against Pittsburgh on Oct. 16. He also caught six passes for 55 yards.
“If you watch that man, he’s patient, explosive, stops and starts better than most backs,” Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said Monday.
• Receiver Antonio Brown. Brown ranked fifth in yards (1284), second in receptions (106) and tied for second in touchdown catches (12).
Dolphins’ cornerbacks, primarily Byron Maxwell, held him in check in their earlier meeting; he had only four catches for 39 yards. The Dolphins are optimistic that Maxwell will be ready Sunday after missing two games with an ankle injury, though Gase was non-committal Monday.
• Ben Roethlisberger. He posted his second-lowest passer rating of the season against Miami (a 57.1), finishing 19 for 34 for 189 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions before leaving with a knee injury.
But the two Dolphins who intercepted him that day – safeties Rashad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus – are on injured reserve and won’t play Sunday.
Roethlisberger has thrown six picks in his last four appearances but finished the season with 29 touchdowns, 13 picks and a 95.4 rating.
Because Roethlisberger can extend plays better than many NFL quarterbacks, “you definitely have to stick with your guy longer,” cornerback Tony Lippett said.
“Wide receivers redirect to him and we have to redirect to him. He’s great at scrambling. That’s why he’s a Super Bowl quarterback.”
The Dolphins aren’t sure if linebacker Jelani Jenkins (knee) will be able to play.
“Jelani is moving around a lot better than last time we went through that process,” Gase said.
• Check Adam Beasley’s story on the homepage for a Ryan Tannehill update.
JOSEPH GETTING REQUESTS
• Gase confirmed that teams have asked for permission to interview Joseph for head coaching jobs. He didn’t specify the teams, but Denver reportedly is interested, and ESPN reported that San Diego has asked to interview him next week.
“He will have the right approach to being able to handle this,” Gase said of Joseph juggling his job with interviews. “It’s a great experience to be able to go through. Our players on defense should be proud. One of the reasons he’s getting those opportunities is they played well, doing some things [people] didn’t expect them to do.
“He’s done a good job of putting those guys in the right position – guys being in and out, losing some key players. He’s done a good job trying to make necessary changes throughout the year.”
• Gase, on the challenge of playing with so many replacement players: “As a group, the guys that have come in have done a very good job. There’s been moments of inconsistency and that’s where sometimes you miss a guy who was the starter. One game that’s good, one game that’s bad. With elite performers, it’s the same every week. You know exactly what you’re going to get. When he play together and do it right, that’s when we get our best games. These last few games, we haven’t played well together.”
• Gase crystallized the playoff games to this: “Every guy is playing for the same amount of money. At the end of the day, it’s about who wants it more.”
• Gase said Jakeem Grant, who had an issue with holding onto the ball again on Sunday, will continue to be used as a returner against Pittsburgh. The Dolphins value his ability to make game-changing plays.
If you missed it, here’s the NFL playoff schedule for the next three weeks and the Dolphins’ 2017 schedule.