The Miami Dolphins (0-6) are set to face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) on Monday Night Football. I had the pleasure of talking to Steeler Maven's Dustin Druin to break down the Dolphins week 8 matchup, the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, Mason Rudolph, and everything YOU need to know about the Dolphins vs Steelers, Monday Night Showdown.
1. As we all know, the Dolphins traded disgruntled DB to the Steelers in exchange for Pittsburgh's first-round pick. What were your initial thoughts on the trade? Is it a trade that you personally would have made, knowing what you do now about the QB situation? Furthermore, how has Minkah played since joining the Steelers? Any issues with being asked to play multiple roles or is he firmly cemented as the team's starting safety? Was Mike Tomlin trying to save his job with this trade?
"Initially, I was giddy and shocked all at the same time. Giddy that the Steelers finally addressed their secondary issues with a young play-maker in Minkah, and shocked that Steelers GM Kevin Colbert pulled the trigger on such a huge trade. Historically, Colbert prefers in-house players and will rarely give up significant capital to acquire a player like Fitzpatrick. I believe with or without Roethlisberger, the trade was one that needed to happen. A lot of fans are upset the team won't have their first-round pick for 2020, yet Fitzpatrick is a tremendous building block for the future and the Steelers would have been looking for a defensive play-maker with their pick regardless. Since his arrival, Fitzpatrick has played phenomenally well given the circumstances. He's been flexible for Pittsburgh but mostly has been playing free safety, and has rarely made any errors. His tackling has been a tad suspect, but with him forcing turnovers and making other plays, that's a small price to pay. As far as Tomlin trying to save his job, I'm not sure if it's so much him (ink is still fresh from a contract extension) if it's Colbert potentially trying to save his. Many people in Pittsburgh believe Colbert is being aggressive now to keep himself out of the hot seat, and that may be part of the reason he was willing to deal a first rounder to Miami... He may not even be at the helm come late April. "
2. The Steelers lost a lot of big-time players this offseason including Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. How has the team looked in their absence and which players (aside from the obvious) do you see taking over-not just this season-but long-term in Pittsburgh?
"A lot of people in Pittsburgh won't admit this for one reason or another, but to be quite honest... It's different, and not in a good way. I'm not sure people realized how significant those players were to the offense, and how long it would take to truly find an identity without them. You need real game reps to see how your offense does, what works/doesn't work, etc. The Steelers didn't have that going into 2019, and the team can hardly find what works best with so many injuries on the offensive side of the ball. We're definitely seeing the growing pains without Bell/Brown, although we got a taste of life after Le'Veon last season. While the obvious heir to Le'Veon's throne is James Conner, people are really high on Jaylen Samuels and his abilities as a shifty, pass-catching back. Benny Snell has garnered some hype as well, although we've seen minimal action from him. On to the receiving side, it's clear JuJu Smith-Schuster works best with another dominant receiver across from him. Coming into the 2019 season, many had James Washington pegged as the next man up, and he very well could be a stud for Pittsburgh for years to come. However, rookie Diontae Johnson has shown some true flashes of potential, and I'd put my money on him to emerge sooner rather than later. "
3. While the Steelers offense ranks near the bottom of the NFL, the defense has been a breath of fresh air early on in 2019. What is this a testament to and what would you consider the defenses strengths? weaknesses?
"The Steelers defense are finally creating turnovers. Entering week seven, the Steelers defense has generated 15 turnovers, already tying last season's total. For the longest time, it felt as if Pittsburgh's defense just couldn't manufacture ways to get the ball back. Pittsburgh finally starts to force turnovers, and of course the offense is in shambles for one reason or another. As far as strengths go, I'd point to the ability to get to the quarterback. Guys like T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward are the reason the Steelers have led the league in sacks the last two seasons. For weaknesses, ask any Steelers fan what annoys them the most on the defensive side of the ball and they'll point to linebackers/safety getting toasted on seam routes. Whether it be linebackers on tight ends (they line up on receivers sometimes too) or safeties on slot receivers, I can't recall a more annoying way for an offense to move the chains on Pittsburgh."
4. Offensively, it appears Mason Rudolph will be the team's starting QB vs Miami. How do you feel Rudolph has progressed this season and is he the long-term answer at QB? Thoughts on Devlin Hodges? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the offense?
"I feel like Rudolph has progressed as expected thus far. He's played exceptionally well for the position he's been thrown into, but he's no stranger to mistakes/miscues like any other fresh quarterback on the field. Rudolph can sling the ball downfield, yet most of his throws have come near the line of scrimmage due to play-calling or a simple lack of progression reads. His potential is still great, however. He's got the fire/competitiveness you like in a quarterback, and some of the tools to be a solid starter down the line. I feel like Rudolph will take over the reigns at quarterback once Roethlisberger retires, and much of Pittsburgh will agree with me. Devlin was an awesome story from training camp, and I'm glad he's such a likeable figure who got his chance to win an NFL game. However, I feel like he's not talented enough to overcome any deficiencies found on film, and thus would be exposed quickly. Breaking down the offense as a whole, the strengths start and end with the offensive line. Multiple Pro-Bowl/All-Pro players are a great thing to have, especially for a young QB/RB tandem. It's always a nice feeling when you look at the stat sheet and see Pittsburgh leading the league in sacks allowed (5). As far as weaknesses, I'd have to pinpoint the overall depth of the offense. The Steelers are extremely thin at... well every position. Nobody has yet to step up as a secondary receiver, the tight end room is still considered to be weak despite trading for Nick Vannett, and the running back room has six years of experience... combined. It's just not a preferred situation in a league where injuries happen and "next man up" has to happen on a consistent basis."
5. How do you see the rest of the 2019 season playing out for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
"This is a tough question, just because when you're ready to give up on this team, they shine a little bit of light through the clouds and hold out hope for another week. I'd love to sit here and say I absolutely believe in Pittsburgh's ability to claw their way back. It appears the best route to the playoffs will go through the division, where the Baltimore Ravens currently hold a three game advantage over Pittsburgh. The Steelers will have to put together quite the run and have some help along the way to see the postseason, and that's just something I can't see happening barring major injuries to other teams. However, I've learned football isn't played on paper, and until they are mathematically eliminated, we cannot count a team out. "
6. If you could take one player from the Dolphins franchise, past and present, who would it be and why?
"That's a tough question, simply due to the strong amount of players that have come and went wearing a Dolphins helmet. For the past, I feel like Dan Marino is such an easy answer, so I'll go with first ballot Hall of Famer Jason Taylor. Talk about a guy who just wrecked everything in his way while also commending respect from every opponent. Adding him on this defense would create a frightening front seven. As for present, give me Xavien Howard please and thank you. You can never have enough defensive backs, and when he's on top of his game, Howard is among the best in the league."
7. Final Prediction?
"So instead of blasting the Dolphins, there's actually some intrigue I have in this game. Ryan Fitzpatrick is an absolute wild card every time he steps onto a football field, and we saw him generate some energy last week. Rudolph will be suiting up for the first time in nearly three weeks, and who knows where his head will be at? However, the Steelers are at home on Monday Night Football with a few wins under their belt, and I'll roll with them. I'll say Pittsburgh sends Miami home with a 24-10 victory."
Thanks again to Donnie Druin of Steeler Maven for joining me this week. Check him out at Steeler Maven and follow him on Twitter at @DonnieDruin