Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 14

PITTSBURGH -- A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers34-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins:

Unlikely heroes foil Steelers: The Steelers (5-8) let a backup running back and a tight end who became a starter because of a preseason injury beat them, and that might be most galling thing about their defensive performance against the Dolphins. Charles Clay had two touchdowns and nearly 100 yards receiving, and a 55-yard run by Daniel Thomas set up Clay’s game-winning score. Thomas, subbing for the injured Lamar Thomas, had only the second 100-yard rushing game of his career and his first since his rookie season in 2011. On the play of the game, Thomas flashed through a huge opening on the left side, and William Gay didn’t bring him down until he had rumbled all the way to the Steelers’ 16-yard line. The Dolphins blocked Troy Polamalu, who was playing linebacker, but he blamed himself for not getting to his gap in time. Ryan Clark said he would have been in a better position to provide run support, but that he was playing deep because the Steelers were worried about the Dolphins trying to beat them over the top.

Wasted timeout: Coach Mike Tomlin will receive his share of criticism for game management near the end of the fourth quarter. Tomlin decided to go for it on fourth-and-10 from the Steelers’ 10-yard line with 2:33 left in the game. Before that play, the Steelers used a precious timeout, their second one, even though the clock had been stopped by an incomplete pass on third down. “We didn’t have enough communication to get the type of call that we were comfortable with right there,” Tomlin said. “We decided to [use a timeout] in effort to get a good call in to win that down. None of the things that transpired after that were going to matter unless we got a good call and made every effort to win that down.” Since crowd noise wasn’t a problem, the communication issues signal that the Steelers weren’t prepared for the fourth-down play, and that ultimately falls on the head coach.

Polamalu, Allen take loss hard: Polamalu punctuated an interception return for a touchdown by leaping into the corner of the end zone. But he also dropped a sure interception early in the game, couldn’t get off a block on Thomas’ 55-yard run and didn’t get Clay on the ground as the Dolphins tight end shed two tacklers on the way to his game-winning touchdown. Cortez Allen, like Polamalu, couldn’t make the tackle on Clay, and he took little solace after the game about the job he did on Mike Wallace. Allen held Wallace to two catches for 19 yards and was credited with two passes defended. “I’ve got to play a complete game,” Allen said. “Personally, I felt like I could have played better.” Polamalu, who made an ill-fated attempt to strip the ball from Clay before the final touchdown, felt the same way. When asked about his interception return for a score, he said, “What does it matter? We lost.”

Injury update: It doesn’t matter much now, but the Steelers came out of the game relatively intact. They didn’t sustain any significant injuries even though cornerback Ike Taylor took a nasty shot from Clark early in the third quarter when the two tackled Dolphins wideout Brian Hartline after a 15-yard pass play. Taylor stayed down a while before getting up and jogging off the field. He returned to the game. “I don’t know what happened,” Taylor said. “I just couldn’t breathe at all. It felt like someone was just holding it for me.” LaMarr Woodley alternated with Jarvis Jones at right outside linebacker as the Steelers eased him back into action following a three-game absence because of a calf injury. Woodley moved to the right side so Jason Worilds could stay at left outside linebacker, and the latter had another monster game with a pair of sacks, eight tackles, including three for a loss, and two quarterback hurries. “The right side was the right side, just going out there and playing football,” Woodley said. “I think I did a good job on the right side, and Jason’s been playing good. No problem with the switch at all.”