Let’s take a look at whose stock is up and down for Miami.
1. Daniel Thomas, running back: It’s been more than two years since Thomas rushed for more than 100 yards. But Thomas had one of the best games of his NFL career with 105 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against the Steelers. The Dolphins showed they can be a rugged and physical team in inclement weather. Thomas averaged 6.6 yards per carry and took over the load once starting running back Lamar Miller was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Thomas may have to start this week against the New England Patriots.
2. Dolphins playoff chances: I said all along that Week 14 was a crucial game for Miami’s wild-card chances. The Dolphins already lost the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Baltimore Ravens and could not afford the same with the Steelers. The Dolphins took care of business and essentially knocked Pittsburgh out of playoff contention. Miami’s biggest threat is Baltimore (7-6), but the Dolphins have a much easier schedule down the stretch. A 2-1 finish for Miami may be enough.
3. Charles Clay, tight end: Perhaps no player has made bigger strides this year that Clay, who began training camp as a backup to tight end Dustin Keller. Clay took over Keller’s spot due to injury and has been a consistent threat. Clay caught seven passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers. He has 60 receptions total. Clay has surpassed everyone’s expectations and proven he can be a full-time starter in the NFL.
1. Dolphins’ pass coverage: Miami entered the game ranked ninth in pass defense. But Pittsburgh’s eighth-rated passing attack won out on Sunday. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 114.2 passer rating in inclement weather. The snowy conditions seemed to bother Miami’s secondary more than it bothered Pittsburgh’s receivers. The Dolphins’ pass defense needs to get back on track Sunday against quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots.
2. Third-down defense: Partly due to the aforementioned struggles defending the pass, Miami’s third-down defense wasn’t very good against the Steelers. Pittsburgh converted on 8 of 17 (47 percent) third-down conversions and was 1 of 2 (50 percent) on fourth down. That kept the Steelers in the game on day when Miami scored a season-high 34 points. However, the Dolphins did tighten up on defense in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. Miami stopped Pittsburgh on four consecutive offensive possessions to close out the game.
3. Caleb Sturgis, kicker: Although Sturgis does not deserve all the blame, the rookie missed another kick Sunday. Miami’s coaching staff erroneously decided to try a 52-yard field goal, in the snow, on the open end of the stadium. Sturgis’ kick fell well short and allow Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu and its defense to make a pretty good attempt at returning the ball back for a touchdown. After making his first 10 attempts, Sturgis now is 15 for his last 22 attempts. He has missed at least one field goal in six of his last eight games.