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On playoff stage, Steelers ready to show Dolphins how they've changed

PITTSBURGH -- Nearly three months later, the wounds of Jay Ajayi running wild for 204 yards in Miami are still fresh for the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense.

Pittsburgh, riding a seven-game win streak, says it's a different team entering the rematch with Miami in the AFC wild card. It finishes better, communicates more and breaks down far less.

"We're going to find out real soon how big of an improvement we've made," safety Mike Mitchell said after the Steelers' 27-24 overtime win over the Browns.

Coach Mike Tomlin hadn't sparked next week's game plan and declined to comment on facing the Dolphins when asked after the Browns game. But players have embraced a Miami rematch for a few days now.

During the week, cornerback Ross Cockrell said he'd like the Steelers to "redeem our performance" from the 30-15 loss in Week 6. Some openly talked about Miami, knowing their No. 3 AFC playoff seed was cemented.

With Matt Moore at quarterback in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins might just run the ball 25-plus times into Pittsburgh's teeth and dare the Steelers to stop it.

Pittsburgh jumped from the low 20s to No. 6 overall in rushing defense before Sunday, but the Ravens nearly derailed the Steelers' playoff plans with 122 rushing yards on 26 carries in Week 16. Couple those numbers with the Browns' 231 rushing yards Sunday, and the Steelers know they must tighten up -- quickly.

Yes, the Steelers lacked intensity against Cleveland with the playoffs already locked up. But the way linebacker Lawrence Timmons sees it, the Steelers' run-stopping attack might as well be trending downward.

"We need to stand up to the challenge and be the defense we want to be," Timmons said. "We have to remember it's about us -- to get our stuff together before we worry about other people. We're going to have to come out a lot stronger."

With Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell in the same playoff lineup for the first time, the Steelers feel they can move the ball on anybody. But to advance in the postseason, they might want to make this first matchup a little personal.

Miami will be eager to see the team it used as a springboard. The Dolphins sat at 1-4 when Pittsburgh came to town but went 9-2 from that point.

This is why the Steelers can make a deep run if they "take care of business," right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. They run the ball better, are healthier and are "more in sync" overall.

“We’re a lot different team. They are a different team too," Gilbert said. "Whenever the smoke clears, it’s going to be zero-zero. We’re punching a ticket to try to go all the way to the dance."