This week on PhinsPhocus.com, we had the incredible opportunity to speak with NFL Sportswriter Ryan Wilson. Wilson has a strong familiarity with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has incredible insight on this Sunday's matchup versus the Miami Dolphins. We explored a number of topics that such as the performance of Mike Wallace with Miami, Pittsburgh's offensive line MASH unit, and the Dolphins defensive standout Brent Grimes.
Please feel free to read CBSSports.com for the latest on the NFL and Ryan's articles are especially insightful and cover all the bases. This matchup proves to be worth every minute of football viewing, but let's see what Ryan had to say about the Steelers and Dolphins.
MS: I'm sure you have had a great time watching Mike Wallace appear like a failure in Miami until recently. How does he match up versus the Steelers secondary and what scares you about his motivation to prove all of Pittsburgh wrong about being a one dimensional wide receiver?
RW: I actually don't want Wallace to do poorly, it's just that I thought his last season in 2012 was unspectacular to the point that I was glad the Steelers didn't devote a non-trivial portion of the salary cap to him. After the 2011 season, the Steelers offered him $50-$55 million and Wallace turned it down. That also didn't sit well with fans, but to his credit, he got more than that with the Dolphins. Has he been worth it? No, not yet, and I think Dolphins fans are realizing what Steelers fans already knew: Fantastic straight-line speed, but not very physical and a propensity for drops.
As for who he'll face Sunday: Ike Taylor, who historically has fared well against some of the NFL's best wide receivers but has hit a rough patch recently, getting manhandled by Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon and Torrey Smith in the last three games. There's no shame in losing battles to any of those players but there have been concerns that Taylor, who is 33, has lost a step. I'm not sure if that's true, but I will say this: He's physical and fast and it will be interesting to see how Wallace responds. The Steelers will have to provide safety help over the top because nobody on the planet can run with Wallace.
Whether Wallace is motivated because he's returning to Pittsburgh … well, I can't say. You'd think he'd already have 60 million reasons to be motivated, but he and Ryan Tannehill have yet to find that chemistry. Mike Tomlin used to joke that Wallace was a one-trick pony, and while he has become a better route runner, he's still basically … a one-trick pony.
MS: The Steelers offensive line has been a patchwork and mishmash of different guys because of injuries throughout the season. However, Fernando Velasco at Center has had a solid season. How do you rate him going forward and where do see him fitting on this offensive line next season with Pouncey coming back? How do the Dolphins pass rush match up with tackles Beachum and Gilbert?
RW: The Steelers were unbelievably lucky to find Fernando Velasco still looking for work after Week 1's injury to Maurkice Pouncey. Because they signed Velasco to a one-year deal, he'll be a free agent in March. Presumably, the team would love to re-sign him, if for no other reason than he provides starter-quality depth along the interior line. The fact that he suffered an Achilles injury might make it easier for the Steelers because Velasco was playing so well that he would've likely gotten starter money elsewhere.
It's still unclear if left tackle Kelvin Beachum will play; he suffered a knee injury in the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Ravens. Either way, I will say this about him: He's a 2012 seventh-round pick who has outplayed two second-rounders (Gilbert and Mike Adams) for the right to be the starting left tackle. He's undersized by LT standards — just 6-3 and 300-ish pounds — but he has long arms and is very smart. The Steelers are apparently very intrigued with what he's done and there's a chance he could be their left tackle of the future. Gilbert, meanwhile, has been okay. He's not nearly as athletic as Beachum, but certainly looks the part of an NFL tackle.
Perhaps the most amazing statistic of the season is the Roethlisberger hasn't been sacked in back-to-back games for the first time in a decade, which is remarkable. With the injuries to Velasco, Beachum and possibly David DeCastro, that will almost certainly change Sunday.
Put another way: I expect Cameron Wake to have a big afternoon.
MS: Much has been made of Ben Roethlisberger's supposed frosty relationship with OC Todd Haley, how has the relationship progressed since the Steelers got back on a roll and started winning games?
RW: Funny how this works, but when the Steelers' offense is clicking, people tend to forget about Todd Haley. Actually, that's not entirely true; they insist on giving Big Ben all the credit, mostly because the team has been running a lot of no-huddle in recent weeks. And while Ben does deserve credit, the reality is that the offensive line was horrendous for the first half of the season. Only after that unit started to come together did the offense start scoring points with some regularity.
Whatever happens the rest of the season, I still expect Haley to get fired. Whether he deserves it or not is another matter.
MS: Tell us about Le'Veon Bell. How does he match up versus the Dolphins defensive line, that should be good, yet has a hard time stopping the run?
RW: Bell has been better than advertised. I'm a little concerned that he's been cleared to play after suffering a brain-rattling concussion on Thanksgiving. That said, he's got the rare combination of size, quick feet, great vision, greater patience, and is a really good pass-catcher. His biggest problem Sunday will be the o-line held together by duct-tape. It'll be interesting to see how this mishmash of starters and castoffs performs in a pretty important late-season game.
MS: Who are you most impressed with on the Dolphins defensively? How do you envision them giving the Steelers fits?
RW: I love Brent Grimes. He's undersized, wasn't highly regarded coming out of college, and wasn't all that popular in free agency last spring because of an injury. Meanwhile, he's been mostly spectacular. As for giving the Steelers fits, it'll start with the pass rush. Pressuring Roethlisberger – and keeping him in the pocket — is key. Some teams have had more success than others, but again, with the injuries along the o-line, I expect the Steelers to struggle in the passing game.
MS: Given the loss of Mike Wallace to free agency, what do you think went wrong this season for the Steelers this season and what do they need to do to get back to winning games consistently?
RW: I think the loss of Wallace had a marginal effect earlier in the season because the wide receivers and Roethlisberger weren't on the same page. Also: Heath Miller, one of Ben's favorite targets, was still recovering from a knee injury. In terms of getting back to winning consistently: They need to find a way to keep the o-line healthy, and cut bait on some aging, expensive veterans, most of whom are on defense. A good draft and some savvy salary-cap management could put them back in the playoff conversation as soon as next season.
MS: Even though Mike Tomlin isn't answering questions about his sideline positioning on the kick return versus the Ravens, could the loss of draft picks put him in hot water with the Rooney's?
RW: Nah. The Rooneys fully support Tomlin. He's been the coach for six-plus seasons, has an impeccable reputation and if they thought he had intentionally tried to impede Jacoby Jones' progress they may have felt differently. Also, it sounds like the Steelers won't lose a draft pick, which seemed like a weird, random punishment anyway.
MS: What is your score prediction for the game?
RW: I picked the Dolphins over at CBSSports.com, mostly because the Steelers' o-line is a mess and because I haven't picked the Steelers since doing so against the Patriots. As for a score, I'll go with 24-21.
We thank Ryan Wilson for his commentary about the Dolphins and Steelers matchup. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter @RyanWilson_07 and for the latest NFL news at CBSSports.com.