Game Preview: Backdraft

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13th, 8th, 19th, 30th, 16th, 11th, 30th, 25th, 15th, 23rd, 32nd, 18th, 31st, 24th, 17th, 15th, 22nd, 25th, 30th, 28th, 10th. That sequence of numbers is not some deeply unimpressive set of statistics from the Miami Dolphins (although, goodness knows there are enough of them to choose from). No, instead that is the number of the first draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in each of the last two decades. Just like my degree transcript, what is conspicuous by its absence is a 1st.

A significant absence because the Dolphins’ decision to press the reset button has been done to create the kind of organisation that the Steelers have been for years. Or whisper it quietly, those guys in New England. All achieved without the blow-it-up-and-start-again vibe that represents the 2019 season. A reminder, as if it were needed, that good drafting, skilled coaching and stability are the components of a consistently competitive franchise. And if you want stability, the Steelers are the poster boys for that. Since Stephen Ross bought his stake in the Dolphins, he has hired no fewer than six Head Coaches and fired five of them. Counting back six Steelers Head Coaches gets you back to 1954.

That turnover of non-playing staff may mean that we cannot make future predictions about their future actions. Dolfans can only hope that is true given the latest news from the 2016 draft. Running back Kenyan Drake was a third-round pick in 2016 and yet will likely miss the game as he is rumoured to be the subject of a trade. If confirmed, it will mean that just two of the eight players selected in Drake’s class remain on the roster.

Credit: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

That doesn’t mean that Chris Grier and predecessors were completely incapable of talent spotting. 2016 first rounder Laremy Tunsil is impressing in Houston and 2017 first rounder Minkah Fitzpatrick will be on the field tonight. Except it will be in the black and gold of the Steelers. There no doubt of Fitzpatrick’s talent but he was judged not to be a fit for the current regime and their plan for the former Alabama defensive back.

Fitzpatrick will be looking to repeat his Steelers debut production in which he forced two turnovers. The other Fitzpatrick, Ryan, gets the start at quarterback for the second consecutive week. The remaining Fitzpatrick has energised the offense and exposed the narrative that Josh Rosen is just in another bad spot. Rosen is now a warning that pinning your hopes on high draft picks is not the panacea it is sometimes purported to be.

As if to emphasise the draft point, the Steelers will welcome back third-round pick Mason Rudolph at quarterback after clearing the concussion protocol. Ahead of the game, Rudolph accepted the possibility of being rusty after missing game time. “I think there has been a little rust, but I have at practice which is understandable.” Rudolph said. “I think just getting back and not really working out, going through that full practice with the ones, but I don’t think I’ve missed much. I don’t think I’ve skipped a beat.”

Credit: Getty Images

For those aboard the Tank Train in Miami, the match-up may provide a little relief from rooting against the team and denying the incremental improvements of the team. Owning the draft pick that the Steelers sent in exchange means that a win can benefit the Dolphins in 2020. While that may cost Miami the number 1 pick, as we have seen, having one big shot at a player may not be better than having multiple bullets to fire.

In the end, the Steelers will prove that the organisational strength is the key component to success as they squeeze out a rightly more-than-expected victory.

Prediction: Steelers 24, Dolphins 17

Featured Picture – Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

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