What to watch for in Dolphins-Steelers on 'MNF'

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  • By Grant Gordon NFL.com
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Two storied NFL franchises clash on Monday with nary two combined wins. And both of them belong to the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) as they host the Miami Dolphins (0-6) in the latest installment of Monday Night Football, which kicks off at 8:20 ET on from Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.

2020 NFL Draft implications are likely more prevalent than 2019 postseason aspirations. Then again, perhaps it's fitting for Week 8 to close with this matchup, as only two games featured teams with above-.500 records coming into the week facing each other (Panthers at 49ers; Packers at Chiefs).

One of the NFL's longest-tenured coaches -- Mike Tomlin -- faces one of its rookies -- Brian Flores -- as the Steelers cling to slim playoff hopes and the Dolphins are fully invested in the offseason to come.

Miami has moved a good deal of talent this year, including standout defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers, while Pittsburgh is still in the aftermath of the departures of longtime stars Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell (along with a season-ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger).

The Dolphins and Steelers find themselves at different stages, but both are in states of flux as they collide tonight.

Here are four things to watch for on Monday night:

Minkah Fitzpatrick faces his former team


Though he's been a Steeler for all of four games since he was traded from the Dolphins, Fitzpatrick is very much emblematic of the defense he patrols at safety. The 2018 Dolphins first-round pick is one of plenty young and talented Steelers defenders who are progressing despite losses and lead an action-packed unit that's third in the league in sacks and second in takeaways.

There doesn't appear to be too much bad blood boiling between Fitzpatrick and his former team, but it's likely the DB will have a little bit extra spring in his step.

In four games with Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick has tallied 21 tackles, three passes defended, a forced fumble and an interception. He's making things happen, right along with T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, Terrell Edmunds and others who are forging ahead and giving reason to believe that in future seasons the Steelers defense might well look like the Pittsburgh defenses of old.

Who's up in teams' quarterback carousels?


Though these teams have but two wins between them, they've combined for a whopping five starting quarterbacks.

On Monday, it's slated to be Mason Rudolph under center for the Steelers and Ryan Fitzpatrick for the Dolphins with both having started earlier in the season and subsequently returned to the role.

As many assume the Dolphins' future starting quarterback likely started on a Saturday somewhere this week, Fitzpatrick began the first two weeks of the season with the starter tag, ceded it to Josh Rosen and was then given back the reins against the Bills a week ago.

Fitzpatrick was his typical one-man adventure in the Dolphins' 31-21 loss to the Bills in Week 7.

His two turnovers killed them. But then he led a rally that almost revived them, highlighted by his bruising run into the end zone.

FitzMagic won't be finding his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he's already an enshrinee in the hall of awesome. If you need a reason to watch on Monday night, Fitzpatrick by himself should fill that need as a wonderfully bearded man accustomed to equally producing triumph and calamity is going to do everything he can to propel the Fins to their first win. Either he will or he'll go out in a blaze of glory trying to.

In a perhaps shocking stat, the Steelers have given up a season-low five sacks. It's shocking when considering they've had three starting quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger is out of the year. Mason Rudolph filled in after, but was lost to a concussion. Rudolph will make his return Monday after Devlin Hodges had his turn on the Steelers' starting QB carousel.

It just may be that the Steelers are glimpsing their starting QB of the future. For now, though, Rudolph is likely to keep his throws short, his completion percentage up and the game managed. In many ways, Rudolph is the polar opposite of Fitzpatrick, a veteran who plays fearlessly.

It's set to be Fitzpatrick and Rudolph starting on Monday, but it wouldn't be a stunner if Rosen and/or Hodges make an appearance. Or somebody else, for that matter. That's the way things have gone for the Steelers and Dolphins so far.

Will Juju and James get it going?


A win is a win when you're struggling as the Steelers been struggling.

Thus, perhaps it slipped a bit under the radar when JuJu Smith-Schuster essentially disappeared to the tune of one catch for seven yards in the Steelers' 24-17 win over the Chargers in Week 6.

Two games prior, Smith-Schuster had only three catches for 15 yards against the Bengals. Overall, Smith-Schuster's first season as the man in the Steelers' receiving corps has been underwhelming. Then again, the aforementioned three starting quarterbacks doesn't exactly lend itself to sustained production and chemistry.

The 28th-ranked Steelers offense has struggled mightily overall and that includes Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner.

With 25 catches, Smith-Schuster was tied for 54th in the NFL leading into the week. To put that into perspective, two of the players he was tied with were Davante Adams and Sterling Shepard -- neither of whom have played since Week 4. He also has a very pedestrian 340 yards and two scores receiving, having yet to produce a 100-yard game this season.

Smith-Schuster isn't even the leading receiver on the Steelers, as that designation goes to Conner and his 26 catches. Conner boasts 26 grabs for 231 yards and a pair of scores with nearly identical rushing numbers of 235 yards and three touchdowns on 74 carries for a paltry 3.2 yards per tote.

Just like JuJu, Conner has yet to topple the 100-yard mark in any game. Miami's defense is ranked 30th overall, 31st against the rush and 22nd against the pass. If there's a time for JuJu and James to get it going, that time is Monday night.

Will it be Taco Monday in Pittsburgh?


Doomed were his days in Dallas, but Taco Charlton, amid a disastrous season for Miami, has been a positive.

Positives have been hard to find or shipped away when it comes to the Dolphins this season, but the 24-year-old has flashed the brilliance that made him a 2017 first-round draft choice for the Cowboys and seemingly embraced a fresh start despite it coming with a woeful team. Charlton has posted a team-high three sacks in his four games with the Dolphins and has 16 tackles, as well. The sacks already tie his career-high for a season, matching his rookie haul with the Cowboys.

In a perhaps-shocking stat considering they've started three quarterbacks, the Steelers offensive line has given up an NFL-low five sacks. So Monday bodes well in seeing if Charlton is emerging as someone who can legitimately impact games or simply a statistical bright spot in an otherwise miserable fall in Miami.

It's also another potential step forward in becoming a building block for the rebuilding franchise he's found a new home with.

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