There was a point back in July when I thought maybe the 2012 NFL season was never going to come. But it’s September at last and that means Pittsburgh Steelers football is back, and they kick off the season with a big road showdown against the Denver Broncos. It’s time for Steelers vs Broncos, so let’s break it down, shall we?
When Pittsburgh has the football: Traditionally, this section would have started with something about establishing the run and pounding the football. But these are not those Steelers. When the Steelers have the football this year, they are going to run and gun. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley has implemented a quick-hitting, pace heavy offense that is going to keep the ball moving and rely on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to make quick reads, smart throws, and not take hits that he shouldn’t. Roethlisberger has weapons on the perimeter in wide receivers Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emanuel Sanders, along with running back Chris Rainey who he must count on to make plays. He must get them the ball quickly and let them make plays, not sit back and try and make the big play every time. And this must all be done with a re-tooled offensive line.
When Denver has the football: When you have a quarterback like Peyton Manning, you understand the things he can do. This Broncos team should expect solid offensive line play, a nice platoon of running backs to keep the Steelers defense honest, but it’s going to fall on Manning. He’s no stranger to making household names out of unknown wide receivers and this will be the same. Manning commands the offense, will make his check downs, but I think ultimately he’s going to want to work the middle of the field, short and intermediate routes where he’s shown the best zip on his passes and accuracy in the preseason.
When Pittsburgh is on defense: The Steelers defense is going to be down at least 2 starters, as Safety Ryan Clark will miss due to a health condition that makes it impossible for him to play in the high altitude of Denver. But it appears they will also be without outside linebacker James Harrison, who was unable to practice on Friday as he is still recovering form a knee injury. This puts his status for the game in serious jeopardy. The pressure on the defense will fall on the other 9 starters to help fill in. From a strategic standpoint, the Steelers must clog up the middle. Drop the middle linebackers, push safety Troy Polamalu and Ryan Mundy into those areas where Manning wants to throw and throw off the timing of the Broncos offense. The pass rush will have to come from LaMarr Woodley and Chris Carter on the outside, and if they can’t at least put heat on Manning the back 4 could struggle.
When Denver is on defense: It’s all about bringing pressure. The Broncos has to pass rush specialists in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil who could make life really hard on Roethlisberger. And with a patchwork offensive line, they should be able to. The key for them will be to stay in their lanes, be under control and pursue when Roethlisberger breaks contain, because that’s when he’s the most dangerous. In coverage the Broncos will be at a disadvantage in terms of overall speed, so dropping their safetys back to give deep help would make sense and keep those speedy Steelers skill players in front of them, and make the tackle.
The X-Factor: You notice I said very little about the rushing offense of either team. Ultimately I think the team that is able to run the football with more success and consistency is going to win this game. It doesn’t have to be huge numbers of carries, but a solid YPC, keep the defenses honest is what’s going to win the day. It will help minimize the possibility of turnovers and with these two teams, turnovers could turn into points the other way in a hurry.
Player to watch-Steelers:Ryan Mundy, safety: I have never been a big cheerleader for Clark but when he’s out of the lineup it takes away the player who makes the secondary calls, and helps bail out fellow safety Troy Polamalu when he begins to freelance. Mundy needs to be that guy to allow Polamalu to be who he is, which is a disruptive force.
Player to watch-Broncos:Jacob Tamme, tight end: Tamme is the only carry over for Manning from his days in Indianapolis, and with the rest of the skill players for the Broncos still trying to get on board, Tamme could be Manning’s security blanket. This also goes right along with his desire to work the middle of the field where Tamme operates. It’s going to be on the Steelers inside linebackers to get in his face and keep him out of the passing offense if they want to win.
Prediction: Keep in mind if I had to pick NFL games to feed my family they’d have starved to death a long time ago. But I am confident in saying that I think when they final whistle blows, the Steelers ability to score quickly is going to be more than the Broncos can handle. The game will be close, and it’s going to be exciting, but I’ll take the Steelers 31-24.
What is your predicition? Steelers vs Broncos let’s hear it. Can the Steelers pull the upset or will Manning lead the Broncos to victory? Come find me on Twitter @nfldraftboard and let me know what you think.