The hot topic of Sunday’s game is revenge. The last time the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers met, the Broncos ended the Steelers season in the Wild Card round of the playoffs on the first play in overtime. No two AFC teams have met as much as the Broncos and Steelers have in the post season, so that contest added some more fuel to the competitive fire. The Broncos went 8-8 in the regular season last year while the Steelers went 12-4. Game time is set for 6:20 p.m. MST on NBC.
Broncos: This is obviously a brand new offense under the guidance of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. The first string offense looked sharp in preseason play, particularly in the third game against the San Francisco 49ers. It was there that everyone saw the potential as Manning went 10-for-12 for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns in less than a quarter of play. Against the Steelers, this offense will have to adjust quickly. It’s the No. 1 passer going up against the league No. 1 passing defense from last season. Expect a lot of no-huddle from the Broncos along with two-back formations, and even some three wide receiver formations. While many pages are taken out of the Indianapolis Colts‘ playbook, this is still going to be a Broncos based offense. Utilizing the altitude to expose some early season conditioning issues in the Steelers’ organization would be very helpful.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger is back and able to run on that ankle that hobbled him in the last meeting. Expect some no huddle out of the Steelers as well on Sunday. The team has a new offensive coordinator in Todd Haley who was fired as the Kansas City Chiefs head coach in mid-December. While the Steelers always like to pound teams with the run, expect the team’s running backs to be used in the pass game as well. Haley will call pass plays for shorter gains and more high percentage completions with the hope that the team’s speedy receivers will be able to run for big gains after the catch. It’s also a way for Haley to test the Broncos linebackers. RB Rashard Mendenall will likely be used as a secondary back since he’s coming off of an ACL tear. Issac Redman will be the Steelers’ No. 1 guy on the ground. He rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries (7.1 yards per carry) last January. WR Mike Wallace didn’t participate in most of preseason, so he may not be as effective as he normally is.
Broncos: The Steelers can be deadly in the passing game and in the rushing game, but that’s only if their offensive line holds up. The line gave up 14 sacks in preseason, and last year Roethlisberger was the 4th most sacked quarterback in the league. The Broncos first string defense was very solid in preseason with Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, and rookie Derek Wolfe leading the way up front. Each of those guys had a sack and/or a tackle for a loss in the three preseason games that they played in. That trio up front will be key in containing Roethlisberger, who can scramble with the best of them, and who’s size makes him hard to bring down. The question mark surrounding depth on defense remains.
Steelers: Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is arguably one of the greatest coordinators of all time. He has such a versatile defensive scheme that the Steelers have ranked first on defense for the past two seasons. The team did lose some guys on defense that helped them win three AFC titles and a Super Bowl. DE Aaron Smith, LB James Farrior, and NT Chris Hoke will be missed. This is a defense that disguises a lot of looks with many different guys blitzing. The co-team leader in sacks last year, James Harrison, looks like he will not play in Sunday’s game. He had minor surgery on his knee last month, was limited in practice on Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday.
Broncos: Kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt proved to be invaluable to the team last season. Their legs are needed to put up points and make the Steelers’ offense work the entire field. A mis-step on coverage could spell disaster for each team in this one.
Steelers: The Steelers can be a dangerous return team with Antonio Brown. The Steelers finished last in the league in field goal percentage going 23-of-31 (74.2%) in 2011.
Broncos: The Broncos are 38-13 in home openers which is the best in the NFL. John Fox has repeatedly said that last year’s game will not make an impact on this year’s game.
“Usually that’s history, and history doesn’t have too much importance on the present…They’re team’s different; our team’s different.”
Steelers: Mike Tomlin is 4-1 in season openers. Like Fox, he’s not dwelling on last year. He says that there’s only one season where he was happy with the outcome at the end of the season, and that’s the year they won the Super Bowl.
Prediction: Broncos – 24 Steelers – 17.