DENVER (CBS4) – The Steelers of Pittsburgh are predicated on their domineering, devastating and daunting defense. They come to Denver Sunday, in the 2012 season’s first Sunday Night Football game.
It’s a rematch of last season’s AFC Wildcard game, in which the Tim Tebow-led Broncos battled the defending AFC Champion Steelers tough, then ended their season with one exhilarating 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime. Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium went wild. Broncomaniacs rejoiced and the many Steelers fans in attendance cried in their beers.
Surely, the Steelers players that participated in the playoff loss last January will be hungry for a win this Sunday, especially considering many of the key Pittsburgh players were injured leading up to that postseason contest.
Their 3-4 defense, led by stars Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, is one of the most feared in the league for a reason—they relentlessly hit hard. Harrison and Polamalu have each been fined in the past for illegal hits—Harrison more notably—and the way they bring pressure is hard for offenses to cope with. The Steelers bring blitzes from all over; linebackers, cornerbacks and even safeties will be seen crashing the line and coming after Peyton Manning in the massive matchup. It presents a difficult task of the Broncos’ offensive line to focus on their blocking assignments, and for running backs and tight ends to pick up free blitzers as they come at Denver’s fragile quarterback.
Manning famously has gone though multiple neck surgeries over the last year and when he was hit this preseason twice, fans and Broncos brass alike held their collective breath. If any team could possibly knock Manning out of a game, or even the season, it would be the Steelers.
Of course, their defense is also incredibly skilled, intelligent and well-prepared week-in, week-out, making it a tough test for Denver and the new Manning-led offense right out of the gates.
On offense, Pittsburgh boasts multiple playmakers and a killer instinct as well. Nine-year veteran Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, a game manager, and at 6’5” 241 pounds, one of the toughest QBs to sack.
5’10” 225 pound running back Rashard Mendenhall can run tough between the tackles, bust a run outside and go to the house and catch passes out of the backfield. Even though Mendenhall injured his knee in January, he was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and could play Sunday.
Fourth-year receiver Mike Wallace is the ticking time bomb waiting to explode for a huge play and he’ll be a difficult assignment for Champ Bailey, Tracy Porter or whichever Broncos defensive back has to check him. Wallace’s 72 receptions for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns led the Steelers in 2011, and those numbers were actually down compared to the year before.
Pittsburgh’s offense is a great deal “ground and pound,” meaning they love to run the rock, and even if Mendenhall is cleared to play, expect his backup Isaac Redman to get some carries as well. They set up the pass with the run, as Roethlisberger will play-action fake it only to drop back and drop a big bomb over his receiver’s shoulder. The Steelers are known for their deceptively deadly big plays, something the Broncos offense much watch for this week.
Denver must be disciplined in their pass coverage, while Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller—among others—need to put pressure on Roethlisberger and hurry his throws. Certainly, plugging the holes when Pittsburgh runs and hitting the right gaps remains another key for Denver’s defense this week.
Interesting series notes:
The Steelers and Broncos played the first ever regular season overtime game in NFL history, September 22, 1974, which ultimately resulted in a 35-35 tie.
Before January, these two teams last met up in 2006 in the AFC Championship game in Denver. Mike Tomlin’s Steelers got the better of the Broncos that day and they went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.