Big match-up this week for the Steelers against the AFC West leading Denver Broncos. This game has always been interesting, let’s look at the history of this game in the last 15 years:
1997: (Home) W 35-24
1997: (Home) L 21-24 (AFC Championship)
2003: (Away) L 14-17
2005: (Away) W 34-17 (AFC Championship)
2006: (Home) L 20-31
2007: (Away) L 28-31
So it’s safe to say that in recent memory, Pittsburgh has had problems with this team, for a variety of reasons that go across both the Cowher and Tomlin eras and involve quarterbacks named Tomczak, Maddox, Stewart, Roethlisberger, Elway, Plummer, and Cutler, and two meetings in the AFC Championship game, with each team ruining the dreams of the other on their home field.
But the days of Jake the Snake and Elway are over, hello Kyle Orton. And the only figure that was there the whole time (Mike Shanahan) has been let go in favor of a new regime under Josh McDaniels. So far this year, the Broncos defense has really shown up as dominant, and they are currently 2nd overall in points allowed, 1st overall in yards allowed (8th against the pass, 3rd against the run).
This is Pittsburgh Steeler Territory for defense. What Denver has managed to do, with a new system, is hold teams and pass the ball. Their one loss, last week against Balitmore (this is yet another week in which Pittsburgh gets a team coming off a match-up against the Ravens) had the Ravens swarming, stopping Denver on all but 3 third downs, playing well against the pass, holding Orton with no TDs.
The Steelers two weeks ago against Brett “He’s Just Having Fun Out There!!!” Favre didn’t necessarily stop the passing attack (Favre had 300+ yards and hit 10 different targets) but they kept him from scoring and obviously the interception and fumble returns were the difference in the game. The Steelers were okay against the run, but not by any means stingy as one would want (Peterson had a decent game, but he was more effective as a check-down, ask Willie Gay).
The Broncos were not able to run effectively against Baltimore, who in turn were able to run more effectively than most teams, getting 84 yards on 23 carries, against Denver. Hey that’s nearly 4 yards per carry. Rashard Mendenhall has established himself at this point as the man, and so it will become very important to set up the Steelers passing attack with him having an effective game. C’mon, O-Line. Two weeks ago, Minnesota sacked Big Ben 4 times.
The passing game in the second half was mostly stifled–Minnesota had the ball for most of the game. If the Steelers O has troubles, is it possible to lean on the defense for another game? Sure. It worked last year all the time. But that’s a heart attack waiting to happen.
The Steelers have not been as good as usual against the pass. This has a lot to do with the pass rush on the quarterback. Ryan Clark is wounded. Aaron Smith is out. Orton has a good line, fast athletic receivers, but he’s not Fran Tarkenton.
I put my importance on this game on the Steelers pass rush. Somehow I think James Harrison is gonna get held a lot. The Denver Defense is at the top of the league in sacks (so is Pittsburgh). Every point will be important. I see this game tight until the 4th quarter.