Steelers Hit The Road For Test Against Reeling But Dangerous Broncos
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Saturday, October 20, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist
After a week off to rest their aches and catch up on family time, housework, or Madden 08 playing, the Steelers get back to business this week as they begin a tough stretch with a game in the Mile High City against the Denver Broncos.
When we last saw them on the field, the Steelers picked up an overwhelmingly dominant 21-0 win over the Seahawks to improve to 4-1 and go into the bye week on a high note, while ensuring themselves of the AFC North lead through the bye week.
For Pittsburgh, it's been all about balance and ball control on offense and the same stinginess on defense. That was evident in the Seattle game, when the offense held the ball for 40 minutes, picked up 342 total yards (163 on the ground, 179 through the air), and held the Seahawks offense to only 144 yards.
The Broncos are also coming off of a bye week that was much needed, as they have lost three in a row following a 2-3 start.
Will the Broncos get back on track with a big home win, or will the Steelers continue to roll on and stay atop the AFC North?
Looking at the Broncos
Denver opened 2-0 with wins against Buffalo and Oakland, but has fallen into a tie for last in the AFC West with losses to Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and San Diego, with the losses to the Jaguars and Chargers coming at home.
In their last game before the bye week, the Broncos were humiliated at home by LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers by a score of 41-3. The Broncos fell behind 17-0 early, and it went downhill from there, as they allowed 484 yards and turned the ball over three times on offense, in their worst home loss in 41 years.
The offense has been inconsistent thus far. QB Jay Cutler, in his first full year as starter, is completing 64.5% of his passes for 1,158 yards, but has thrown only four touchdowns, with six interceptions. RB Travis Henry ran for 267 yards in his first two games, but has been up and down in the last few games (35, 131, 65), and is likely soon to hit the suspended list for the next year for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
The defense has been a problem recently, most notably on the run. The Broncos actually have the league's best pass defense, but on the other end of the spectrum, have the league's worst run defense.
Keys to Success
Establish the run, plain and simple. In the last three games, the Broncos' rush defense has allowed 186, 226, and 214 yards. And, if it's just as porous on Sunday, that spells good news for one of the league's best ground attacks.
Be smart in the passing game. Big Ben will be dealing with one of the best secondaries in the business, so there's no room for ill-advised, forced throws.
Stuff the run. If the run gets stuffed, then the focus is going to be on Cutler to have to beat you, which leads in to the next key to success.
Get regular pressure on the young quarterback and force him to make mistakes. Cutler has thrown at least one interception in all but one game, and hasn't really had his rhythm in the last few weeks.
THE Key Matchup
Hines Ward & Santonio Holmes vs. Champ Bailey & Dre' Bly - The bye week allowed Ward and Holmes to heal up and be ready for a big matchup against two of the league's best corners. It's a good thing that they'll be at full strength as well, because you don't want either to be running at half speed against Bailey and Bly.
As mentioned, starting receivers Ward and Holmes will be back in the lineup on Sunday. Holmes missed the Seattle game with a hamstring injury, while Ward has missed the last couple due to a knee sprain.
Safety Troy Polamalu, who missed the Seattle game with abdominal issues, will also be back in the starting lineup.
However, starting DT Casey Hampton's status is uncertain, as he has been dealing with a hamstring injury.
Also, TE Jerame Tuman may play little or not at all, due to back spasms that have limited him, and backup corner Bryant McFadden has a high ankle sprain that might keep him out for Sunday.
What We'll See
The Broncos are reeling, and the Steelers have the chance to inflict a little more pain on Sunday.
But, at the same time, the game offers the Broncos a chance to get the ship righted.
However, if Denver can't stop the run, and stops themselves as they have recently, Pittsburgh will be able to roll comfortably.
When it all comes down to it, I think the Steelers' ability to control the game with the run will help lead them to their fifth victory of the season, and give the Broncos even more to be concerned about than they already are.