Pittsburgh Steelers: Wounded Warriors Look to Beat Broncos

Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) scrambles with the ball during the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) scrambles with the ball during the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos will meet at Mile High Stadium on Sunday for the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs with kickoff at 4:10 p.m.

The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos met was a barn burner between two highly talented offenses. The result was a Steelers 34-28 victory over the Broncos.

However, things have changed since that week 15 match up. A Broncos offense who was then lead by young quarterback Brock Osweiler has returned to the hands of the wily veteran Peyton Manning, who is eyeing a second Superbowl championship in what has been an illustrious NFL career.

One thing that has been a problem for Manning however is his career in the playoffs. He has not had much success being ousted in the first game nine times in his career.

While Manning has had problems in the playoffs the Steelers have some problems of their own. They will be without their top wide reciever Antonio Brown who will not be playing on Sunday due to the concussion he suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals. Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the hit but it does not change the fact that Brown will miss the game on Sunday.

Brown who had 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Steelers this season will be missing his first game of the season. It will also be the first game Brown has missed dating back to the 2012 season.

The other main problem the Steelers have to deal with is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger not being at 100%. Ben is listed as questionable, but according to NFL reporter Ian Rapport, he will play in the game.

Roethlisberger has had a great deal of success in the playoffs. He has lead the Steelers to three super bowls, winning two of them, and has come up big in many crucial games for Pittsburgh. His success has definitely shown through in the divisional round however where he has a 4-0 career mark.

The problem is, if Ben is not at 100% he will not be able to make the throws that he normally makes and this will hurt the team as a whole. Even with Brown out Ben has three serviceable targets in Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Heath Miller however the question will be can he throw the ball to these targets the way he wants to.

With all these questions looming, I still believe it will be a close game. I feel that even without Brown in the game, Pittsburgh has the offensive weapons it needs to be able to succeed.

This season Bryant has 756 yards receiving and six touchdowns. After being called out by Roethlisberger to “Step up his game” and make some more of the tough catches, he delivered last week in a big way late in the game. While his final line doesn’t look that great, five catches for 29 yards and a touchdown, he made one of the biggest plays of his young career that helped the Steelers pull out the victory with his flipping touchdown catch in the back of the endzone.

Markus Wheaton has also had a great season for the Steelers collecting 749 yard receiving and pulling in five touchdowns on the season. The ability Wheaton brings to the table is his speed. He is able to beat a lot of corners in the league and get open down the field.

He is great getting yards after he has caught the ball as well. According to Dom Rinelli, reporter for the NFL, Wheaton is ranked fourth in the NFL in yards after the catch this season.

These two players need to come up big for the Steelers if they want a shot at winning the game this week. However, this is a big challenge as Denver presents two of the best cornerbacks in the league in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris JR. The pair has combined for 5 interceptions this season and has been a nightmare to opposing receivers.

In Talib’s case, his week 15 matchup against Martavis Bryant looked like this.

As you can see Bryant did get big yardage against Talib, but was not able to make the big catch in the endzone to help the Steelers. In the Divisional round is when players need to shine, and for Bryant the time is now to step up and show that he is a leader on this Steelers offense.

X Factors: #33 Fitzgerald Toussaint and #30 Jordan Toddman

Before last weeks victory most people did not know Fitzgerald Toussaint or Jordan Todman even existed. However, in the abscence of DeAngelo Williams they both had their chance to shine on the big stage. Toussaint went 17 carries for 58 yards while Todman had 11 carries for 65 yards.

Well Williams will be out again this week and for a team with a beat up quarterback in Roethlisberger, the running game needs to be a factor. The Broncos have the #1 defense in all of the NFL and they will look to flex there muscles on Sunday.

If the Steelers are able to create a balance of run and pass plays, they could throw this Denver defense off balance and have them questioning just enough to where the Steelers offense can break through and score some points. If Toussaint and Todman can combine to run for at least 120 yards in the game the Steelers will have a chance to open up passing lanes for Ben to throw too.

Biggest Impact: Offensive Line

The group with the biggest impact on how this game goes will be the Steelers offensive line. With a quarterback who is not at 100%, the line needs to step up and be able to keep Ben off of the turf this week.

Offensive Line coach Mike Munchack has done a great job working with injuries and putting an effective offensive line on the field week in and week out. They have handled great defenses before and look to do it again here in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Last week, the Cincinnati Bengals got to Ben four times including the sack by Burfict that initially injured Ben’s shoulder. The line has to improve this week and keep Roethlisberger upright so he has time to make throws and so that he does not re-injure that shoulder.

In the week 15 matchup with the Broncos, the line did a pretty good job of keeping Ben upright. Roethlisberger was sacked only three times in his 50 pass attempts, and the Steelers were able to keep the Broncos best pass rusher Von Miller in check as he had no sacks on the day.

If the Steelers offensive line can act as a brick wall and not allow Roethlisberger to get hit, the Steelers will have a great chance to win this football game.

Prediction: Steelers 17, Broncos 14

I feel that the Pittsburgh Steelers will have what it takes to overcome the Denver Broncos. While they are without Brown they do still have very effective targets in Bryant, Wheaton, and Miller. Look for Miller to be a main target for Ben in what will be a dump and go style offense.

The Steelers will be looking for long methodical drives and will be looking to finish with touchdowns rather than field goals. However, when you are facing the top defense in the NFL that can be hard to do. The Steelers have the defense capable of stopping the Broncos offense and if they can hold strong like they did in the Bengals game last week, Pittsburgh can win this game.

Next: Three Keys to Steelers vs Broncos

It may come down to another act of magic by Chris Boswell, but I believe we will be seeing the Steelers move on in the playoffs. No matter what happens I know one thing is for sure. The determination of both these teams will not waiver as they fight for a spot on the NFL’s biggest stage in Super Bowl 50.