Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wild Card Gameday: Denver Broncos

Sunday January 8
Mile High Stadium

What To Watch For

1. Tebow vs Deebo

This has been one of the slogans for Steeler Nation all week leading up to this game. If you listened to Tunch Ilkin on the DVE Morning Show on Friday, he talked a lot about the "option man" on defense. To break it down, for a team that runs a "read option" like Denver, the quarterback will take the snap and put the ball in the stomach of the running back. At this point, the QB is "reading" the outside guy, be it the defensive end or outside linebacker. If the defender crashes down on the running back, the QB will pull the ball back with it and run himself. If the defender waits and "spies" the quarterback, he will hand it off to the running back. Against teams like Buffalo and Kansas City, their strategy was to make sure they dedicated two defenders, usually an outside linebacker and a safety to keying on the running back (McGahee) and quarterback (Tebow). If the Steelers go this route, it will likely be with the outside linebacker keying on the running back and a safety (probably Troy) spying Tebow.

2. Bumps and Bruises

The Steelers come into this game nursing some injuries. With Rashard Mendenhall on the IR and Mewelde Moore still out, the lionsshare of the workload will fall on the shoulders of Isaac Redman. Redman has been a beast all year. Until his last 3 carries of the Cleveland game, he had converted all of his short-yardage attempts and hadn't fumbled. But in his last 3 carries? Stopped on 3rd and 1 and fumbled twice. We're confident Redman will bounce back. Maurkice Pouncey has been limited this week in practice because of his sprained ankle and we obviously know about Ben's sprained ankle. LaMarr Woodley should be back, along with Doug Legursky. In the secondary, we signed Anthony Madison for special teams and cornerback depth. Denver has some injuries too, the biggest of which is safety Brian Dawkins who might miss the game.

3. Find the End Zone

Let's face it, Denver's offense isn't that good. They have relied on their defense to keep them in games so that Tebow can work his magic late. Tim Tebow is a winner, flat out. What he has done in the fourth quarter of games this year is incredible. He's the anti-LeBron. He bleeds clutch. That said, the best way to beat him is to just bury him early and force him to try to lead a comeback. Denver has the best rushing attack in the league, but their offense is built to go on long drives that eat a lot of clock. They are not a quick-strike team. Putting points on the board hasn't exactly been the Steelers forte since Ben hurt his ankle, but they're going to need to find the end zone if they want to pull this one out.

4. Steelers receivers vs Broncos Secondary

The Broncos will blitz a lot with OLBs Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, so the Steelers receivers will have to get open against the Broncos corners. Champ Bailey was once a good corner and Andre Goodman is decent, but you have to believe Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown will be able to get open against these guys. Denver is 18th in the league in passing defense and has allowed 24 passing touchdowns this season, an average of about 1.5 per game. For a team that hasn't had a passing touchdown since Antonio Brown iced the first Cleveland game, this could be just the remedy the Steelers passing game needs.

5. Make Them Relinquish The Ball

We've had some great playoff success in Denver, like winning the 2005 AFC Championship Game. That said, these are both completely different teams. The Steelers have struggled to stop the run at times this year, and struggled to generate turnovers. Denver runs the ball very well and struggles when Tebow has to put the ball in the air. That said, during his big winning streak he was able to keep the ball secure and not turn it over. Teams have started to get after Tebow more and generate fumbles, something the Steelers haven't done much of this year. The reunited combination of Harrison and Woodley could help that, but if we're going to have success in the playoffs, we're going to have to generate turnovers.

It's playoff football baby. Wouldn't trade it for anything.


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