Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gameday: Denver Broncos

Peyton's Mile High Club
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

All Time Regular Season Series: Denver leads 13-7-1
Mike Tomlin Era: Steelers 1-2 overall, 1-1 in Regular Season
Last Meeting: Denver won 29-23 in 2011 Playoffs
Steelers vs Peyton Manning: 2-2 All Time, 1-2 in Regular Season

What To Watch For

1. Revenge Game

It's not often that you get to take a swing at the team that ended your previous season right out of the gate. But the Steelers have a great opportunity to make a statement tonight. Historically, the Steelers haven't fared very well in "revenge" games, going just 1-3 since 1999 in games against teams that beat them in the playoffs the prior year. The only victory came against Jacksonville in 2008 after the Jags knocked us out in 2007. This is a very different Denver team, but the name and the helmets are still the same.

2. Ike Taylor vs Demaryius Thomas

There are a lot of matchups we could focus on in this game, but this is the one with the most implications. Ike took the brunt of the blame for the playoff loss last year after Thomas ran over, around, and through him en route to a monster game (which included the game winning touchdown). Ike is usually very good at matching up mano-y-mano with a guy and shutting him down. Even though corner backs are supposed to have short memories, you'd better believe it would be a notch on Ike's belt to be able to shut out Thomas in this one.

3. The Pass Rush

The Steelers had to suffer through injuries to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley last season and the pass rush suffered because of it. Now, Harrison is a game-time decision and top backup Jason Worlids is coming off the PUP list and hasn't played a down all preseason. Second year man Chris Carter looked good in the preseason, but that was mostly against backups - can he sustain it over a full game against the likes of Ryan Clady? The long and the short of it is that if the Steelers want to win this game, they need to get to Manning early and often and hit him as much as they can. Peyton really only got hit a few times in the preseason and it will be important for the Steelers to make him feel uncomfortable back there in the pocket.

4. Running Back By Committee

Honestly no one really knows who is going to get the call tonight. Rashard Mendenhall has practiced all week but is officially listed as "doubtful" for the game. Isaac Redman also practiced fully this week and is listed as "probable." Redman had a beastly game in Denver in January, but there is a lot of media-driven speculation (started by Bob Labriola) that Jonathan Dwyer should get the start. Dwyer will see time, and the Steelers will make use of Chris Rainey in different situations just trying to get the ball hin his hands, but at 8:23 tonight I think you'll see Redman as the starting back.

5. Mike Wallace

He's back. There have been plenty of doubters about how effective Wallace will actually be. Ben to Wallace on the first play. Do it.

Behind Enemy Lines

For those of you who may have just started reading this year, I do my best each week to get a blogger/fan/writer for the opposing team to answer a few questions about the upcoming game. This week's guest is Brandon, one of the architects of Mock One, which started as a Twitter-based Mock NFL Draft a few years back and has grown and expanded to where there were four different mock drafts held last year - two of which yours truly participated in as the "General Manager" of the Steelers. It's a really cool concept and helps get you in the mindset of what an actual GM goes through when they're "on the clock" in the NFL Draft. You can find him on Twitter @EmPuLSe

1. Everyone wants to start fast out of the gates and get a quick win on their slate. Both of these teams are a bit different than the teams that faced off last January and are still in the building process for their 2012 teams. Aside from winning the game, what are you looking for from the Broncos for this game to be considered a "success"?

Nothing would equal success quite like a 1 in the W column on Mannings first game in the Orange and Blue. While there certainly appears to be no lack of confidence for #18, every Broncos fan has the nagging thought in the back of their mind that Manning hasn't taken a meaningful snap in over 20 months.  Nothing will do more for the confidence of the Broncos faithful than seeing him put a W up in game number one versus a dominant team like the Steelers.

The key to capturing that W and instilling true confidence in the Denver faithful will be keeping Manning out of the dirt.  The Steelers consistently have one of the most feared defenses in the NFL, and judging by the tape I've watched this year nothing has changed in that regard.  That quality defensive line vs. a suspect Broncos offensive line is one of the keys to this game.  Clady on the left protecting Mannings blindside isn't much of a concern.  Clady has proven himself to be a better than average left tackle, and has displayed dominance of his own since entering the league in 2008.  The right side of the line, anchored by Orlando Franklin, is where the real concern lies.  Franklin has looked slightly less than capable throughout the pre-season, and often seemed like little more than an inanimate object in 2011.  As Denvers very own Cecil Lammey so eloquently put it earlier in the week - You know those turn styles at the subway station?  Those offer more resistance against an oncoming rusher than Orlando Franklin.

Despite Manning getting the ball out quickly, expect help on the right side of the line.  Keep #18 clean and this game is certainly within reach for the new look Broncos.

2. Back in January, Ike Taylor got torched by Demaryius Thomas. It's always said that a cornerback needs to have a short memory, but Ike has always stepped up to the challenge when he gets a shot at revenge on a guy that burned him. We're excited to see how Ike handles another shot at Thomas. Are there any specific matchups you're looking forward to watching?

You'll notice a bit of a theme here in my answers, but the most important match up in my eyes is the Broncos D-line vs the Steelers O-line.  With the abysmal performance by rookie Mike Adams against the Colts backups, and Max Starks being Max Starks, I expect the Steelers to have a long night in the trenches.  Dumervil and Von Miller are enough to give the most capable line nightmares.  I can only imagine the concerns the Steelers O-line has for the Broncos pass rush... I expect to see Ben rolling to his right a lot, away from the pressure. This should afford rookie  LDE Derek Wolfe many of opportunities to make a play.

3. From what you saw in the preseason, what should we expect from Peyton Manning here in the opener?

I'll admit that I was a little worried during the Bears game.  The deep ball seemed quite forced.  The throws did not look natural and they did not have the velocity that his balls usually do.  However, as the preseason rolled on, so did Manning's exhibition. With each game my confidence in Manning grew.  By the last preseason game it appeared to me that Manning can make any throw required of him.  His deep ball had some zing (a bit too much on a few plays), and his ability to quickly make a decision and get the ball out of his hand is matched by few.

4. The story leading up to this game is all about Peyton Manning. Steelers fans are acutely aware of what Demaryius Thomas can do. Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller are beastly pass rushers on defense. Are there any under-the-radar guys you think will have a big impact on this game?

I think everyone expects Decker to have a huge game.  His route running has greatly improved in the last 12 months, and he has outstanding hands.  I expect him to run alot of underneath routes and use his wiggle to gain alot of yards after the catch.

My real "under the radar" pick though is TE, Joel Dreessen.  Joel has looked pretty darn good through training camp and preseason.  He has developed a solid relationship with Manning, and has incredible athletic ability.  I wouldn't be surprised if he plays the Dallas Clark role as well as Dallas Clark did in his prime.  The TE has become a huge part of being successful in the NFL, and the Broncos haven't had a difference maker at TE since the Shannon Sharpe days.  I look for the Broncos to get Dreeseen involved early and often.

5. Any other final thoughts?

Like every person reading this article, I'm insanely excited for game time.  I can't imagine a better way to start the season for either team.

The one thing I think continues to favor the Broncos is the lack of emotional leader Ryan Clark in the Steelers backfield.  Clark brings alot of emotion to this team, and I know he is missed every time they visit the Mile High city.  

The last series that Manning lead in the preseason really was impressive.  At one point I shook my head in shock, I coudn't believe how much the offensive possession reminded me of a Colts offensive possession just a few years ago.  While I'm not certain the Broncos offense will be 100% in sync with Manning from the start of the game, or even the start of the season; it will eventually happen.  And its hard to argue with the idea that once in sync, the Broncos could potentially have the most potent offense in the league.

2011 is behind us.

It's 2012 now.

Here we go.

1 comment:

Nick Murphy said...

Tonight’s game should be very entertaining! It seems like it has been a long offseason, but the Sunday Night Football premiere is finally here! I won’t be able to watch tonight’s game live because I’m going to be working late at Dish. However, my Hopper will record it with PrimeTime Anytime so that I can watch it tonight, and not miss any action. Hopefully tonight’s game will be one for the ages, like it has the potential to be. If our boys can make the most out of every opportunity, then we can’t lose!