Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers at Broncos

We've got a week of casual viewing of our present and future opponents, and a healthy record's perspective from which to see them. Health is the trendy topic this week, as Pittsburgh is out multiple defensive ends and potentially, a free safety. It should be noted (and of course, the PZB makes sure of that) Ryan Clark has the support of Steeler Nation with whatever he and the medical staff decide to do, but certainly, a win in Denver helps Pittsburgh's case to not be in this situation come playoff time.

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

We feel your pain, Denver fans. We had these same feelings about Mitch Berger.

Dawkins: "(Dumervil and Harrison) are guys that are lower to the ground already." Hilarious description for the vertically-challenged stud pass rushers for Denver and Pittsburgh.

Nod to our brethren at the Mile High Club Report. This will no doubt gain some traction. PBZ has to ask, though, is there a logical reason for you to be in the city of Baltimore?

It's safe to say both Denver and Pittsburgh have concerns with their young stud running backs hanging onto the football.

A slight digression, but ESPN's Adam Schefter's 10 Spot column always has a bunch of fantastic information. This week,it's chock-full of Steelers stats.

Last Game

There is such a thing as winning a game but not beating your opponent. The biggest difference between the two is teams get a win for winning the game, not for beating their opponent.

Pittsburgh's defense flashed some 2008-like playmaking ability, and behind the steam of LaMarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox, who both scored second half touchdowns, Pittsburgh won a critical intra-conference game against a good Vikings team.

Luck? Nah. Champions tend to have the moxie needed to win games like that. If nothing else, it was one of the more entertaining games we'll see, considering the level of individual talent on that field.

I've been trying to best describe him, but Vikings rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin plays unlike any receiver we've seen in some time. He has the strength of a much larger possession receiver, but how many possession receivers are returning kicks at a high level of success? I've been watching Harvin with great interest since I saw his first kick return against Kansas City in the preseason. The first upfield cut he made was like magic; he runs so powerfully, yet gracefully.

Try to accurately draw a comparison to him, seriously. I'm not saying he's a Hall of Fame player, I'm saying we haven't seen a receiver quite like him. He has great speed, obviously, but it's his strength for his size that makes him so unique. My favorite example was during the Steelers game, and there have been a half dozen of these examples so far this year. Harvin catches a curl, squares his shoulders, and SS Troy Polamalu, with a 10 yard head of steam, plants his shoulder directly on Harvin's thigh, as perfectly as it looks in the text book. I can't think of even tight ends who wouldn't go down when hit like that. Harvin faltered a little, but didn't go down. He basically didn't move, he just stopped moving forward.

The best I can come up with is Steve Smith with the strength of Ben Coates. He's a special player.

Opponent Spotlight: QB Kyle Orton

Hey, did you hear the Broncos traded High-Talent-Mediocre-Leader Jay Cutler to the Bears for Kyle Orton? It's true. It's even more true that Denver (6-1) has had a bit more success than the Bears have (4-4) to this point in the season.

Pittsburgh's biggest problem is the fact Cutler played a helluva game and beat Pittsburgh earlier this year. Logic should dictate Orton will beat them even worse.

What's interesting between the two is how Cutler, the big arm, gunslinger passer, went short, short and short again to maintain possession and eat away at the clock and let Jeff Reed miss two field goals. Orton's game - and Denver's success - is predicated on the concept of short, controlled passing.

So in many ways, Pittsburgh should be prepared for much of what they saw against the Bears. But Orton has had a great deal of success in playing in this philosophy. With a passer rating over 95, and just one interception to nine touchdown passes, his efficiency keeps Denver competitive.

Pittsburgh loses a bit of athleticism when ILB Lawrence Timmons isn't on the field, and their hook-to-curl defense will be challenged by playmakers like WR Brandon Marshall. Orton loves to find Marshall inside the numbers, and despite Marshall's career-low 10.8 yards per catch, he's as dangerous as they come with the ball in his hands.

Containing Marshall isn't done by one player, and it's more sensible to find ways to get to Orton and disrupt his rhythm. If Orton is the same precision-based passer he's been so far this season, it could be a repeat of the Steelers trip to Chicago.

Steelers Spotlight: WR Hines Ward

"It's hard to sit there and tell everybody it's a violent sport but tone it down a little. When I go across the middle, those guys aren't going to tackle me softly and lay me down to the ground. That's not football. I find it ironic that now you see a receiver delivering blows, and it's an issue. But I haven't changed. I've been doing it this way for 11 years." - Hines Ward

It's tough not to give Ward a nod for the Spotlight this week, considering his achievement as being named the Dirtiest Player in the NFL this week. It's an intriguing match-up for Ward as well, considering a relative lack of success against Denver in his career.

Ward has squared off against Shanahan's Broncos three times in the regular season, and has yet to garner a win. Since he was named the Dirtiest Player in the NFL, and he obviously gives a rat's patootie about that, he's gotta be fired up and ready to play, right?

If nothing else, the fact Ward continues to roll back the hands of time, and is putting up the best half-season numbers in his career, speaks volumes to the role he plays with the passing attack version of the Steelers.

An even bigger fact to consider; Denver's nickel defense was shredded by Baltimore's Joe Flacco last week on 13-for-15 passing. It was so bad, Denver went out and signed the ageless Ty Law, and released CB Jack Williams.

It's fair to say Pittsburgh has a tad deeper group of receivers, and a bit more experienced of a passer. Law on Ward is a nice match-up for you nostalgia fans, but the scope of Pittsburgh's passing game against Denver's sub packages is going to be an advantage for Pittsburgh.

(honorable mention: LT Max Starks)

I See You

"It is only one game in the long journey of a season and Steeler Nation would completely understand if you stood along the sidelines." - Dr Del on BTSC

I see you, Ryan Clark. Perhaps I'm seeing you a bit later than I should have. It was scary to hear what happened to you the last time Pittsburgh went to Denver. Even more tragic, perhaps it took us that crisis to realize your value to the team, and to solidify your place among the best free agent acquisitions the team has ever made. In missing the remainder of the 2007 season, after the high altitude of the Mile High City, you prepared yourself well enough to have a fantastic 2008 season. Your ability to place the team ahead of yourself was demonstrated by the multiple bone-jarring hits you delivered (see: McGahee, Willis and Welker, Wes). It's because PZB loves you, Ryan, that a point must be made; while it's tougher to win without you, don't play this game if you feel there's a chance it can be repeated. We'll worry about you playing in a potential playoff game at the 6-1 Broncos when we get to it. PBZ said at the time you should have been Comeback Player of the Year in 2008, I'd rather you not attempt to win the award you should have had. The fact you made it back on the field is enough to show everyone you have the warrior mentality, both on the field and off it.

 

Key Stats

  • Monday Night marks the second time in three years the Steelers have played at Denver following a bye
  • Mike Tomlin's Steelers teams have scored 66 points in their two games following a bye (1-1)
  • In three regular season games, Hines Ward has never scored a touchdown against Denver (0-3 regular season).
  • The Steelers have faced three of the league's top five rushers (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Cedric Benson) through eight weeks, and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher.
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