Finally! Game time is rapidly approaching. The Pittsburgh Steelers take the field tonight against the Denver Broncos in Denver after 15 days off. Will they be rested and sharp, or will they be a bit rusty and fall behind on the road against a Broncos team that's been good at protecting the football and holding on to ball games with opportunistic defense. Here are a few keys to the game that I think will go a long way towards determining who emerges victorious.
1) Limit the impact of return man Eddie Royal. The second year speedster returned both a kickoff and a punt against the Chargers. Pittsburgh meanwhile has been sloppy in their coverage units, particularly on kickoffs. Coach Tomlin promised to shore them up during the Bye Week. Will it happen? I hope so.
2) Limit the impact of tight end Tony Scheffler. He's not all that well known, but Denver tight end Tony Scheffler is really a fine football player, and really every bit as dangerous as Heath Miller and several other of the top tight ends in the AFC. Scheffler hurt Pittsburgh the last time the two teams met in 2007. He had 5 big catches and 1 touchdown. Because Kyle Orton isn't all that dangerous stretching the field or throwing the deep in and the deep out ball, it's important that Scheffler isn't a frequent option in the seam against the Steelers depleted defense, particularly if Ryan Clark doesn't play.
3) The Steelers need to be better in the red zone than they've been the previous two games. Pittsburgh was clicking inside the 20 during weeks 4,5, and 6, but struggled in Weeks 7 and 8. We'll see if scoring opportunities are hard to come by, but regardless, it's important to make Denver have to play from behind, something I don't think they're all that comfortable doing. Scoring 6 instead of 3 points when the opportunity arises is certainly one effective way towards ensuring that.
4) With Lawrence Timmons out, can the Steelers get enough pressure on the quarterback with their blitzing linebackers. Obviously James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will be going after Kyle Orton all night, but the Ravens found success bringing extra pass rushers from the linebacker spot. The Steelers don't run the same exact defensive of course, but I think they'd also be well served sending James Farrior and/or Keyaron Fox up the middle on some stunts. Can they get there quick in time to disrupt Orton like Baltimore did?
5) If the Steeers do indeed send lots of pressure, can the secondary wrap up and tackle well in the short passing game? If Orton's forced to get rid of the ball, we'll surely see lots of those 3-8 yard passes that have given the Steelers some trouble this year. Will Dick LeBeau have his corners playing closer to the line of scrimmage in anticipation of Orton getting rid of the ball quickly?
6) Something tells me Troy Polamalu will make a 'splash' play in this one. I sure hope so.
7) Can Rashard Mendenhall do a better job not fumbling the football?
8) Will Bruce Arians have a healthy amount of running the football in tonight's pre-scripted game plan? Denver has been outstanding stopping the run, but something tells me our offensive line could be vamped up and ready to go tonight. Will they get a chance to maul some people in the running game? Or will they struggled to find a rhythm run blocking due to an inordinately high number of passing plays called.
9) Can we finally get a special teams play of our own? The Broncos are working in cast away punter Mitch Berger. Can Stefan Logan finally break through and earn his keep on this roster on an unimpressive punt by Berger?
10) Will Ben Roethlisberger take a page out of Orton's book and not force anything early in the game as the teams feel their way around one another? Big Ben was impressive last time he traveled to Denver, but he negated his otherwise fine performance with two costly interceptions and a fumble.
This is our 1st half open thread. Have fun! Enjoy your Monday evenings guys and gals. I'll be here throughout the game. Join me. Go Steelers!