Although it’s an unoriginal corollary, here’s some thoughts on the Good, Bad and Ugly regarding the game vs the Broncos….
Starting with the offense, the Steelers limp into Denver with an offensive line which continues to be pieced together depending on the week and without their number one running back. They have to play pass first and run second because: a) the OL is just not that good in the run game and b) that's just who they are now, that's how the offense is put together. Roethlisberger has made up for the porous line but his mobility is now severely restricted. BB and company will be going against a very good defense which gets pressure on the QB and has produced a lot of turnovers. The Denver defense has 41 sacks and 11 forced fumbles, so we can expect Roethlisberger to be under duress for much of the game.
Defensively, the DBs are thin and the run defense has dropped to 8th in rush yards per game. The Broncos come into the playoffs as the number one rushing offense in the NFL. The Steelers have been gashed occasionally and seem vulnerable to cut-back runners. Big time players like Harrison and Woodley have yet to play consistently or provide impact plays in a game in a long time. The turnovers have been few and far between, Ryan Clark is out, long time contributor Hoke is gone and the pass rush is nothing like it used to be. The Steelers rank tied for 17th in sacks, 24th in INTs and 27th in forced fumbles.
Add to that a kicker who is suspect and you have the makings of a possible, if remote, upset in the making.
On defense, the Steelers have some injuries in the secondary and that is usually big trouble in the playoffs. Luckily, Denver has a very poor passing game and ranks 31st in passing offense, 25th in scoring and they have lost consecutive games to Buffalo and Kansas City. The Broncos are a close second to the Rams in number of punts this year – 101 times they have kicked the ball away. For comparison, the Steelers have punted 59 times this season.
Denver’s run-heavy offense suits the traditional model of the Steeler defense and the strength of their team - the linebackers. Denver’s offensive line is rated just ahead of the Steeler’s constantly changing O Line at #23 in the league. They have given up 42 sacks (just like Pittsburgh) and have only scored 11 rushing TDs despite their #1 rushing status. I'm sure Tebow and the Broncos will get some yards running the ball and that's fine - it means they can't launch ahead of the Steelers early in the game. Although the Steelers run defense has been less dominant than prior years, the Broncos should be a good match-up for the Steelers defense. Unfortunately for the Broncos, starting guard Chris Kuper suffered a broken leg and FB Spencer Larson left the Chiefs game in the 2nd quarter with a knee injury.
This could be the game where the turnovers come up big for the Steelers and their highly-rated defense. They are certainly long overdue and if the Steelers can get a lead and force the Broncos to throw, numerous opportunities should come for interceptions and sack/fumbles – things which were always in abundance for the Steeler defense.
Add to that, the performance of Steelers punter Jeremy Kapinos and field position should be a factor for the Broncos to overcome on most possessions.
First, the obvious: Tebow’s throwing motion, Vonn Miller’s eyewear, the winter weather and the dead grass at the outdoor, mountain stadium.
Although possible, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers leading the way in the ugly department. They have tons of playoff experience, a veteran quarterback, the number one defense in the NFL and two injured players coming back for the game in Woodley and Legursky. Give the Broncos defense credit and protect the football – this is the only real area where the Steelers can let the game get away from them.
Actually, conditions look promising for the Steeler offense and their ability to throw the ball. The weather forecast suits the Steelers more than the Broncos with a projected high temperature of 40 degrees and no snow storms are in sight. The new SportsAuthority Mile High Stadium is a grass field but the soil is heated to promote grass growth and they actually have a vacuum-assisted drainage system to suck excess water right out of the field.
The ugly factor should weigh down the Broncos, not the Steelers. Pittsburgh simply needs to make good decisions and protect the football to be in the game until the end. If they can build an early lead, a landslide may hit the Broncos offense with footballs falling into the hands of the Steelers and result in a blow out win. It would be a nice way to start the playoffs.