CB Ike Taylor vs. WR Demaryius Thomas
Taylor admitted this week to having a bad game the last time he faced Thomas - when the receiver caught four passes for 204 yards, and the last catch ended the Steelers' season. Calling it a fluke may not be accurate, but Taylor hasn't given up that kind of a game to one wide receiver in his career.
It wouldn't be surprising to see the Broncos test whether Taylor has gotten over that last game. Considering their upgraded passing ability, and Thomas's size and speed, they'll try to get the ball to him down the numbers at least once or twice, maybe early on in this game.
Starks was one of a few players who was injured during last year's playoff game at Denver. Whether Starks was in there or not, the Broncos brought a relentless pass rush from all over the field. Starks was taken off the PUP list in time for the Steelers' third preseason game and appears to be healthy enough to take on the aggressive Dumervil on the edge.
Dumervil plays with great leverage and has a high motor. It's more of a test of conditioning for Starks than anything else. Expect the Steelers to focus much of their strongside running to go off Starks, looking to exploit his size advantage over the 5-foot-11 Dumervil.
With starter Ryan Clark on the shelf for this game, the Steelers still maintain an advantage with Mundy on the field; he's much more experienced starting for the Steelers than Manning is starting for the Broncos. Even one of the all time greats like Manning will have a few communication problems as he and his offense continue to build continuity.
Mundy, on the other hand, has had several months to prepare to start this game. The Steelers have prepared for Peyton Manning in the past, but Manning hasn't prepared to face the Steelers with Mundy there instead of Clark. Mundy's role was much more run support-based last year, and the Steelers can expect Denver to throw the ball a bit more in this one. Manning will need to identify SS Troy Polamalu at all times, but he'll have to key off Mundy if he's going to figure out the intentions of the defense.
Wallace and Brown make up the best deep threat receiving combination in football, and while Denver can expect a strong pass rush to land on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, it won't happen every play. When it doesn't, or when the front seven fails to bring Roethlisberger down, Wallace and Brown are both lethal weapons. The Steelers offense will likely lean on the run, and success in doing that will bring out play-action passing. Both Brown and Wallace can make plays deep and take short passes long distances after the catch.
CB Champ Bailey will likely be on Wallace, an advantage for the Steelers in the deep secondary. CB Tracy Porter on Brown leans toward the Steelers as well, and both Broncos' safeties, Mike Adams and Rahim Moore, will need to remain disciplined both against the run and in coverage.
These match-ups will be available each week on Steel City Insider