At 1PM EDT Sunday, the Steelers will go to battle within Heinz field for the first time of the season. The Steelers are a perfect 2-0 against the Broncos at Heinz including a 34-27 comeback victory back in 2015. Despite the Steelers success against the Broncos at home, Denver owns the all-time series at 20-11-1, and have won the previous two games against the Steelers.
The right side of the Steelers offensive line has been hammered with injuries. Perennial Pro Bowler, David DeCastro has been ruled out for a second consecutive week and his back-up Stefan Wisniewski is also out nursing a pectoral injury. That means that Steelers fourth round pick, Kevin Dotson will make his first career start. At right tackle, starter Zach Banner just underwent surgery to repair his ACL and will be out the remainder of the season. Chuks Okorafor will take the reigns at tackle and the Steelers made the move to bring Jerlad Hawkins back into the organization for depth.
The Broncos have been hit much harder by the injury bug early in this season. Former Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller is expected to miss most of the 2020 season with an ankle injury, and Pro Bowl corner is also expected to miss the game with a shoulder injury. Philip Lindsay is also on the injury list, meaning Melvin Gordon likely shoulders the load of a full game.
On the bright side for the Broncos it’s sounding like their young receiving core of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Juedy, and KJ Hamler will all be good to go on Sunday.
This should be titled best healthy player. Jurrell Casey gets the nod here followed closely behind by safety Justin Simmons. Casey gets the nod from me this week especially because he will be lining up against the inexperienced and unpolished, Kevin Dotson. Casey is coming off of five consecutive Pro Bowls and has the kind of matchup which could potentially see him play the role of game wrecker. Expect a big week from Casey.
Steelers West 2.0 (Steelers elevated?)
Nick Vannett, Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, P.J. Locke, and Diontae Spencer (+OLine coach Mike Munchak) have all spent time on the Steelers roster and now call Denver home. Formerly Arizona was known to be the landing place of former Steelers players but it now appears the the Broncos hold that title. Are they just spare parts or do their knowledge of the Steelers organization hold the key for the Broncos success on Sunday?
Weakest position group
The injury riddled Broncos have a number of position groups weaker than usual and it reflects in my choice. With out the services of AJ Bouye the Broncos will call on Former Chicago Bear Bryce Callahan and former Cincinnati Bengal Davontae Harris as its starting corners. Harris was just signed to this Broncos team back on September 2nd after being cut by the Bengals and I would expect the Steelers to target him early and often with their outside receivers. This could be the breakout game for Diontae Johnson.
Vic Fangio isn't in the good books for many Broncos fans after his play clock management gaff at the end of the Broncos Week 1 loss against the Titans. The pressure will only mount for Fangio if his team were to fall to 0-2. Sunday also marks the return of former Steelers OLine coach Mike Munchak, who joined the Broncos to be closer to his grandkids back in 2019.
How will the Broncos attack the Steelers defense
Much like the Giants in Week 1 the Broncos have a monster at tight end in Noah Fant. If Devin Bush can take Fant out of the game like he did to Evan Engram then I would expect the Broncos to try to spread the ball around to any of its young receivers. Broncos quarterback Drew Lock is a gun slinger and will toss the ball up to the likes of Courtland Sutton if he believes he's just a little open. The Steelers defensive backs will need to pick off a pass or two to keep the Broncos from stealing this game.
How will the Broncos defend the Steelers offense
The Broncos will need to attack the injury depleted right side of the Steelers offensive line. Twists, stunts, blitz’s, and a ton of pressure will be on the way. With the sheer amount of injuries along on their defensive side of the ball, if Ben Roethlisberger can get some protection he can methodically move the ball down the field all day long. The Broncos have a great safety duo, so look for a ton of underneath routes until the Broncos adjust, which should open up the running game.
There are two for the Broncos this week. Both Drew Lock and Melvin Gordon are big question marks in this game. Drew Lock has looked good thus far in his short career but has never faced a defense quite like the Steelers. If he gets hit a couple times, or turns the ball over it will be interesting to see how the young buck will react.
As for Melvin Gordon, we saw what the Steelers defense did to Saquon Barkley. However, the Steelers will not game plan this one to strictly take Gordon out of the game. He’s still a solid back but after a week where the Steelers held one of the best running backspin football to just 9 yards it will be interesting to see if the Broncos will stay patient when they try to establish the run.
Sunday, 1PM EDT. We will see how this all plays out.