The Denver Broncos are the top ranked defense in the NFL. This fact is now known across the broad Pittsburgh Steelers fan base, but there will be some kinks in the Broncos defensive armor when the team travels to Heinz Field in Week 15.
The strength of the team's defense resides in a powerful front 7 which can get after the quarterback, and an opportunistic secondary which preys on ill advised throws due to the pressure applied by the pass rushers. However, the Broncos will be without a starter at safety in T.J. Ward, and will also be without one of their primary backups in Omar Bolden.
The Broncos coming into this game with only one healthy starter, and their depth depleted at the position, is good news for the Pittsburgh offense, especially for those player who will look to exploit the middle of the field.
The Denver cornerbacks of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. are among the league's best, if not the best. They consistently are able to play man coverage on the outside, and stay with some of the league's best wide receivers. The team can consistently play a deep Cover 2 scheme to keep plays in front of them, while allowing the underneath routes to be covered by the linebackers and occasionally by an extra defensive back when the team deploys a nickel or dime package.
The Steelers will look to exploit the missing players in the Denver secondary by using Heath Miller, Markus Wheaton, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant in a variety of ways. Todd Haley will use a lot of rub routes to free up Brown and company with space through the middle of the field, and when Bryant and Brown are sent on their typical vertical pass patterns, look for Wheaton and Miller to carve up the middle of the field, the same way they did against the Seattle Seahawks defense in Week 12.
Points may be at a premium in this matchup, but without some pieces in the "No Fly Zone" secondary, the Steelers now have a weakness they can attempt to exploit within the league's top ranked defense.