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FanHouse Preview: Steelers 24 Broncos 21
FanHouse Preview: Steelers at Broncos
Posted Nov 09, 2009 4:45PM By Chris Burke
The Denver Broncos, the 2009 NFL season's early Cinderella story, ran out of magic in a 30-7 Week 8 shellacking at Baltimore. Now, despite their 6-1 record and first-place standing in the AFC West, folks are wondering(again) if the Broncos' hot start was just a mirage.
The Chargers, fresh off a win over the Giants on Sunday, are finally making some noise in the division. Denver also made what could be seen as a desperation move this week, signing 35-year-old cornerback Ty Law after the Ravens' Joe Flacco had a field day against the Broncos' secondary.
Denver is even a home underdog Monday night as Pittsburgh comes in -- but the Steelers have issues of their own. Despite a four-game winning streak, the defending Super Bowl champs have plenty of question marks. They'll enter the Mile High City a game behind Cincinnati in the AFC North, and with a still clunky-at-times offense and banged-up defense.
Three Key Questions:
1. Will the Broncos' front four be able to contain Ben Roethlisberger?
2. Can Kyle Orton protect the ball against Pittsburgh's blitzing defense?
3. Is either team going to have success running the ball?
Player in the Spotlight: Tyrone Carter. Pittsburgh will be without starting safety Ryan Clark, who suffers from sickle cell and had major health issues after his last attempt to play in Denver. So Carter, Troy Polamalu's fill-in after Polamalu injured his knee earlier this season, figures to slide into the starting lineup. That means Carter will be responsible for preventing any Denver home runs -- with Polamalu's penchant for blitzing and attacking the line -- and the Broncos might try to stretch the field with Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall. Pittsburgh's defense makes it very tough to put together long, methodical drives, so Denver will try for a few big plays.
Pittsburgh's Path to Victory: The Steelers just need to keep doing what they've been doing. Have they been flawless during their four-game win streak -- with victories over San Diego, Detroit, Cleveland and Minnesota? Absolutely not. In every game but the matchup with the Browns, Pittsburgh's nearly coughed up a lead late. But, even without Clark, Lawrence Timmons and Travis Kirschke, all defensive starters, Pittsburgh should be able to get pressure on Orton and maybe even force a mistake or two. Offensively, the running back combo of Rashard Mendenhall-Willie Parker needs to find at least some room -- say, close to 100 yards combined -- to keep Roethlisberger from getting hammered all game.
Denver's Path to Victory: If this becomes a shootout, Denver will be in trouble. Playing at home, in front of a ravenous Monday night crowd, the Broncos have to play to their strengths -- and they may not have a bigger one than their incredible pass rush. Denver's third in the league with 23 sacks, 10 courtesy of Elvis Dumervil. And with Pittsburgh's constant issues on the offensive line, that total figures to rise. But the Broncos have to get it done without needing linebackers and cornerbacks to join the rush. Pittsburgh's talked about using a no-huddle, spread offense frequently this week, and Denver will have enough trouble covering the Steelers' plethora of weapons without committing extra guys to blitzes. If Denver can keep Pittsburgh's offense frustrated, and get its own running game going early, it will be tough for the Steelers to win.
Prediction: Steelers fans are always within reach of the panic button, and Cincinnati's rise doesn't help there. The Bengals visit Pittsburgh next week, but with Cincinnati already holding a win over the Steelers this season, if the champs lost this week and next, winning the AFC North would be extremely difficult. Win or lose, Denver's in decent shape, though its schedule cranks up following a Week 10 visit to Washington. This is a great matchup -- two good, hungry teams with outstanding defenses, struggling running games and enough firepower to put some points on the board. Denver might not be a flash in the pan, but it's hard to pick against the Steelers. Pittsburgh 24, Denver 21