If you feel as if the 2012-2013 NFL regular season has snuck up upon you faster than Troy Polamalu in hot pursuit, you are not alone. Here we, Steeler Nation, stand at the precipice of week one, going up face-to-face with none other than the very same team that ensured our untimely exit from the 2011-2012 playoffs; the Denver Broncos.
And while the jerseys and the location remain the same as yesteryear, gone is one of the key public figures from the 2011 spotlight; Tim Tebow. Replacing him, acquired from Indianapolis in the offseason, is future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning, who is coming off an injury that sidelined him for the entirety of last season.
The face of Denver’s offensive attack has changed drastically since Tebow’s departure, and most all consider the change positive. However, questions over Manning’s effectiveness coming off neck surgery still linger in the air, and the Steelers would like nothing more than to stifle his regular season premier.
Below, I’ll detail what I believe to be the “Offensive Players to Watch” from each team, as well as the “Defensive Players to Watch.” Furthermore, I’ll include another separate player from one of the teams as the week’s “X Factor,” or the person I believe will likely serve as the difference between a win and a loss for his team.
Enjoy, and keep checking back every Tuesday for the upcoming week’s preview!
Offensive Player to Watch
Mike Wallace, WR
An obvious choice. For Wallace, Sunday night’s game will be his first since last season’s loss in the playoffs, and albeit he toiled through a lengthy holdout over contract negotiations with the Steelers, the veteran receiver should pick up from where he left off in 2011. Wallace’s tally of 19 receptions of 20 yards or more during last season, a number that not only led his own receiving corps, but also led that of Kansas City’s and multiple other teams’.
Due to his holdout, Wallace failed to log any playing time during the preseason, so predicting exactly what the star wideout will look like in week one is as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. Regardless, Wallace’s mere intimidation factor when it comes to speed is enough to consider him the most explosive offensive threat the Steelers have under their belt right now.
Defensive Player to Watch
LaMarr Woodley, OLB
Once again, perhaps somewhat of a no brainer. Woodley’s repute for pass rushing even the shiftiest quarterbacks is league-renowned, and his ability to spurn Manning to flee the pocket during Sunday’s game will prove vital for the Steelers success. Woodley recorded a hulking nine sacks during last season, and added one during his limited preseason time. Watch for the Steelers to overload Woodley’s side of the field, in hopes of occupying the blocks to ensure the linebacker’s trail to Manning.
Offensive Player to Watch
Eric Decker, WR
As much as I enjoyed watching this guy light up the diamond during his career as a baseball player for the University of Minnesota, so do I enjoy watching him develop into a veteran receiver in the National Football League. Decker displays neither lightning speed nor un-catchable evasiveness, but his size and crafty ability to find the hole in zone coverage have helped bolster him into Broncos’ primary receiving target.
Decker’s 2011 stats are far from impressive, but in reality, much of that can be attributed to lack in QB dependency from Tim Tebow. Most any NFL receiver would have trouble catching a ball hurtling toward them awkwardly, end over end. So needless to say the arrival of proven arm-smith Manning will give him the head start he needs to excel against a somewhat weak cornerback due for the Steelers.
Defensive Player to Watch
Tracy Porter, CB
Counted amongst the players that traversed to Denver from their various former teams is defensive back Tracy Porter. Porter started in New Orleans’ secondary, alongside Jabari Greer, and there he compiled 52 tackles and one interception, mediocre stats at best. And while Porter’s speed and football prowess still ensure positive play from the CB, he’ll have to match up regularly against either Wallace or Wallace’s right-hand-man, Antonio Brown, who played surprisingly well during this preseason. Porter and aging former Pro-Bowler Champ Bailey will have their hands full attempting to keep Wallace and Brown under wraps, especially with secondary aerial threats Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders lurking in the shadows, prepared to strike.
Jacob Tamme, TE, Denver Broncos
Tamme played Follow The Leader when Manning up and fled to Denver from Indy, where he’d served as sidelined backup for the ever-popular started, Dallas Clark. However, Tamme spent the little playing time he was given nabbing pass after pass, courtesy of Peyton Manning. The two exhibited an intriguingly strong connection, leading me to believe that, while Tamme is currently slated as the Broncos’ second string tight end at the moment, he’ll turn each and every opportunity he has in week one into something productive. Look for the hard-working fifth-year to break out, if not in week one, then very soon.
I foresee the Steelers air-born attack overpowering what amounts to be an aged Denver secondary. The lack of experience the Bronco receiving corps has with Manning’s timing and throwing mechanics lead me to believe that the boys in blue will struggle to put more than one touchdown on the board. I look forward to seeing what the Broncos develop into as time unfolds, but for now, I’ll take the Steel City when it comes to this matchup any day.
Photo Credits: Getty Images