As the Steelers prepare to travel to Denver for their AFC Divisional playoff matchup with the top-seeded Broncos, they do it knowing that they are more than capable of coming away with a victory. It was less than a month ago that the Steelers were able to defeat the Broncos thanks to a 21-point second outburst that turned a 27-13 deficit into a 34-27 comeback win.
It was the efforts of Ben Roethlisberger (380 passing yards, three TD’s) and Antonio Brown (16 catches, 189 yards, two TD’s) that helped the Steelers orchestrate the comeback. Now both Roethlisberger (shoulder) and Brown (concussion) will head to Denver dealing with significant injuries that could severely limit their effectiveness and in the case of Brown, might even keep them from playing this Sunday.
That alone is a sobering thought, but when you couple that with the Broncos league leading pass defense having two starters back in the secondary that did not play in Week 15 against the Steelers and the challenge becomes more daunting.
The tandem of T.J. Ward and Darien Stewart were certainly missed as Roethlisberger was able to take advantage of reserves David Bruton Jr. and Josh Bush in the middle of the field. With Ward and Stewart out, Roethlisberger became the only opposing quarterback to pass for over 300 yards against the Broncos all season long.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made note of the return of the veteran tandem in his weekly press conference earlier today.
“I think a significant element of the backend is who they have available at safety now,” Tomlin said. “With Stewart and T.J. Ward, two solid veteran guys who know how to play we have seen in the past … I’m sure their familiar with our plan of attack and personnel and I’m sure they look at that as a leg up for them.”
Couple the return of Ward and Stewart with the cornerback tandem of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. that might be the best in the game, the challenges that the Steelers passing attack face even with a healthy Roethlisberger is a tall task.
Based on various reports that have surfaced in regards to Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury, the Steelers offensive line will need to be at their very best against a Broncos defense that led the league in sacks with 52. It won’t be easy with DeMarcus Ware (7.5 sacks) and Von Miller (11 sacks) more than capable of taking over games with their elite pass rushing skills.
Key injuries to the Steelers offense, a healthy Broncos secondary and the best pass rush in the NFL make winning in Denver to advance to the AFC Championship game against either the Kansas City Chiefs or New England Patriots as difficult as any test the team has faced all season.