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Insider Only NFL Playoffs: Eight Steelers – Broncos Early Storylines

NFL Playoffs Wildcard Round

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos,
When: Sunday, January 8, 2012 | TV: CBS

Steelers – Broncos Early Storylines

1. Experienced Steelers: Pittsburgh the defending AFC Champions have reached the Super Bowl in two of the last three seasons, while Denver is in the playoffs for the first time in six years and backed into the playoffs, losing three straight and being outscored 88-40 during that span.
2. Turnover Tebow: The Tim Tebow magic has been gone of late and the Broncos on defense have regressed in the past couple weeks.
Tebow and the Broncos hosts the defending AFC Champions who boast the No. 1 ranked overall defense and No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. Tebow has posted a quarterback rating under 40.0 in his last two games and finished 6 of 22 for 60 yards, averaging 2.73 yards per pass with 1 interception and a 20.6 QB rating in a 7-3 loss to Kansas City this afternoon. Tebow added 16 yards on six carries in loss. Tebow known for his 4th quarter comebacks, went 2 of 8 for 17 yards with 1 interception and a 0 passer rating in the 4th quarter against the Chiefs.
Teams have begun to figure Tebow out but the big issue with the Tebow has been the turnovers. He has now committed nine turnovers in the Broncos’ last four games — five interceptions and four fumbles. The Broncos are 1-3 during that span.
3. Steelers struggles to score points on the road: Pittsburgh is a team that’s proved in the past that they can win in the playoffs on the road. The Broncos organization knows all about that after Pittsburgh defeated the Broncos in the 2006 AFC Championship played in Denver, advancing to Super Bowl XL. However, that was six years ago and this season the Steelers have not had a swagger about them on the road.
The big concern for the Steelers is their inability to score points on the road. Pittsburgh has scored 10 pts or less in three road games this season and overall scored 13 pts or less in five of eight road games.
4. Ben Roethlisberger: Quarterback play is so important in the playoffs and the Steelers offensively are entering the playoffs far from being at the top of their game with Roethlisberger under center. In the last three games Roethlisberger has played in, a span of 12 quarters, Pittsburgh has produced just 3 touchdowns, (2 passing touchdowns). Roethlisberger in the win against Cleveland moved around much better than he did against San Francisco on Dec 19, but he continues to struggle with his accuracy as he still can’t get on his toes and plant.
5. Broncos Rushing Attack:
Denver is built offensively through their running game and for them to win they have to be dominant on the ground and play turnover free ball offensively. Lucky for them is that the Steelers can be exploited on the ground, unlike previous years, and are not a ball hawking defense that creates a lot of game changing turnovers or sacks.
Denver came into week 17, ranked No. 1 in the NFL averaging 161.1 yards per game and the Broncos gashed another opponent today, rushing for 216 yards vs the Chiefs, highlighted by 145 rushing yards from Willis McGahee on 28 carries. McGahee has re-emerged as a No. 1 running back in the Broncos system, rushing for 1,199 yards on the season but Pittsburgh is very familiar with McGahee’s running style, tendencies, ect.
6. Mendenhall/ Kuper Injuries: Pittsburgh is limping into the playoffs with Ben Roethlisberger playing with an high ankle sprain and were dealt a big loss as Rashard Mendenhall suffered what the Steelers fear could be a torn ACL. There are no expectations that he will be able to play in Denver. An MRI is scheduled for Monday.  Mendenhall was playing his best football of the season and was a big factor in the Steelers advancing to the Super Bowl last season, gashing the Jets for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh is thin at running back with Mewelde Moore recovering from a knee sprain.
Other injury concerns for the Steelers is outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley who hasn’t played a full game since October 23rd against the Arizona Cardinals…..For the Broncos starting right guard Chris Kuper, regarded as the senior member of the offensive line, suffered a severe dislocation where his leg meets the ankle in the first quarter. He will not play in the playoffs and is out for the season, according to the Denver Post. The Broncos also lost fullback Spencer Larsen​ to a knee injury in their loss to the Chiefs. Rookie pro-bowl LB Von Miller is also not at full strength.
7. Playmakers on Defense: An intriguing storyline is that both teams feature a group of dynamic playmakers on the defensive side of the ball that can change a game with one play. For Pittsburgh, Troy Polamalu enters the playoffs healthy unlike last season and is playing more of a ballhawking game of late. That is a big advantage for Pittsburgh going up against a struggling rookie quarterback in Tim Tebow. A concern though for the Steelers is their two star outside linebackers. James Harrison has been non-existent the last three games and there continues to be doubts that LaMarr Woodley can be a force and get through an entire game.
For the Broncos, 2011 2nd overall pick Von Miller has already emerged as a premier outside linebacker, leading Denver with 11.5 sacks and the Broncos have their Woodley-Harrison combo with Miller at LOLB and pro bowler Elvis Dumerville on the right side with 9.5 sacks. Linebacker D.J. Williams anchors the middle linebacker position and added 5 sacks this season.
In the secondary, the Broncos are led by all-pro cornerback Champ Bailey and veteran safety Brian Dawkins.
8. Will Ryan Clark play?: In 2009, the Steelers opted not to let Ryan Clark play against the Denver Broncos after Clark lost his spleen, gall bladder, and approximately more than 30 pounds due to playing in Denver during a 2007 regular season game. Clark has a sickle-cell trait that he knew about at the time, but the high altitude triggered a blood reaction causing a near death experience for Clark. Due to playing the Broncos in 2009, the Steelers have a ton of data on Clark’s situation and a decision could be made by mid-week. “We’re going to meet with the doctors at some point tomorrow or Tuesday, ” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s a discussion. Last time we went we exercised some precaution. We choose not to play him, but we worked him out extensively to see how he responded to that. We gathered information and data in that regard. Now we get an opportunity to utilize that. Now we will put some heads together. When I am talking about heads I am talking about medical experts, not myself. We’ll see what the medical experts have to say and then we’ll go from there.”
Ryan Mundy would start in place of Clark who’s a liability against the pass but excellent against the run and would be missed against the Broncos.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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