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Insider Only Week 1: Steelers – Broncos What to Watch For

STEELERS – BRONCOS WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Peyton Manning: Tonight’s game is all about Peyton Manning who plays his most meaningful game in over 600 days. It’s a game that many feel is more important to Denver winning than Pittsburgh. For those who didn’t see Manning in the preseason, all eyes will be on whether we’ll see the old Peyton Manning. While Manning appears to be lacking some arm strength, the consensus is that he looks as good as he ever has. “His accuracy and mental approach seem to be as sharp as ever, despite the transition to the new team, ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski wrote this week. “It’s already clear that the Denver offense is in his mold and features a lot of the same formations and route combinations he utilized in Indianapolis. He’s already back, doing his dance behind center, putting people where he wants them. They may be different uniforms, but seeing the Broncos with Manning under center is like watching the Colts.”
2. Steelers pass rush vs Manning: Last season the Steelers had the No. 1 ranked defense, yet it never felt like they had one of the leagues most dominating defenses. Pittsburgh ranked dead last in takeaway’s last season and this is a defense dictated by the pass rush from the outside. The Steelers rarely had LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison fully healthy at once last season and they open this season without James Harrison and at age 34, we may never see Harrison fully healthy this season. The disappointment in Harrison’s ailing knee is that Denver can double team LaMarr Woodley and take him out of the game. With Manning at the helm, sacks are likely going to be hard to come by tonight.
Player to Watch: Chris Carter –  In prime time the Steelers would love to see Chris Carter have a coming out party tonight. The second year pro is a finesse pass rusher who can get pressure to Manning but struggles against the run and Manning is going to be targeting Carter with running plays to his side and test him.
3. Will Steelers new offense hit the ground running? Todd Haley’s emphasis is simple in that he wants Ben Roethlisberger to get the ball out quickly and let his weapons at wide receiver make plays after the catch. The Steelers have the weapons in Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders to become a dangerous group under that philosophy but the Steelers are at their best when Ben Roethlisberger is able to improvise, create the big play and that was evident in the preseason. Attacking the Broncos though, the Steelers need to be aggressive with a quick passing game due to Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil coming off the edge where the Broncos have a big advantage over the Steelers. The Steelers will look to offset the Broncos pass rush with a heavy dose of running the ball with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Meanwhile, the Steelers starting five on the O-line has had limited time together during the preseason and a player I’m not sold on yet is Willie Colon at left guard. Steelers officials have raved about Colon’s transition to left guard but a lot of that praise was during practice and before Colon saw a bulk of work in the preseason. Colon sat out the first preseason game and struggled mightily against the Bills on August 25th, a game where he saw his most extensive work. His play was up and down in the preseason and his play early on in the season could also follow that trend.
Player to Watch: Heath Miller – All offseason there has been talk of Todd Haley making Heath Miller a bigger priority in the passing game. We did not see it all preseason and with Von Miller coming off the edge, Miller could be neutralized tonight from being a big factor in the passing game.
4. Defending Decker/Thomas: The most intriguing storyline for me tonight is the Steelers defending wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas in the passing game. These are big strong receivers who have given the Steelers trouble in the past. “Looks like he’s quickly establishing a repertoire with {Eric} Decker at wide receiver, ” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said this week. “He’s a big guy who plays big, creates space for himself. At X position they have Demaryis Thomas who has given us issues in the past. His run after catch is exceptional, utilizes stiff arms, has good leg strength, tough to tackle.”
In the Broncos stunning playoff overtime over the Steelers last January, the biggest mistake from the Steelers coaching staff was sticking with Ike Taylor matched up against Demaryis Thomas who torched Taylor for 204 receiving yards. With Decker emerging as Manning’s No. 1 receiver and Thomas burning Taylor last season, the right move would be to match Taylor against Decker but Taylor has been pushing to match up against Thomas in what is nothing more than being selfish and wanting to redeem himself. Manning has some intriguing receivers options around him and a strong running game behind him in Willis McGahee who according to those in Denver is showing no signs of slowing down.
Player to Watch: Brandon Stokley A traditional slot receiver who has long been one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets over the years.
5. Peyton Manning vs Steelers Safeties – Ryan Mundy gets the start for Ryan Clark and there has been a sense of disappointment inside the Steelers organization that Mundy has never taken that next step. Peyton Manning reads defenses better than any quarterback in maybe NFL history and the absence of Clark will be interesting to see if Dick LeBeau uses Polamalu in a more traditional safety role tonight. Pittsburgh is at their best when Polamalu is roaming around the field right up until the snap, making him one of the games best players as he’s so unpredictable.  In defending the pass, Polamalu is a player though that coaches feel you can attack deep on crossing routes as he’s losing some of his explosive speed at age 31. A key matchup will be Ryan Mundy vs Demaryis Thomas in open space.
Player to Watch: Jacob Tamme – Tamme had just 19 receptions last season but what landed him in Denver was his chemistry with Manning in the second half of the 2010 season with the Indianapolis Colts. Tamme had 67 receptions for 631 yards and 4 touchdowns in his final 10 games of the 2010 season with the Colts and Tamme had several big games, including an 11 reception – 108 yard receiving game vs the Eagles on 11/7/10 and Tamme had seven or more receptions in seven of his last 10 games with Manning in 2010.
Prediction: Denver 27 – Pittsburgh 20

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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