KICKOFF: Monday, 6:30 MT
TV: CBS (Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden)
SERIES: 21st regular-season meeting. Denver leads series 13-6-1. The Broncos are 7-2-1 at home vs. Pittsburgh. The teams are 3-3 in the playoffs. The Steelers have not won in Denver in the regular season since 1990, including a 31-28 loss in 2007. However, Pittsburgh did win the AFC Championship Game in Denver after the 2005 season.
PREDICTION: Steelers 24-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers don't want Denver's pass rush to be a major factor, so RB Rashard Mendenhall will get plenty of work early. The Broncos struggled to slow Baltimore's running game last Sunday when they had to, but still allow just 3.4 yards per carry. The ground game will also be key when Denver has the ball. Pittsburgh leads the league allowing just 76.6 yards per game on the ground, but the defensive line is thin without injured DLs Aaron Smith and Travis Kirschke. QB Kyle Orton has to receive better protection than he did against the Ravens, and at the same time he needs to complete more passes downfield to stretch Pittsburgh defense a bit and open running lanes.
FAST FACTS: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is 4-0 on Monday nights. ... Orton has a 124.2 fourth-quarter passer rating.
--FS Ryan Clark will not play at Denver because of the reaction his system had when he played there two years ago. Clark has a sickle-cell trait acerbated by high altitude. After the game in 2007, he had to have his spleen and gall bladder removed and became so ill he lost 30 pounds while missing the rest of the season.
--S Tyrone Carter, who has played more strong safety in his career, will start in place of Ryan Clark at Denver but could share time at free safety with Ryan Mundy.
--LB Lawrence Timmons has not practiced this week because of a sprained right ankle. He said his chances of playing in Denver are "day to day."
--LB LaMarr Woodley has only two sacks this season after becoming the only player in NFL history to have two sacks in each of his first four playoff games. He had 11.5 in 15 regular-season games in 2008.
--FB Carey Davis has been listed as the starter since he rejoined the Steelers the past four games. He not only has not started, he has not dressed in the past two games as they used rookie TE David Johnson at fullback.
Eddie Royal's decline this season is a much bigger deal outside the Denver Broncos' offices than inside the team facility.
Royal is on pace for less than 400 yards receiving this year, a season in which he was supposed to have big numbers in an offense that seemed well suited for him. Royal has more than three catches or 20 yards in only one of Denver's seven games.
"I sit up here and say the same thing every week -- the ball goes to the guy that is open, or at least that's what we're trying to do," coach Josh McDaniels said. "It's not always their fault, sometimes coverage dictates we go somewhere else. Like the San Diego game, (Tony) Scheffler has 100-some yards receiving, and that's because of the way they played us."
Royal's one big game was a 10-catch, 90-yard outing against New England, and McDaniels said that sums up the Broncos' philosophy. Coverage dictated Royal get the ball, and he did.
"As long as we're trying to move the ball the right way and not turning it over and taking care of it, we're going to keep spreading it around and trying to give it to who deserves it based on what they're doing against us," McDaniels said. "In the New England game, they dictated we throw over there a bunch, and it helped us win."
The Broncos will continue to spread the ball around, which will make it tough to predict which receiver is in line for a big game.
"We'll continue to try to get everyone better and involved in the offense and put them in a position to make plays, but we're not going to beat our head in the wall to try to do it," McDaniels said.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Pittsburgh has to figure a way to get to Kyle Orton on Monday night. One player who might be able to help the Steelers' cause is LaMarr Woodley.
Woodley has been quiet in his second season as the Steelers' starting left outside linebacker with just two sacks in seven games. He had 11.5 in 15 regular-season games in 2008 and has two in each of his four postseason games, becoming the only player in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
Woodley will square off against Chicago's Tyler Polumbus, who will be making his first NFL start at right tackle for injured Ryan Harris. Woodley said he hopes to do what he has not done often this season -- take advantage of his opportunities. He missed Brett Favre once in his past game and got him another time, only to have it canceled by a false start. Offensive tackles, he said, are "kicking back" to try to deny his rush.
"I have to find a way to get past that," Woodley said. "When I find a way to get past that -- it's still a long season -- it's really going to get dangerous."
On the other side, James Harrison also started 2009 off slowly with no sacks in the first two games. He has eight in the past five games and is now on pace to top his team record of 16 last season, when he earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Woodley believes he and Harrison, who combined for a team-record 27.5 sacks as a duo, would have even more if they were allowed to rush the passer the way some 3-4 outside linebackers do.
"I don't take anything away from other outside linebackers, but if we rush as many times as anybody else, we'd have a lot of sacks out there," Woodley said. "But we actually do more. Whether its covering receivers, tight ends, running backs out of the backfield, find the quarterback, we pretty much do it all."
--DE Ryan McBean missed Thursday's practice with a knee injury and could miss Monday's game. McBean has started every game this season for Denver.
--DE Vonnie Holliday is one of the top candidates to start if Ryan McBean can't play. Holliday has played well in a situational role, with eight tackles and two sacks this season.
--S David Bruton returned to a limited practice after missing Wednesday with a groin injury. If Bruton can play he will help Denver's special teams, which have struggled in recent weeks.
--S Josh Barrett was out of practice Thursday with a hamstring injury, apparently suffered Wednesday. Barrett will likely have to show he can practice before Monday night if he is going to be active for the game against Pittsburgh.
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