Steelers Leaving Bad Luck Behind Them

It's been a rough week for the Steelers, but that can all be swept away in Denver if the offensive line keeps the pocket, and No. 7, clean.

PITTSBURGH -- The 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers are heavily favored to defeat the 8-8 Denver Broncos in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs this afternoon, but nothing's been easy for those favorites this week.

On Wednesday, the Steelers learned that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a setback to his injured ankle last Sunday in Cleveland.

On Thursday, the Steelers learned that center Maurkice Pouncey not only suffered a setback to his injured ankle, but unlike Roethlisberger Pouncey would not be able to play in Denver.

And on Friday, the Steelers learned that their running backs coach, Kirby Wilson, had been badly burned in an early-morning fire at his town house.

What's giving the Steelers reason to believe they're not snake-bit as they head to Denver to meet Tim Tebow and the Broncos?

"That's life," said a tall and smiling and confident Max Starks. "That's life. In life you're always going to be presented with adversity, but once again one thing that we've learned is that adversity is simply an opportunity to overcome it.

"I don't know who's all a person of faith," Starks continued. "I'm a man of faith. I know that God never puts an obstacle in front of you that you can't overcome. So, I look at it as a challenge, but also welcome it because I know there's a learning opportunity and it can only make us better."

That was the message Steelers coach Mike Tomlin passed down to his players on Friday, and they've bought in.

Starks was not only Tomlin's most eloquent spokesman, he himself has one of the game's biggest obstacles in front of him. His name is Elvis Dumervil.

Dumervil is the veteran half of a pass-rushing combo that could make life miserable for a Steelers quarterback who figures to be lacking his full mobility this afternoon.

Roethlisberger heard that comment as the question about Dumervil was put to Starks, and he bounced up with a rejoinder.

"What do you mean?" Roethlisberger said. "Not full mobility? Look at this."

And he walked out of the locker room without a trace of the limp that had dogged him earlier in the week.

OK, Roethlisberger may not be the Kent Graham-type statue we saw in San Francisco, but he'll still need help in avoiding the greatest asset of the Broncos' defense: their edge pass-rushers.

"Well the onus is always on us, whether there's mobility or a lack of mobility," Starks said. "I think we want to make sure we have a great game and keep him as clean as possible as if he was fine."

Denver is 18-9 (counting postseason) when Dumervil has at least half a sack. In fact, in three games against the Steelers Dumervil has 3½ sacks, with at least a half a sack in each game.

The Broncos, just like the 18-9 (.;667) overall record, are 2-1 (.667) against the Steelers since Dumervil was drafted in 2006. Starks started two of those games.

"He's built in a similar mold as James Harrison," Starks said. "Very short, long-armed guy, very quick but also deceptively strong with his bull rush."

Starks has mentioned for years, whenever he's up against the shorter-but-quicker pass-rushers, that he practices against one of those types all the time.

"I've practiced against James many years and I played against Dumervil," Starks said. "I have a comfort level, a familiarity. It is going to be a tough task, but that's what playoff football is about. If it was easy, it'd be the regular season, so I'm looking forward to it."

Starks won't always be assigned Dumervil. The Broncos flip their ends, so Dumervil and rookie sensation Von Miller will take turns over Starks and rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert.

"He was the best defensive end in the whole Senior Bowl," Gilbert said of Miller. The two became friends during Miller's recruiting trips to Florida before he chose Texas A&M.

"He's a tremendous athlete, someone you have to account for in the pass game with chips, extra help blocking, things like that. It's going to be a four-quarter battle. I'm looking forward to it."

Miller was the highest linebacker drafted in 11 years when the Broncos took him second overall last April. He was coming off a two-year stretch at A&M in which he compiled 27½ sacks.

With the Broncos, Miller forced a fumble on his first pro snap and had 10½ sacks in his first 11 games.

But in Game 11, Miller tore ligaments in his right thumb. He missed a game and then returned with a balky cast on his right hand.

He had a sack in his first game back, but none in the next three. In fact, in those three games – the final three of the season – Miller had only two total tackles. Sources who watch tape say Miller can't get off blocks because of the cast and teams have found it feasible to run the ball right at the 245-pounder.

"Oh, yeah," Gilbert said of the strategy. "But like I said, I view him as having a lot of power. You don't underestimate a player like that. He's going to be a tough matchup."

The Steelers feel that way about the entire Broncos team. And, in spite of their lofty status as 9-point favorites, the Steelers possess a clear focus on the task at hand.

A difficult week will do that.

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