Game Day Matchups

Neal Coolong breaks down the top matchups in today's Steelers-Broncos playoff game in Denver.

SS Troy Polamalu vs. QB Tim Tebow

The absence of FS Ryan Clark creates an interesting situation for the Steelers. Polamalu has played arguably the best football of his excellent career the last few weeks, and much of it is due to his presence at the line of scrimmage. He's timed a few run blitzes perfectly, creating chaos right at the snap. But with Clark out (and Ryan Mundy in), how much time Polamalu will spend at the line is up in the air.

The Steelers are going to want Polamalu to disrupt the early downs, forcing Tebow to throw in third-and-long situations. Tebow is not a strong passer, and because of that, look for Polamalu to spy him on passing downs. Tebow likes to lunge for first down yardage, and in doing that, he fails to protect the ball. Polamalu is an excellent open field tackler, and it wouldn't be surprising if he goes for the ball in one-on-one running situations.

WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown vs. CB Champ Bailey

Bailey will likely cover each of the Steelers' stud receivers in different situations. With an injured quarterback, the Steelers' deep passing game hasn't been effective, but with Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe beating Bailey a few times on double moves, look for the Steelers to try to hit a few deep, likely early in the game. They'll want to get an idea of how well QB Ben Roethlisberger can throw the ball.

Getting Wallace and Brown involved early will help their running game compete against a strong defense. Brown has become a very dangerous receiver against a zone defense, and will be a factor in a shorter passing game. Brown is quicker than Bailey is, and can get open on short slants and curls.

Ts Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert vs. DE Elvis Dumervil and OLB Von Miller

Gilbert has had a rough last few weeks, including a stint on the bench for missing a meeting before Pittsburgh's Week 16 game vs. St. Louis. This will be a big game for him due to the movement and misdirection Denver's front seven uses. Starks has been beaten by some of the better pass rushers the Steelers have faced over the second half of the season, San Francisco's Aldon Smith being the most notable. Neither Dumervil nor Miller have that same level of power as Smith, but they're faster off the snap.

Both Starks and Gilbert will need to be aware of where they are lining up and the patterns they're following when rushing the passer. Miller will play with a cast to protect his broken thumb, and that has hampered his ability to break through the inside of the line, so they can expect him to pressure off the edge. They often stunt off of DE Robert Ayers as well, and the Steelers' tackles will need to prepare for a variety of pass rushing moves.

TE Heath Miller vs. S Quinton Carter

Miller has become the forgotten man in the Steelers offense since their bye in Week 11. He had 82 yards on five catches against San Francisco in Week 15, but outside of that, he averaged barely a catch a game since Week 12. He hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 7. This is the kind of game he can impact, however.

Denver doesn't do a great job in defending the seam in the passing game, as evidenced by the nine catches and 129 yards Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez put on them in Week 15. Not all, but some of that is on Carter. When the Broncos have played teams that utilize their tight ends, Carter gets beat. He had Hernandez on his 46-yard catch and his touchdown catch. He'll replace veteran Brian Dawkins, and the Steelers will look to find a situation where he's covering Miller.

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