Broncos-Steelers, A To Z

SCI publisher Jim Wexell with anything anyone would need to know about this evening's Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers game.


Steelers 35, Broncos 24

Dec. 7, 1997: Three Rivers Stadium

This was the only December regular-season game against the Denver Broncos that the Pittsburgh Steelers won in Pittsburgh. The teams met again five weeks later for the AFC Championship when some awful offensive playcalling cost the Steelers a spot in the Super Bowl. On this day, Kordell Stewart outpassed John Elway, Jerome Bettis outrushed Terrell Davis, and Yancey Thigpen out-caught, out-yarded and outscored Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe combined. Thigpen's second and third touchdown catches tied the game 21-21 at halftime, and after Denver kicked a field goal on its first drive of the second half the Steelers stopped Elway and Co. the rest of the way with a Myron Bell interception, cornerback Carnell Lake's second sack of the day, and a four-and-out on the final series. Bill Cowher called it "Our most complete game of the year." Guard Will Wolford was asked if the win over the previously 11-2 Broncos was akin to one of his horses winning the Kentucky Derby. "Let's not go that far," Wolford said. "A Derby winner is a 60,000 to 1 shot."


"This defense is the most complete from the front end to the back end that the Steelers have seen all year, especially in the front end with Von Miller, who has got to be one of the two best pass-rushers in the NFL. What I really love about watching Miller, he's so fast in his first three steps up the field but right when he gets to the brim of the line of fire, at the extension of the punch range that the offensive tackle can tag him with, he'll get right to that edge and throw a head fake and a shake in there that freezes the offensive tackle. If the tackle punches out, Miller will slap the hands and trap him and go to the outside and run the arc around the corner. If the tackle holds his punch and sits back, Miller will put both hands straight out and bullrush him back into the quarterback. It's that moment when Von Miller gets to the edge and shakes, and what you do is how he'll counter. It'll be very interesting because that's where Marcus Gilbert's game is going to be, what he does at that moment." -- Steelers Radio sideline reporter Craig Wolfley.


Can the Steelers block Miller?

The 6-3, 249-pounder was the second pick of the 2011 draft after recording 27.5 sacks his last two seasons at Texas A&M. In four-plus seasons in the NFL, he's compiled 59 (plus one in the 2011 playoff game against the Steelers). Not too shabby for a guy who missed most of one season with a suspension and torn ACL. The 26-year-old is on a five-game sack streak in which he's recorded six to give him 10 for the season.

THREE QUESTIONS: With C Cody Wallace

Q: Craig Wolfley calls you "The Agitator." Is that apt?

CW: "Yeah, I try to. It just makes the game fun for me. I just go out there and play hard and try to get in the guy's head a little bit. Whenever we can move the ball and play well as a group, that really gets guys upset."

Q: You were warned several times by the officials. Can you give me any details?

CW: "There was a lot of back and forth that game. It's always nice when the ref gives you a warning and doesn't just throw the flag. I appreciated that, so I was obviously walking the line."

Q: You guys did a good job on Geno Atkins. Denver's interior players aren't as well known but they're pretty good, aren't they?

CW: "Malik Jackson's a good player. I guess being out West we don't see him very much, but he's playing very well. He's got good get-off, really good hand usage. He's a guy you kind of clear his hips and has enough burst to close to the quarterback. He seems like a smart player, too. He bats a lot of balls down. He's playing really well. They've got some other big guys inside. Obviously their edge rushers are elite guys. They've got a good front, obviously."


What to look for from the 8-5 Steelers this evening against the 10-3 Broncos:


Like last week against Atkins and the Bengals, quick passes and screens can nullify an elite pass-rusher. Once they've hit the Broncos with enough quick jabs, they'll go deep. The Broncos lead the NFL in sacks and just about everything else on defense, but they're hurting at safety where T.J. Ward is out and Darian Stewart is questionable with a hamstring injury. Stewart is expected to start alongside David Bruton and the Steelers will no doubt test them.


C.J. Anderson is the backup running back but he's the Broncos' best runner and was a Pro Bowler last season. He injured his ankle in the first half of the San Diego game and the Broncos haven't scored a touchdown since. He's listed as questionable today but is expected to play and the Steelers will focus on stopping both he and Ronnie Hillman and put it all on 6-foot-7 QB Brock Osweiler. The Steelers like that matchup. "I feel it's an advantage for our defense, especially when you're doing a lot of quarterback reading," said safety Robert Golden. "He's a tall statue so you can definitely see him and definitely know where he's going with the ball at all times because he's so visual back there."

This is Super Bowl in December for the Steelers, who have an enormous edge at quarterback. Of course, Ben Roethlisberger will be throwing into the NFL's best defense, but over the last five games the Broncos have allowed 11.3 yards per catch. That's a high for the season on the five-game sliding scale. Unfortunately, the Steelers are also at a season-high 12.5 yards per completion over the last five games. But the Steelers are finally maximizing their yardage on offense. They're at a season-best 14.0 yards per point, while the Broncos are struggling at 18.5. Of course, they can forget the stats, stuff the Denver running game and feast on Too Tall Osweiler. Steelers, 30-16.


4: Number of regular-season games the Steelers and Broncos have played in December. The Steelers are 2-1.

8: Number of games the Steelers have won for the 12th consecutive season, the longest active streak by teams that don't cheat (New England has done it 15 consecutive seasons).

11: Passing yards needed by Ben Roethlisberger to reach 3,000 yards for a 10th consecutive season.

17: Consecutive quarters in which the Steelers have scored, the second-longest streak in team history (20 in 1997).

24: Martavis Bryant's age with today's birthday. "So I'm going to let it all hang out," he said. "I'm going to have fun with it."

82: Points scored by the Steelers in the last two minutes of halves, the most in the NFL this season.

100: Number of passes caught by Antonio Brown for three consecutive seasons, joining Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, Herman Moore, Brandon Marshall and Wes Walker. Harrison is the only one to do it four consecutive seasons.


* Steelers right tackle Gilbert was drafted the same year as Miller, his assignment today. While Miller was the second pick in 2011, Gilbert was the second-to-last pick of the second round. But both are playing at Pro Bowl levels. Gilbert lost weight before the season and has allowed only one sack, a free run by Carlos Dunlap last week after the play clock hit zero. Gilbert got to know Miller at the Senior Bowl and the two have continued a friendship. "Oh, we had our battles," Gilbert said. "He was a lot lighter then, too. Now he's put on weight and he's become the guy he is now. The guy's a phenomenal player, a phenomenal athlete. In my mind he's the best pass-rusher in the NFL."

* Peyton Manning returned to practice this week as his foot heals, but he won't play. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked if the Steelers will rush Osweiler any differently than Manning. "We’re not going to try to think about how we’re going to rush him. We’re just going to rush him," Butler said. "Obviously, Peyton knows where he’s going with it all the time. This guy, sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t." Manning's been sacked once every 22.5 dropbacks this season. Osweiler's been sacked once every 11.

* Osweiler was sacked five times last week by Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack, four of which occurred over Denver right tackle Michael Schofield. Butler was asked if he expects Denver to use a new right tackle this week. "I hope they don’t," he said. "I hope they have the same front they did last week. But they’re going to do something, I’m sure, to help themselves. It’s on film. They see the film too."

* Denver middle linebacker Danny Trevathan had 19 tackles against the Indianapolis Colts last month, or about his average when he was a senior at Kentucky Wildcats during Bud Dupree's freshman season. "He's one of the best linebackers I've played with, and a good friend of mine," said the rookie Dupree. "When he hit people, he was just a wrecking ball."

* Rumors swirl that Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley will be hired away as someone else's head coach following the season -- just when he and Roethlisberger were starting to think alike when it comes to playcalling. "It does happen more often," said Haley. "When it does, both of us will smile. It means you are on the same page. As I have said many times, the quarterback and the coordinator, first and foremost, have to be on the same page. It means a lot less talk between us. We know what each other is saying or wants done. Then we are able to communicate a lot more efficiently with everybody else. ... It really makes for a good situation, a good relationship. Again, that comes through time. It’s just nice to see success happening with that."


"Their pass rush is unbelievable, they have edge rushers getting around the outside, and inside guys getting a push. Their secondary guys are being physical, making plays. The ball is in the air, they intercept it and they score. So, there’s a reason they’re No.1 in almost every category." -- Roethlisberger on the Broncos defense.

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