Key Match-ups: Steelers-Broncos

Neal Coolong breaks down Sunday night's individual battles when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos face-off at Invesco Field.

The Coolong Archive
Week 5: v. Seahawks
Week 4: @ Cardinals
Week 3: v. 49ers
Week 2: v. Bills
Week 1: @ Browns
RB Willie Parker vs. Broncos linebackers

Parker is averaging 100 yards per game, which is second-highest in the league. The Broncos are allowing 187 yards per game, so it doesn't take Hank Stram to see a favorable Steelers match-up. What's bigger, though, is the Broncos have given up 10 rushing plays of 20 yards or more this season. Parker has a carry of 19 yards or more in every game this season.

The Broncos linebackers played their worst in Week 5, giving up 214 yards on the ground to San Diego, including a 74-yard score from Michael Turner. Parker is just as explosive a running back as Turner or LaDainian Tomlinson, and has more than enough breakaway speed to make a big play.

NT Casey Hampton vs. C Chris Meyers

Meyers moves from guard to center because of Tom Nalen's torn triceps, which ended his season. Hampton was cleared to play, but with temperatures threatening to drop down close to freezing, he will need to keep his injured hamstring warm to be effective.

The Broncos employ a zone-blocking scheme up front, and much of the success RB Travis Henry has had so far in Denver (498 yards in five games) comes off designed stretch runs, where the offensive line will create a wall moving in one direction, and allow the back to make one cut to the open hole. Hampton's penetration up front stops a cut to the strong side of the line, and right into the arms of the pursuing end or linebacker.

Steelers secondary vs. QB Jay Cutler

Even if Cutler has much time to throw, which he likely won't with the heat the Steelers front seven will bring, he's going to have to be as close to flawless as possible. The Broncos will be without TEs Stephen Alexander and Nate Jackson, and WR Javon Walker. Cutler's main option has been Marshall, who has 27 catches and 362 yards with two touchdowns. But his other options will be Brandon Stokely and Glenn Martinez, who have 18 catches between them.

The Steelers likely won't have the services of nickel back Bryant McFadden (high ankle sprain, listed as doubtful on Saturday), but the return of SS Troy Polamalu only helps a secondary that was a part of completely shutting down Seattle's offense two weeks ago. They were able to do this with a varied Cover 2 look, using both FS Ryan Clark and FS Anthony Smith in Polamalu's absence.

QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. CBs Champ Bailey and Domonique Foxworth

Which one will it be? Bailey has a quadriceps injury, and as of Saturday, he was listed as questionable for Sunday. Roethlisberger will look to pick on Foxworth if he's in there, but don't expect Ben to shy away from Champ, either. In his last two games at Denver, Roethlisberger has been both good and terrible, but he's thrown for 708 yards in those games, but threw three picks last year – two to Bailey.

The Broncos pass defense has been outstanding all year – ranked first overall. That's with Champ in there. The Steelers will take advantage of the fact Denver also has the worst run defense in the league. Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians might not even have Roethlisberger do very much, but if he can complete passes efficiently and protect the ball, the Steelers offense will be on the field for three quarters of the game.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Broncos
x Offensive line  
x Quarterback  
even Running backs even
x Wide receivers  
x Tight ends  
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
x Defensive backs  
x Special teams  

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