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Steelers Broncos preview: How Peyton Manning can attack Pittsburgh's secondary

Peyton Manning has plenty of doubt circling around him outside of Dove Valley, but he should be able to find some success throwing the ball on the below average Pittsburgh Steelers defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, January 17, 2016 - 2:40 PM MT
Denver Broncos




3rd Pass Off. 21st
8th Rush Off. 11th
22nd Pass Def. 1st
6th Rush Def. 1st
11-6 Sports Authority Field, Denver, CO 12-4
#6 Seed Broncos Favored #1 Seed

One of the biggest question marks this week is how Peyton Manning will perform against the Pittsburgh Steelers. After coming off the bench for the Denver Broncos to guide them to a 27-20 victory in Week 17, he was named the starter for the AFC Divisional round.

Last week, we learned that playoff experience at the quarterback position trumps the talent potential of inexperienced quarterbacks as all four teams with the more experienced quarterback won their games. This bodes well for Manning as there are few quarterbacks in the league who have been in the playoff tournament more times than he.

Before you get riled up over the 'one and done' narrative, know that Manning is 11-4 in his career when he gets past that first playoff game - making this the most important game of the playoffs as far as I am concerned. The good news is, the Broncos don't need Manning to win games. They just need Manning's Hall of Fame brain to manage the game.

In this preview, I want to take a look at last week's game where the Steelers had to handle AJ McCarron. I figure Manning will at least play as well or better than McCarron in this game, so why not look at how McCarron was able to attack the Steelers defense in the Cincinnati Bengals second half comeback.

The Bengals began the fourth quarter down 15-0 and it was around that time when Marvin Lewis decided to let McCarron loose on the Steelers 22nd ranked pass defense. Their secondary is so average that you will end up seeing how they can be beaten everywhere on the field.

First, McCarron began pressing them deep - drawing a pass interference call even though the pass was badly underthrown.

When you have A.J. Green, you should take several of these shots every single game. I would consider Demaryius Thomas to be of a similar caliber talent to Green, so hopefully Manning has honed in his accuracy issues on the long ball this week.

Manning's next objective is to find his checkdown. C.J. Anderson is the perfect guy to get the ball to in open space. He is elusive and can run through tackles with the best of them. All Peyton has to do is take care of the football like McCarron did here.

The crazy part is that the once vaunted Steelers defense had no one within 10 yards who thought to cover Jeremy Hill. Easy first down.

This next play by McCarron is one I don't think Manning can currently make. McCarron is backpeddling due to the Steelers pass rush and throws a deep intermediate pass in the middle of the field to Tyler Eifert for a much needed third down conversion.

The point here is that if Manning can get solid pass protection, these are routes that the Steelers apparently have trouble covering consistently. Manning would need a clean pocket to drive the football into this space, so Michael Schofield probably should be on the bench in favor of Tyler Polumbus for this one.

With time running out and faced with a fourth down, all the Steelers defense needed to do was cover the short easy passes. Easier said than done in the NFL, but letting a guy this wide open on such a critical play is shocking.

The Steelers have a very good run defense and a solid pass rush, but if the pass rush doesn't get there any NFL quarterback should be able to find the open wide receiver against this secondary. They are that bad.

And if the Broncos offensive line can hold up, Manning will have time to make home run throws like this to help keep the pressure off the Broncos defense.

The key is keeping the momentum from swinging the Steelers way. The most important ways to achieve that is through solid play from the offensive line and not turning the ball over. The Broncos cannot afford another one of their ho hum efforts in this game.

They need to bring smash mouth football on defense and some big plays down the field on offense. Peyton Manning can do that against this defense, provided he plays smart and makes the kind of decisions we had become accustomed to from him through his first three seasons in Denver.

On paper, I don't see how the Broncos don't score close to thirty again in this game. The offense just needs to do their part to take care of that end of things. Then it will be all about that Broncos defense from there.