If it weren’t for the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m not sure I would have become a Broncos fan. My dad is from Pittsburgh and so the first time I decided to really pore over the NFL, it was a Steelers game. I thought they were boring, but I loved watching the Broncos’ defense.
So this matchup always carries a little bit of extra weight for me. With Ben Roethlisberger’s return and a loaded defense, it looked like a great time to reach out for insight into the black and gold from one of their own. Fortunately Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain agreed to answer my questions.
Our conversation has been lightly edited.
1st and 10
Last week the Giants had some success with three tight ends on the field. Do you think the Steelers have issues with tight ends or was that an isolated incident?
Hartman: The Steelers have traditionally struggled against tight ends, but it isn’t about the quantity of tight ends on the field, but really how they are utilized. The key is to try and get Vince Williams into coverage, and that is something the Giants did on more than one occasion in Week 1.
If the Steelers can get their sub package units on the field, and allow players like Terrell Edmunds, Cam Sutton and Sean Davis to cover tight ends, they are capable of running with the most athletic group. But when offenses come out in a heavy set, and throw, it can cause problems due to mismatches in personnel.
2nd and 8
How do you expect the Steelers to attack the Broncos’ offense? Will they focus on stopping the run or pass?
Hartman: Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler is old school, and he always has the same goal in mind every time his defense takes the field - stop the run. They were able to completely take Saquon Barkley out of the game in Week 1, and they sold out to do it. They sacrificed the back end to ensure Barkley didn’t beat them.
Will they do that again this week? With Drew Lock being a young quarterback I would bet they do. Melvin Gordon is still dangerous, and the defense will likely take their chances against a young quarterback rather than being gouged by the run. The key is to put the offense in predictable situations. Stop the run early and force 3rd-and-long. This plays right into the hands of a defense who has finished in the Top 5 in sacks the last four seasons, and led the NFL in takeaways last season.
3rd and 3
Early in the game Ben Roethlisberger looked rusty, but he came alive as the night wore on. How do you expect the Steelers passing game to look this week? Are there any matchups that excite you?
Hartman: Without Bouyé in the lineup, I like the Steelers’ arsenal of weapons in the passing game. The Broncos’ defensive front is stout, so running the ball might not be as easy as some believe, especially with the Steelers’ injuries on the right side of the offensive line. The mismatches, in my opinion, come via the pass. If the line can give Roethlisberger time, he should have options between JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron.
4th and 2
How does Pittsburgh replace Zach Banner? Are you worried about the Broncos’ pass rush?
Hartman: The Steelers had a battle at right tackle between Banner and Chuks Okorafor, and it went down to the last day of practice before Banner being declared the winner. Okorafor has started games before, including a game in Denver as a rookie, so I don’t feel there should be a huge drop off from Banner to Okorafor.
If Banner were an entrenched starter, then there would be a concern with his absence, but when you turn to a player with experience, and it was neck-and-neck in camp for that job, you feel a little better. The Broncos’ pass rush is a good one, but not nearly as frightening without Von Miller, you just don’t find that kind of talent with the next person on the depth chart. The Steelers will have their hands full for sure.
What’s your prediction for the game?
The Steelers’ first home game will likely be similar to their Week 1 win in New York. The group might start off slow, but warm up to the task. The hope is they warm up faster than they did versus the Giants. When the dust settles I see the defense being too much for Lock and company, and the Steelers walking away with their second win.
Steelers 24, Broncos 13
Who will win on Sunday?
This poll is closed
Broncos by a lot.
Broncos by a little.
Steelers by a lot.
Steelers by a little.