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Can the Broncos move the ball on the Pittsburgh Steelers?

To try and find out, I spoke with Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Green Bay Packers
Will Big Ben suit up against the Broncos?
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The last time the Broncos faced off against the Steelers, their starting quarterback left the game after his 13th snap and Jeff Driskel tried to outrun T.J. Watt long enough to secure a comeback. Injuries will once again define the matchup, as both Teddy Bridgewater and Ben Roethlisberger are currently questionable to start.

Bridgewater’s currently in the NFL’s concussion protocol. There are five phases that he must clear and the recovery timeline for concussions are hard to predict. He may be ready to go by Sunday, he may not. If he isn’t able to play, Drew Lock will receive his first start of the 2021 season. Like Bridgewater, Lock struggled against the Ravens.

On Tuesday, the Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin shared that Roethlisberger suffered a hip injury against the Packers. If Roethlisberger doesn’t suit up, Mason Rudolph will play against the Broncos. The fourth year pro has played sparingly Big Ben missed almost all of 2019, which makes him a wildcard. Rudolph’s nowhere near as good as Roethlisberger was as recently as 2018, but may be a better fit for the Steeler’s new offense than what’s left of the shell of the future Hall of Famer. To find out more about the Broncos’ upcoming opponent, I reached out to Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman.

1st and 15

During the offseason there was plenty of talk Matt Canada taking over for Randy Fichtner would help the offense as the new system would incorporate more motion, play action, etc. That doesn’t seem to have helped much so far, so I have to ask. What is going on with the Steelers offense? Is it just Ben Roethlisberger?

Hartman: Whether you are talking about Todd Haley, Randy Fichtner or Matt Canada, there is one common denominator throughout it all. Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger is still a good quarterback, but at the age of 39 he is showing signs of not being the player he once was. Matt Canada is a great football mind, but you can see how his hands are tied when you have a quarterback like Roethlisberger at the helm. Canada would like a more mobile quarterback, but he isn’t going to turn down a future Hall of Fame quarterback as his signal caller. I do think things will improve, but Steelers fans have come to grips that this is the beginning of the end of the Roethlisberger era.

2nd and 10

Are there any O vs. D matchups you like for Pittsburgh?

Hartman: The Steelers have tremendous skill position players on offense. Their issues reside within the offensive line. So, the matchups I like are the Steelers’ TEs and WRs vs. almost any secondary in the NFL. But again, it all comes back to the offensive line, and the quarterback, doing enough to exploit those matchups. Needless to say, starting 1-3 has shown it doesn’t happen often.

3rd and 7

As I write this the Broncos’ starting quarterback remains a mystery because Teddy Bridgewater’s in concussion protocol. If he can’t suit up, Drew Lock will make his first start of the 2021 season. Which QB would you rather face, and does the game plan change if it’s one or the other? How do you expect Keith Butler to attack them?

Hartman: I don’t think the approach changes much for the Steelers. Butler will continue to do what he always does. Try and put pressure on the quarterback with 4 or 5 players, leaving plenty of help in the back end. If the Broncos can protect either quarterback, it will be an uphill battle for the Steelers defense as they will have to rely on the blitz to get pressure. This is what happened vs. the Packers in Week 4, and also against the Bengals in Week 3. The Steelers are successful when they are able to get pressure with Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and another defensive lineman. Believe it or not, but the Steelers rarely draw up exotic schemes on defense. They believe in just outplaying their opponent.

4th and 4

The Shurmur offense got embarrassed by the Ravens defense last week as the offensive line struggled to hold up in pass protection. It makes this upcoming contest a scary one because the Steelers have one of the best defensive fronts in the game. What matchups have you licking your chops, and what should Denver do to try and move the ball?

Hartman: The matchup every team who plays the Steelers should be targeting is whoever is tasked with blocking T.J. Watt. He is that good, and that disruptive. However, if Denver wants to move the ball, they have to run the football. The Packers rushed for 131 yards last Sunday, and it equated in them winning the time of possession battle by over 9 minutes. These types of drives not only slow the defense down, but also keep the Pittsburgh offense on the sideline. If the Broncos can end these time consuming drives with touchdowns, the inept Steelers offense won’t have enough firepower to get back into the game. But it all starts with the running game, don’t run the ball effectively and you fall right into the Steelers’ trap of downs and distances where the defense can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.

Extra Point

What is your prediction for the game? Denver wins if....? Pittsburgh wins if...?

Hartman: The Steelers are bad, but I don’t think they are the worst team in the NFL either. In fact, I saw some serious improvement on the road last Sunday from the offensive line. I think this game is ugly, but I have the Steelers winning 20-16.

Denver wins if they can run the ball and win the turnover battle.

Pittsburgh wins if they can get after the QB and get the offense prime field position to shorten the field.

Poll

Will the Broncos beat the Steelers?

  • 31%
    No doubt.
    (329 votes)
  • 15%
    No way.
    (163 votes)
  • 52%
    Who is starting at QB?
    (544 votes)
1036 votes total Vote Now