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Ultimate Fan: Pass rush and run game get Broncos the Dub in The ‘Burgh

Getting pressure on Big Ben and pounding the rock to wear down the Steelers’ defense are the keys to winning this crucial road game.

Denver Broncos vs Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL week 15 Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

OK, last week’s game unfortunately has to count on the season W-L record, but as Ted Lasso would advise, we are “going to be goldfish” and have a very short memory about that debacle.

Instead we will turn our attention to a new opponent and aim to get back on track and see what this team is really made of - is it going to fall into a “here we go again” mentality and spiral into a string of losses, or will it pull on the proverbial boot straps and march into Pittsburgh ready to take advantage of an aging Ben Roethlisberger?

I’m going with the latter as is this week’s Ultimate Fan. And it’s another fabulous post as a rookie UFGer MattSayar joins the group but a long-time Denver Broncos fan (who also happens to be a fellow Bama alum - “Roll Tide!” - and loves cheering for all these Tide players in Denver). And given all those, I think it’s time to start a new Broncos cheer:

ROLL BRONCOS ROLL!

Week 5: Broncos at Steelers

MHR - Last week seemed like the worst possible outcome - a loss, starting QB out with a concussion, more injuries to starters and no real offensive production. Are you feeling a little PTSD from recent seasons past or does that game just feel like a single letdown that the team will bounce back from easily?
MattSayar: A little PTSD is warranted, but come on, when your starting QB can only play one half, it’s hard to come out of the locker room with much confidence. Teddy has been trending in the right direction this week, and is cleared to play Sunday, so I feel optimistic we get the W. If we can sustain the offensive production we saw the first three weeks, we’re in every game we play.

Speaking of all our injuries, I haven’t heard much chatter around our team’s strength and conditioning program. Are our guys drinking enough milk? Are they doing enough squats? Obviously you can’t prevent every injury, but I’m not liking this trend the past couple seasons and I think it’s time to start pointing fingers and trying to find ways to help reduce injuries.

MHR - Whether Drew Lock ends up starting on Sunday is still unclear, but what were your impressions of his time in the game last week? Was it a letdown that he didn’t play better? Was it what you expected? If it was what you expected, is that good enough to keep him on the team next season (or even to the end of this one)? Do you think we’ve seen “what he is” or is it still too small of a sample size to determine that?
MattSayar: I was at the Ravens game, and I got in line for a hot dog at half time. When that line didn’t move for a solid fifteen minutes, I went back to my seat and the first thing I said was, “What is Lock doing out there?” And that’s how I found out Teddy got a concussion. I like Lock just fine, but every missed throw made me slump deeper and deeper in my seat.

I’m also a big Bama fan, so I was aware of Lock while he was at Mizzou, and honestly he never really impressed me. He was no Dak Prescott at MSU, or Cam Newton at Auburn, so I never really understood the hype around his potential. He’s got a great attitude, prioritizes his team, and puts in the work, but it’s just hard to be a good NFL QB.

MHR - What would you like to see from Teddy Bridgewater (and Pat Shurmur) to make this offense work and stay on the field?
MattSayar: I want to see Courtland Sutton reemerge as the elite WR that he was in 2019. He currently leads the team in receiving yards, so maybe I’m being harsh, but I wanna see some TDs!

The bright spot of the Ravens game was watching Pookie (are we still calling him Pookie?) look like a man among children as he dragged half the Ravens defense down the field with him. He looked like Voltron if Voltron was composed of Ravens defenders. He looked like a real life version of Derrick Henry in that Old Spice commercial. He looked like Jerome Bettis on your flag football team. He looked like…

Look, all I’m trying to say is more run game.

MHR - The Steelers defense isn’t blitz-crazy like the Ravens, but it does have a stout defensive tackle in Cam Heyward and a formidable pass rusher in TJ Watt. How do you expect the Broncos’ offensive line to hold up against them? What kinds of plays will help Teddy get rid of the ball faster and keep those two from disrupting the offense?
MattSayar: Hopefully we get our starters back on the O line, but if we don’t, I’m enjoying watching how well Quinn Meinerz is playing with the big boys. I don’t know what the trees did to offend him in Wisconsin Backwater (or wherever he spent last offseason), but they clearly prepped him for this league!

TJ Watt is faster than a tree though, and he will be a dominant force until the day he retires. I’m not smart enough to know what play calls can help contain a guy like that but maybe some play action can get Bridgewater enough time to zip it to some playmakers who can get yards after the catch.

Oh, and more run game.

MHR - A lot has been noted about the Broncos only running the ball four times in the second half last week against the Ravens, despite averaging good yardages on runs and having to rely on backup Drew Lock mid-game (though when playing behind there’s something to be said for throwing the ball). But this Steelers defense could get wary if the Broncos keep pounding the rock. What kind of pass-run ratio would you like to see from the Broncos’ offense?
MattSayar: When you come out of halftime down by 10, you’ve gotta make up some ground and you don’t have much time left to do it. Plus, Lock’s gotten the W from behind in the past, so I get it.

As for our pass-run ratio, well, it depends who’s throwing the ball! If it’s Bridgewater, I want to see it about 50-50, and if it’s Lock, let our RBs loose to the tune of 70-30 in favor of the run. I’m sure we’ll see more runs if only because Shurmur wants us all to shut up, but you gotta do what works. If the run is working early, keep doing it until it doesn’t. Whatever wins the football game is the correct answer.

MHR - Our special teams has remained atrocious, having allowed a return touchdown, a partially blocked punt, and a long return. The Steelers have a good special teams unit, especially with Ray-Ray McCloud. Is this the game Broncos’ special teams shows it knows how to tackle - or the game Tom McMahon finally gets fired?
MattSayar: If I were Tom McMahon and I wanted to keep my job, I’d just kick touchbacks every time. Only punt it out of bounds. Don’t even send the whole squad out there, just McManus and the tee, and Martin and the long snapper (better kick it away quick!). Is that the best strategy for ST? No, but it’d be better than what we’re seeing today. Which is sad. I’ve been thinking he should’ve been fired after last season, so hopefully it’ll happen any day now!

Mike Boone is coming back though, so I’m excited to see what element he brings to Special Teams.

MHR - Ben Roethlisberger is not the Big Ben we’ve come to know and hate this season as his age has definitely been showing. Throwing short of the sticks time and again, missing open receivers downfield…how does the Broncos defense take the ultimate advantage of Ben’s struggles?
MattSayar: Not many people outside of London are really aware of this, but Big Ben (the clock) has been silent and covered in scaffolding since 2017 for repairs. They’re rebuilding it. They have the technology. The restoration has cost 80 million pounds.

Unfortunately, Big Ben (the man) is not the six million dollar man, or the 80 million pounds man. While he purportedly has more money than either of those figures, we cannot rebuild him. We do not have the technology. He’s basically Andrew Luck if Luck didn’t care about his body enough to retire. He’s not many more hits away from needing to sit down for retirement.

Hopefully Ben realizes this too (he doesn’t) and hopefully Von will get pressure on him fast enough that Ben chucks it away to play another day (he won’t).

MHR - One of the critiques from Steelers fans/media after the first four weeks - and especially the last three losses - is the Steelers offense not establishing the running game despite having Najee Harris on the roster. Roethlisberger is still throwing 40 times a game and it’s not even going well. This should work to the Broncos advantage unless Matt Canada figures out how to use Harris this week. If you were prioritizing the defensive response for the Steelers’ offense, what would it be?
MattSayar: If Mason Rudolph is starting, he’ll throw as poorly as Ben has been, so they’ll probably try and run the ball as much as we would if Drew starts. Najee was a BEAST at Alabama and it makes me so sad to see him underutilized in this offense. But the season is still young, so that could change. His fellow Bama alum Pat Surtain II is going to be on the field with him, so I’m hoping to see a play where Pat comes into the backfield for some reason and takes him out!

Also my buddy Will is a big Steelers fan and said he’d buy me a Najee jersey if the Steelers draft him, and this is my subtle reminder to him that I haven’t forgotten, and I still don’t have a Najee jersey.

MHR - Big Ben has traditionally been tough to take down but with a young offensive line, is this the defense’s chance to bring him down multiple times? What kind of day do you expect from Von Miller & Co?
MattSayar: Von’s gonna get after him. I also expect big things from Shelby Harris, batting down errant passes from poor QB play. I wanna see them get that pressure so our defense can get some turnovers! Would love to see the defense help put more points up on the board since we have such talented CBs.

MHR - The injury bug is beginning to pick up where it left off last season. Which injured players are the biggest loss to this team right now? How concerned are you about the depth on the team?
MattSayar: I want to reiterate my concerns about the strength and conditioning program. Obviously these players are benching more than me, but what are other programs doing that we aren’t? We have so much sports medicine in this state, why not get some consultants to take a peek at what’s going on.

Jewell being out for the season is probably our biggest loss since we’re so thin at LB. I’m thankful we’re getting Chubb and Jeudy back this season.

MHR - Fill in the blanks: The Broncos win this if.... The Broncos lose this game if ....
MattSayar: We’re able to execute effectively on offense. We don’t take the threat of Najee seriously.

MHR - What does it say to you if the Broncos lose this one? If they win it? Or is it just a checkmark in a different column?
MattSayar: If we lose, half the fanbase will freak out and declare nothing changed from last year. If we win, we’ll all be cautiously optimistic. The Ravens’ loss really shook the fanbase’s bones.

MHR - Where were you and what was your reaction when Tim Tebow threw an 80 yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas to beat the Steelers in the playoffs in 2011?
MattSayar: I was in college, probably had a bunch of silver bullets whose mountains were blue, and finally forgave Tim Tebow for beating Alabama when he played for the Gators.

Predictions

Stats for Teddy Bridgewater? 225 yards, 2 TDs

Stats for each Broncos RB? MGIII: 80 yards; JW: 100 yards, 1 TD

Number of yards receiving/TDs for each receiver?CS: 150 yards, 1 TD; TP: 60 yards, 1 TD

Longest FG for McManus on Sunday? 67 yards to show up Justin Tucker

Number of sacks to Bridgewater?2

Number of sacks to Big Ben? 4

Broncos player with the most tackles? VON MILLER LET’S GOOOOO

Who gets the first sack in the game for the Broncos? The most? VON VON VON

How many INTs/FF/FR for the Broncos D? Between Surtain and Simmons, I hope for at least one!

How many penalties will the refs get wrong? All the ones against the Broncos

Final Score? 24 - 17 Broncos

The Favorites

Favorite Broncos game with Peyton Manning?

2015 AFC Championship Game against the Patriots. Watching CJ Anderson scamper on the sideline for 31 yards is forever seared into my memory.

Favorite postseason win, not a Super Bowl? See above

Favorite Broncos game EVER? Oct. 14, 2018. A nondescript game where the Rams beat us 23-20, but my wife and I went to that game together, and it was the first snow of the season. I had always wanted to go to a game where we could snuggle in our seats together. Now that we’ve done it, I never want to do it again!

Team you hate to lose to the most in the AFC West? Raiders

Team you love to beat the most in the AFC West? Raiders

Team you hate to lose to the most in the entire AFC (outside of the West)? Patriots

Team you love to beat the most in the AFC? Patriots

NFC team you cannot stand? Eagles. Boy is Philadelphia a filthy city

NFC team you could root for in the Super Bowl (if not playing the Broncos, of course)? Green Bay seems alright

Favorite game now looking forward to this season? This one! I hope we can show the Steelers what-for

Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? I’ve been screaming “JEEEUUDDYYYYYYYY” for years, and I’m so glad he’s on our team now

Favorite Broncos player of all time? Elway obv (John, if you’re reading this please send gift cards to Elway’s)

Favorite new guy/rookie on the team? Surtain! You’re gonna make your dad proud

Superstitions on game day? My wife is thankful I’m not as superstitious as she is. That said, I at least have to wear a jersey.

Least favorite game analyst/commentator? I couldn’t STAND Verne Lundquist and his chortles.

Favorite sports cliche? “You had it in you the WHOLE TIME, you just had to BELIEVE in yourself!”

Favorite sports movie? “The Replacements.” Maybe someday that could be me! (it won’t ever be me)

How did you become a Broncos fan?

When I was a kid I didn’t watch much football because my parents never really cared for it. But Elway was such a superstar he broke into my periphery, and as he started bringing the Broncos to the Super Bowl, I was hooked. In college and beyond, the fervor has only heightened. Now I’m starting my kids early, so I have built-in Broncos buddies for life!