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Broncos need to study up, focus on beating a rampaging Steelers team

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Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

Despite a likely desire to continue rehashing the abomination that was Sunday's game, I'm a move-on kinda girl, so fault my Bill Belichick tendencies all you want, I'm on to Pittsburgh.

*editor's note: don't worry, there will be a plethora of excellent analysis today where you can lambast the Broncos coaching/offense/o-line to your heart's content. For the record (and a laugh), this will be me when the discussion inevitably goes to the Manning-Osweiler comparisons:

Aside from my need to prevent a headache, I'm moving past the Raiders game so fast because the Broncos need to move even faster.

Of all the AFC teams in the hunt for the playoffs and vying for the top seeds, the No. 3 seeded Broncos easily have the toughest three-game schedule to finish out, facing the Steelers, Bengals and Chargers.

Current No. 2 seed Bengals have the 49ers, Broncos and Ravens while the Chiefs - current Wild Card leaders making a run for the AFC West - go up against the Ravens, Browns and Raiders.

So the point is, the Broncos don't have time to dwell on the loss against Oakland. Hopefully players (and coaches) watched game film intensely, took down extensive notes, and exorcised their silver and black demons because they've got a huge challenge and a ton of ground to make up to beat the rampaging Steelers.

The Steelers average 28.9 points when Big Ben plays; 21 when he doesn't. Red zone efficiency goes from 45.5 to 61.3 percent with Roethlisberger. Third-down conversions more than double.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has battled some injuries this year, missing four games in the second quarter of the season, but has been solid ever since the Steelers' bye in Week 11. The Steelers average 28.9 points when Roethlisberger plays, compared to 21 when he doesn't. With Big Ben, the offense averages 7.1 yards per play but just 5.5 without him. Red zone efficiency goes up to 61.3 percent with Roethlisberger compared to 45.5 percent without. Third-down conversions jump from 22 to 48.3 percent with the big man under center.

But Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib likes Denver's chances in the matchup with the Steelers offense.

"Three receivers, three corners, good quarterback, good rush - we're going to get it in," Talib said. "I am excited."

Wide receiver Antonio Brown is lighting it up on the field with 100 catches and more than 1,300 yards with three games left to play. And when he isn't catching balls, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are.

"They have three great receivers that have been making plays all over the field and are deep threats," said Chris Harris, Jr. "Having Big Ben, he gives those guys extra time to really run their route. We have to definitely practice that covering extra three seconds of the scramble drill for Big Ben."

While Big Ben and Co. will be a challenge for the No. 1 defense in the NFL, the biggest concern is going to be the Broncos' offense against another threatening D.

The 2015 Steelers defense is no Steel Curtain of the 70s, allowing an average of 367 yards per game this season, but it's no slouch either. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have led a defense that has consistently gotten to the quarterback, while Steeler defenders have also forced 24 turnovers this season.

They're playing really well - probably one of the hotter teams in football. We'll have to play as good as we can play.  -Gary Kubiak

After an extremely poor showing against the Raiders, the Broncos offense is going to need to jump up the improvement curve pretty fast.

"We all need to execute, especially me," said Michael Schofield, who earned a -7.0 grade from Pro Football Focus this week, including a -5.7 pass block rating after giving up three sacks, two hits and one hurry. "That was definitely probably one of my worst games of all time. We need to execute every play. Everyone needs to do [his] job. That's what we've got to get back to."

Emmanuel Sanders, who also did not have a stellar day against the Raiders with a key third-down drop and a muffed punt, is looking forward to facing his former team in Pittsburgh but he was hoping to be doing it after better play.

"Yeah, I wish I would have gone back with a win under our belt and me having a good game, but it doesn't matter," Sanders said. "I'm looking forward to that game now. We've got to go out there and handle business."

So the 10-3 Broncos up against the 8-5 Steelers are likely to be underdogs as they travel to Heinz Field for the first time since 2006.

"They're playing really well - probably one of the hotter teams in football, a lot of big-play players that have been as good as there is in this business," Kubiak said of the Broncos next foe. "They're playing really well right now as a team. It's another big challenge for our team. We'll have to play as good as we can play."

Hopefully that will include a game plan that far exceeds the one put together for Oakland.

Horse Tracks

AFC Playoff Picture: Will Bengals or Broncos lose leads? - NFL.com
With three weeks remaining the season, the AFC Playoff Picture is shaping up to be a lot more interesting than the NFC. Gregg Rosenthal breaks down what to expect in the coming weeks.

Gary Kubiak needs to be taking a lot more of the blame | Mile High Sports
We keep talking about the quarterbacks, the offensive line and the skill players, but the real issue is Gary Kubiak.

NSFW: How Brandon Perna describes the Denver-Oakland game
"An ass-backwards, upside-down f*&% fest."

The Broncos are going to end up wasting the greatest defense in team history | Mile High Sports
The Denver Broncos are wasting the greatest defense in team history, and they're starting to take notice

Kiszla: Loss to Raiders could slowly tear this Broncos team apart - The Denver Post
The Broncos blew it all Sunday. They threw away a victory, dropped the ball and lost their grip on the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

The Broncos are going to end up wasting the greatest defense in team history | Mile High Sports
The Denver Broncos are wasting the greatest defense in team history, and they're starting to take notice

Kubiak: 'Nothing has changed' in regards to QB situation
The Broncos' head coach evaluate Manning's progress in throwing sessions before deciding whether Manning could return to practice.

Denver Broncos trying to move past frustrating loss to Oakland Raiders - Denver Broncos Blog- ESPN
The Broncos said their focus is now on Pittsburgh after a frustrating loss to an Oakland team that managed just 126 yards of total offense.

Brock Osweiler's inexperience shows in Denver Broncos' loss to Oakland
Brock Osweiler, who failed to lead a TD drive in Sunday's loss, took five sacks and fumbled in the end zone in the third quarter, leading to a safety.

Red-zone woes doom Broncos vs. Raiders, spell more trouble - The Denver Post
Denver failed to produce an offensive touchdown against the Raiders in two games this season. It provides a snapshot of a bigger picture problem.

Khalil Mack made Denver Broncos pay for decisions in pass protection
The Broncos gambled on Sunday, hoping their offensive tackles could handle the Raiders' pass rushers one-on-one. And they lost.

Denver Broncos O-Line Pathetic in Loss
The only way to describe the Denver Broncos efforts against the Oakland Raiders is Pathetic. The offensive line play was exactly that, offensive.

Toughest guy for Atwater to tackle? You might be surprised
Former Denver safety Steve Atwater is most often associated with a jarring stop of running back Christian Okoye on Monday Night Football. But it wasn't Okoye who was the toughest for him to tackle. It was another AFC West running back you should remember.

Dalton won't have surgery; return for playoffs hopeful - NFL.com
Andy Dalton won't have surgery on his fractured thumb, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told reporters Monday. When could we see Dalton return to action?

Luck hopeful to practice this week, play this season - NFL.com
Though he does not feel 100 percent yet, Andrew Luck says his goal was to start practicing this week with an eye on playing Sunday. His coach, however, gave a more sobering update on his status.

Dolphins turn 'MNF' into throwback celebration - NFL.com
The Miami Dolphins will play the New York Giants on Monday night, while also celebrating the team's history with a throwback uniform, design accents to the field and a halftime ceremony for the greats.

Patriots clinch seventh consecutive AFC East title - NFL.com
The New England Patriots clinched their seventh consecutive AFC East title with the Miami Dolphins' loss to the New York Giants on Monday night.

Odell Beckham's huge game leads Giants to win - NFL.com
Odell Beckham exploded for 166 yards and a pair of touchdowns on seven receptions, leading the New York Giants to a 31-24 victory over the Dolphins on Monday night. Here's what you need to know.