The Denver Broncos have been a thorn in the Steelers side since the 2012 AFC Wild Card game when Tim Tebow lit up the secondary for 316 passing yards and 2 touchdowns in a thrilling 29-23 overtime loss for Pittsburgh at Denver. Nine months later, Peyton Manning also lit them up on 19/26 passing for 253 yards with 2 touchdowns in his first game as a Bronco.
Denver, and their #1 ranked scoring D, hopes to dig that knife deeper into the sides of Steelers Nation by making their playoff push even more insurmountable with a win at Heinz Field this Sunday. But, this game, just like the last month has been for Denver, is about Brock Osweiler.
In his 4 starts, the Broncos are 3-1 and have manage 19 points per game. The Steelers D gives up 20 a game. The “Brockweiler”, as his teammates call him, has a 57.6 completion percentage against the blitz, and has been sacked 6 times. The Blitz is what the Steelers are known for even with Keith Butler at the helm instead of legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. They’re also tied for 6th in interceptions and fumble recoveries with 14 and 10 respectively. You know he will dial it up to test the young QB, and try to rattle him like his predecessor used to do.
Butler’s unit is 5th in the NFL with 38 sacks. Truthfully, this may be more of a defensive slug fest than the offensive track meet the Steelers will want it to be. The Broncos have the most sacks in the League with 44, while only giving up 21.6 points and 272.5 yards per game.
However, Osweiler is the key to putting a damper in Pittsburgh’s playoff plans. He’s 28-54 (51.8%) on 3rd or 4th down, with 3 touchdowns, but 2 interceptions and 8 sacks. When you break it down even more, he’s 10-18 and 17-31 when it’s 3rd or 4th down with 3+ yards to go to move the chains. That’s 49%. On the season, the Steelers hold their opponents to 39% on 3rd downs. Keep an eye on this during the game, this will be the main indicator as to whether or not the Steelers can pull off the victory.
Osweiler will have to convert at least 50% on 3rd down in order to keep the high powered Killer B on the sideline. Because, no matter how good Broncos DC Wade Phillips’ D is, if they lose the time of possession battle, #7 will make them pay.
To my surprise, Vegas has the Steelers as 6.5 point favorites and the over-under at 44.5. I’m predicting Roethlisberger and his high powered will extend their franchise streak of 30+ points in consecutive games to 6 with a 30-23 win over Denver. I don’t think Osweiler can lead the Broncos offense to enough points to stay with Pittsburgh’s.
Pittsburgh Fans will also need to begrudgingly root for the (4-9) Baltimore Ravens to beat the (8-5) Kansas City Chiefs and the (4-9) Dallas Cowboys to beat the (8-5) New York Jets on Saturday night. Both currently own the tie breaker over the Steelers for the AFC Wild Card berths. All you need is one of them to lose. So, while rooting for either team hurts, it is probably less painful to get behind the ‘Boys as opposed to the hated Rat-Birds, I mean Ravens.