After a 26-16 victory over the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, the Pittsburgh Steelers have turned their attention to a home opener against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos, Led by second-year QB Drew Lock, are looking to rebound after a close loss to the Tennessee Titans 16-14. Can the Steelers pull out another win this week? Let’s take a look at some key talking points headed into Sunday’s tilt:
Can the Steelers Run the Ball?
Against a tougher front seven, we’re about to find out. The Steelers just lost right tackle Zach Banner for the season with a torn ACL. While inexperienced, Banner was a hulking figure that the Steelers could run behind. Keep an eye on how 2018 third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor fills in. To make matters worse, right guard Stefan Wisniewski (chest) was moved to the reserved/injured list. With usual starter David DeCastro still out, that leaves rookie Kevin Dotson as the next man up. This could prove problematic. The Titans defeated the Broncos, in part, because they controlled the clock with an unspectacular, but workman-like showing from Derrick Henry (31 carries, 116 yards). The Steelers had a lot of success handing-off to Benny Snell against the Giants. However, even without star pass-rusher Von Miller, the Broncos have some bullies in Bradley Chubb, Jurrell Casey, and Shelby Harris. Let’s hope the Steelers find a way to run, and Big Ben (and his surgically-repaired elbow) doesn’t have to sling it.
Can the Defense Lock-Down Drew Lock?
(Forgive me for what I’m sure is an over-used pun)
Speaking of running, my condolences to Saquon Barkley’s fantasy football managers. Even with the Giants star back racking up 60 yards receiving, 15 rushing attempts for six yards is brutal no matter how you slice it. To say that the Giants offensive line was getting blown-up would be an understatement. While the G-men hope for better days, the Broncos now get their turn at handling arguably the best front seven in the NFL. Stopping the run is always vital in football. Against Drew Lock and his young pass catchers? Quintessential. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler wants to force the young QB to stare down stud pass rushers T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Cameron Heyward, as well as blitz packages featuring corners on the hunt, as much as possible. If the Broncos can’t run, it’ll make it that much harder for Lock to pass. Look for Butler to focus coverage on emerging play-maker and Drew Lock security blanket Noah Fant and force the young gun to target passes elsewhere.
Big Ben’s Return: Part Two
Finally, we turn to the obvious. Week two means another opportunity for NFL talking heads to pick apart Ben Roethlisberger. Contrary to a lot of casual analysis, Big Ben had a solid return to action. After a bit of a slow start against the Giants, Roethlisberger got to work, utilizing great chemistry with both Juju Smith-Schuster (6 catches, 69 yards, 2 TDs) and Diontae Johnson (6 catches, 57 yards). The Steelers QB also demonstrated a preview of more to come with a 28-yard deep shot down the sideline to rookie top pick Chase Claypool. As the Steelers shake off the collected rust of no preseason and a rebuilt Roethlisberger, where does this offense’s ceiling lie?
Let’s get to predictions. I think the Steelers find a way to pull out a nice home win. Despite a banged-up line, Roethlisberger makes a few key plays reminiscent of his improvisational prime. The defense also flexes its muscles against a young offense still working out some kinks.
Score Prediction: Steelers 23, Broncos 10