Well folks, it’s an amazing feeling starting off 1-0 isn’t it? The last time we started the season with a win was at the beginning of the 2017 season against Cleveland. The next two years in week 1 we’d see a tie with Cleveland and a very bad loss to the New England Patriots. Our offense no doubt dispelled a lot of doubt for the time being, starting a bit rusty and slow but in the end looking good, but it was against the New York Giants so I doubt the critics will put much stock into the performance. But let’s not linger on last week, we have a new game against a new team this Sunday.
As all of Steelers Nation should probably know, we have Denver this Sunday for our first game in Heinz Field. This leads into some fun trivia before I dive into this game, the last time the Steelers opened up the regular season in Heinz Field was in 2014 against the Cleveland Browns. But you all aren’t here for trivia so let’s get into it. The Steelers and Broncos have played against eachother 32 times, 8 of those games happened in the postseason, including the last time we played Denver in the 2015 AFC Divisional Round and took a heartbreaking loss. Both teams have changed a fair amount during that time so let’s see how we match up now.
Before I look at some keys let’s dive into injury reports, starting with the Steelers. As we already know, Zach Banner suffered a heartbreaking injury week 1 against the Giants. After betting on himself and reupping on a 1 year minimum deal, and winning the starting spot at right tackle through his hard work, Banner suffered a torn ACL so he’s going to be out on Sunday and beyond, continuing on the trend of our battered offensive line, particularly the right side, Stefan Wisniewski suffered a pectoral injury last week and has been listed as a DNP for Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practice which makes me feel like he’s questionable at best leaning toward doubtful, sticking in the same position of right guard, David DeCastro has been trying to heal up but was also a DNP on Wednesday and Thursday, which leads me to give him the same outlook as Wisniewski, if I’m right look for Kevin Dotson to make the start. Let’s move to the left side of our line to Alejandro “Big Al” Villanueva, Al was a DNP in Wednesday’s practice with an illness which was alarming to many, but he clocked in a full practice on Thursday so I’m looking for him to be on the field come Sunday. Let’s move to our receivers, we had two concerning DNP’s on Wednesday with Juju not practicing due to a knee issue and Diontae Johnson not practicing with a toe injury, both guys practiced in full on Thursday so barring any change I see them suiting up on Sunday, sticking with our skill positions, the injury bug bit James Conner in the ankle again last Sunday, he was a DNP for Wednesday which caused many to feel he was doubtful, but like Juju, Diontae, and Big Al, Conner practiced in full on Thursday, so he should be in line for some playing time Sunday. The last injury was on our defensive side, even though Ben and Maurkice Pouncey were DNP’s on Wednesday due to Coach’s Decision. Stephon Tuitt was a cause for concern, possibly reaggravating his Achilles injury, he was a DNP on Wednesday but, again, as is a common theme, he practiced in full on Thursday, look for Tuitt to play.
It’s always rough when the Steelers injury report is that long, but let’s get into our oppositions injury report. Let’s start with the biggest and most obvious, all football fans know that Von Miller was placed on the IR with a season ending tendon injury in his ankle, Von has been the player most tied to Denver in this past decade, they’re going to miss that guy. Sticking to the defense, interior linebacker Mark Barron was a DNP on Wednesday and Thursday with a hamstring injury, I’d call him doubtful if he hasn’t already been confirmed as being out, cornerback AJ Bouye was placed on IR with a shoulder injury so he’s out for this Sunday and at least 2 more weeks, safety Kareem Jackson was a DNP Wednesday but it wasn’t injury related and he practiced in full Thursday, Jackson will play, other safety Trey Marshall was limited in practice Wednesday with a wrist injury but practiced in full Thursday, he’s good to suit up Sunday, and lastly, Bradley Chubb was listed as having a knee injury but he’s practiced in full at both practices, Chubb is a lock to play. Let’s move to Denver’s offense, to start off, running back Phillip Lindsay was a DNP for Wednesday and Thursday with a toe injury, he’s doubtful and I look for Melvin Gordon to get the bulk of snaps and touches even if Lindsay does suit up, tackle Garrett Bolles was limited in both practices with an elbow injury, he’ll probably play, but to be safe I’ll call him questionable, wide receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Courtland Sutton were both limited in both practices with a hip and shoulder injury respectively, same outlook as Bolles. And last but not least wide receiver KJ Hamler and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam both practiced in full with a hamstring and hip injury respectively.
Now that those extensive injury reports are out of the way, we can get into some keys of the game for Pittsburgh! The Broncos May have started off with a loss, but I feel this will be a tougher challenge than the Giants were. Let’s get into these keys.
I’m sure you can tell by the picture above what this key is going to be. We’re going to have to rush the passer and contain the run like we did last week. Melvin Gordon has much more luck last week against Tennessee than Saquon Barkley had against us, he rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.2 yards per carry, needless to say we can’t be having that. Our offense isn’t gonna lose us games, but this defense is the unit that’s gonna WIN us games and they need to stay hot in the rushing lanes.
Again, I’m sure I made this key obvious. But our second key to this game is to force turnovers, like I said in key #1, this defense is our strength and they’re elite. We came out with 2 takeaways against the Giants though one could argue the Cam Heyward pick was a bit flukey. We need to continue to force turnovers, especially in another game where we’re facing a young inexperienced quarterback with a questionable line in front of him.
This last key is threefold and the third fold might make me sound like a smart alleck but that doesn’t bother me. First we need to avoid turnovers, short fields can add up even against, in my opinion, the best defense by far in the league. Second, sustain drives and keep Ben upright, I just talked about short fields, this means we need the offense to not only keep the ball secure, but also sustain drives, I’d rather have to punt from the 50 than the 35, and even though Von Miller is gone, Denver still has a stud pass rusher in Bradley Chubb and a fair, not great but fair, defense overall, Ben needs to be taking much less hits than he did last week. And the third is simply score more points than the opposition, this seems a bit obvious, right? You have to score more points to win. But what I’m saying here is the offense doesn’t have to be world beaters, leave that to the defense, we don’t need Bens greatest game of all time, we just need these guys to do enough to win, that’s it.
It wouldn’t be a preview without a score prediction so I guess I’d better get to that. I have the Steelers winning 21-10. I feel like this will start out as a defensive battle but Denver will give in first and start to fold at the end. My predicted MVP on the game is the whole defense. Let’s hope I’m right, and let’s go Steelers!