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The Pittsburgh Steelers have had an interesting off season where several key veterans we jettisoned from the team and with their departure, a leadership void was created. Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke have all started their after life since being let go and the Steelers have retooled in their absence. The question remains though, is the team better today with the youth movement they started or will they miss the retired mainstays? The answer to that question will begin to be answered this week as the Steelers travel to Denver to start a new chapter and season.
Out with the Old and in with the New
With the loss of key veterans comes youthful replacements and the Steelers look to have had one of their best drafts in recent memory. The addition of top picks David DeCastro and Mike Adams are the future on the offensive line and names such as Sean Spence and Chris Rainey add speed and splash to the team. The problem though is most of those names are either injured or not ready to play yet. The only real draft pick that looks to add impact from opening day is Rainey and the new dimension he adds to the run and pass game.
Let the Games Begin
Fast forward to week one of the 2012 NFL season and the Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to kick things off with a road game verse the Denver Broncos who traded in Tim Tebow for the great Peyton Manning during the off season and are many of the talking heads new Cinderella team and the second coming of greatness. One problem, Manning has not played a game that counts in almost two years.
In a rematch from last years play off loss, the Steelers will have to over come injuries to stars such as DeCastro, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall. While Denver and Manning will have to kick the tires and shake off the rust verse one of the leagues best defensive’s. They may not call it a revenge game, but it is and that will play in the Steelers favor if they can bottle the emotions and cease the moment.
To Focus On: Capture the Moment
There’s a lot at play here. This is a revenge game on some levels. You’ll never get Mike Tomlin or his players to admit that publicly, but there would be nothing sweeter than sending the Broncos to the showers with a loss late Sunday night.
The Steelers are usually good at rising to the occasion. They have far more difficulty beating teams that aren’t as good as they are for some reason. But Denver holds a lot of problems for them.
They’ll be facing Peyton Manning, who has just as much to prove as his opponent. They’ll be without one of their best stalwart defenders in Ryan Clark. They have questions and injuries on both sides of the ball as well. Any one of those things could sink them.
Capturing the moment on national television will be a huge focus. If the Steelers can do that, they’ll be a near-impossible foe for Denver.
To Focus On: Protection
The Denver Broncos have a good pass rush. They’ll be led by guys like Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. They will be after Ben Roethlisberger and his ability to make plays with his arm. Defeating them is where all of this begins for the offense.
The running game will be part of this effort. A staunch rushing attack that can negate the pass rush will force the Broncos to adapt their plan. The more effectively Pittsburgh’s backs run the ball, the easier it will be for Ben Roethlisberger to drop back and throw it.
The screen passing game that was so successful in the preseason will also change the Broncos plan if effective. A screen game will negate the blitz by exploiting the open spots created by rushers coming into the pocket.
If the Steelers can get those two elements going, the only thing left will be for the offensive line to give Roethlisberger enough time. They’ve played better and better as the preseason has gone on and should be fine in this role.
To Focus On: Splash and Dash
The big-play threats are here. Mike Wallace is back and should be ready to go. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Rainey all will make waves in the passing game. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman can deliver on the ground. This is a team with a ton of offensive talent.
We haven’t even mentioned Heath Miller or Jerricho Cotchery yet either, nor have we talked about what Roethlisberger can do on his own.
We also haven’t said anything about the defense, where Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, Cortez Allen and Ike Taylor all can make the big turnover happen.
Big plays will turn this game. I’d expect that both teams will struggle to move the ball early. Then I would expect both will adjust a little and begin making some dents. Which team can put the ball in the end zone will determine who comes away with their first win.
The Steelers have more talent in this department. Whether or not they can utilize it is the question. Turnovers kill a team. If the Steelers can trick Manning into a couple big mistakes, his night will end the way he doesn’t want it to end.
The Steelers are historically a great team on opening day, but they will be under-maned with key injuries to star players who may or may not play in the game and Ryan Clark on the bench for this one. They could also find it hard to get in groove with a new offense that they are still working out the wrinkles on.
The Broncos and their fans are flying high since the signing of Peyton Manning. He is seen as the second coming and the savior of John Elway’s team. The issue though, is he will need time to get back into the flow of the game after so much time off and is working with new receivers and the timing may not be there just yet. Not to mention he still has not taken a real hit since his return and has to face a nasty pass rush from the Steelers.
The game will come down to the wire, but in the end the Steelers have too much fire power and unless they shoot themselves in the foot, they should come out on top. Look for the run game of Pittsburgh to be the difference as they fly home with the win.
Steelers 27 Denver 17