That seems to be the first question that people are asking about Sunday’s Steelers-Broncos game.
In my opinion, Pittsburgh will need to be capable of scoring at least 24, more likely 28, to pull out a win. As they are currently composed, can they do that? That is the question.
I thought it was going to be tough running the ball against Denver with DeAngelo Williams. Toussaint and Todman doing that against a Cincy D that is playing off the ball to prevent the big gain is one thing, doing it against Denver, which actually plays defense with the same ferocity and efficiency that Pittsburgh used to, is another altogether.
The larger issue here is that with no Antonio Brown, Denver’s defensive game plan just dramatically changed. Setting aside the obvious relief that Chris Harris must be feeling, the Broncos played two high safeties most of the game last time, opening the middle. That won’t be the case Sunday in Denver. AB not playing just freed up TJ Ward and now leaves Darian Stewart free to play center field. If Ben can’t drive the ball because of that shoulder injury, those safeties are going to wait for him to put too much air under a ball and pick it off.
The Denver D is going to crowd the line of scrimmage and dare Ben to throw deep. Count on it. The question is, can he do it? Ben will doubtless be under the influence of pain masking drugs and you know he has no problem putting his body on the line to get a win, even if it means he’ll be very sore for a couple of days. The real question here is what kind of range of motion he’ll have. Hopefully between treatment, therapy and pharmaceuticals, he is well enough on Sunday to play like the Ben we know.
My guess is that Ben plays, but not that well. That Denver D is tough though. I don’t think a 75% Ben playing a less than stellar game versus Denver is anything to be ashamed of. I’m not sure if the Steelers could score 28 on them in Denver even with a healthy Ben, AB and DeAngelo. So, we are likely left to depend on the Steelers defense which has been inconsistent.
If the defense can’t tackle, something they’ve done with varying degrees of success, they’ll have to force turnovers. In all but one of the games the Steelers have lost this season, they finished the game behind in the turnover column.
The Steelers were 10-1 in games when they came out ahead or even on turnover margin in 2015, 0-5 in games where they came out on the short end of that ratio. That’s as telling a stat about this team as there is.
Tackling has been poor all year. But, in the one game where the Steelers lost after finishing plus 2 in the turnover column, the October Baltimore game, the team did not tackle well. If they can’t do one, they must do the other. If the D steps up and has a pick-6, the odds of winning go way up, but that’s a lot to put our hopes on.
Steelers fans keep bringing up Peyton Manning’s noodle arm and history of playoff chokes, blah, blah, blah…. I think his greatest contribution Sunday will be picking apart our defense pre snap, changing the play at the line and opening up the run game against us. If Manning can use his football smarts to lead his team to a dominant time of possession performance, it will be very hard to beat them. The Broncos averaged a little over 4 yards per carry on 1st down this season. If they can do the same against Pittsburgh on Sunday, it’s going to be a long day for the Steelers.
Now a point for the “kitchen sink” strategists. Trying something just for the sake of trying it or because “you have nothing to lose”, when you are playing a game that could end your season, is foolhardy. You do the things that you have done well all season and ask the guys who wil be stepping in for injured players to play a role in that. That’s all though.
Some fans feel strongly that Mike Vick should play over Landry Jones if the #2 coming in becomes a necessity. The basic line of thought for the kitchen sink strategist seems to be:
“This didn’t work last week. Try anything else. Even if that thing has never worked, it might work now. Try it and see.”
“Not gonna try it? You know nothing about coaching strategy and should be fired. Me and all of my ‘knowledgeable fan buddies’ agree that we see more than you do.”
It’s a position to rival the Bengals fan who truly believes that Burfict and Adam Jones did nothing wrong. Don’t be that guy.
Mike Vick was not successful as a starter in 2015 because he either could not read the D fast enough to deliver the ball in a timely manner or knows he doesn’t have the arm to put it where it needs to be and held it as a result. Either way, Vick is a liability we cannot accept in a win or go home game. Landry Jones takes more risks because he has a better arm. He’s also less afraid to sling it, frankly, because he’s young and dumb. Neither are ideal, but if I am forced to choose, I go with Jones. I never thought I would be writing that.
Again, the Steelers are going to have to be capable of scoring 28 to win this game, in my opinion. With Vick in there, they get 17 tops. He’s done. Call it a career, Mike. With Jones, at least they have a chance to score enough points.
In games started by Vick this season, the Steelers did hang 20 on Baltimore and 24 on San Diego. Those are two of the worst defenses in the league. A Mike Vick led offense scored only 6 points on Arizona’s defense over 34 minutes. Jones will likely never be an NFL starter, but he has played better than Vick and so has the rest of the offensive unit when Jones has been in there.
Sammie Coates will play, but not a major role. He has only practiced at the Z WR spot this year, which is Bryant’s position, and has had some ups and downs in practice consistency. He’s not a guy you would want to count on to convert a 3rd down. Coates will play a role, but it will be that of #4 WR as it should be.
To ask “what have the Steelers got to lose?” is silly. They have everything to lose. If they lose they go home until next fall.
If the Broncos get a lead and play keep away, it’ll be old school Pittsburgh football tactics, right down to the dominant defense. Some people are going to be apoplectic watching a team do to Pittsburgh what the Steelers did to opponents for years. Ridiculous calls for Tomlin and staff’s firing, a fire sale of certain personnel, etc… will be dismissed by yours truly.
I may be becoming that old curmudgeon who takes the long view on everything. It even annoys me sometimes. It’s just that fans can be so ridiculously knee jerk.
As long as the guys who play, from the Steelers short handed team, go out there and bust their asses, I’ll be proud of them. Win or lose.
Steelers go to Denver for a playoff game without enough healthy bodies again. The good news is that the outlook next year is pretty darn good.
The offensive line looks good. Ben will be back to being Ben. The running backs corps looks to be 4 deep with good to competent players. The wide receiver corps is the best in the NFL.
On defense the Steelers need to do some retooling, but the unit as a whole is on the rise and will only get better.
There is a great deal to look forward to in 2016.
Photo credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE