Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos Preview

Christmas time is over in the traditional sense. But for those that dwell in the city of Pittsburgh, Christmas is just the start of the gift giving. More times than not, January sees the Pittsburgh Steelers playing in the NFL playoffs. That will hold true this year but it is a bit different. Steelers fans will have their Christmas begin for them but their team will be facing the man that puts the Christ in Christmas. Not too many times are you going to find a Wild Card game that involves an 8-8 team get so much attention. Especially when it could potentially be the worst game of the weekend.

Steelers Offense vs. Broncos Defense: Everyone seems to believe in this false greatness of the Denver defense. They got a ton of credit over the stretch of going 7-1 that was ultimately a big factor in them making the playoffs. The fact is that they are a bad defense. They rank in the bottom half of the league in almost every defensive statistic except for sacks. They force very little turnovers. They give up a ton of points. Oh, and by the way, they will be playing this game with two rookie safeties since Brian Dawkins is out with an injury.

Speaking of injuries, the Steelers' offense will not be even close to healthy for this game. Ben Roethlisberger will once again be playing with his ankle issues. He claims that he experienced a setback in the game last week against Cleveland but it is reasonable to believe that it could be gamesmanship. Maurkice Pouncey will also miss this game after many believed he would play after he experienced a real setback in practice on Wednesday. And of course, Rashard Mendenhall won't play in this game or any for awhile after tearing his ACL. Isaac Redman will take over for him but confidence in the coaching staff to give him a heavy workload will likely decrease after his fumbling problems he had last week.

This might finally be the game where the Steelers employ an offensive attack that resembles the one that they used against Tennessee earlier this season. Roethlisberger's injured ankle plus another makeshift offensive line going against a defense who's only strength is sacking the quarterback all adds up to needing to get rid of the ball quickly. Quick passes and the running game could get the offense in a rhythm. Then when the defense sucks up to stop it, that is when Mike Wallace can exploit those two rookie safeties and gash them deep.

Steelers Defense vs. Broncos Offense: The word of the day on defense is discipline. The Steelers traditionally have a rabid defense that loves to improvise and get after the quarterback. That traditional game plan would be even easier to trend towards with the return of LaMarr Woodley into the starting lineup. However, for this game, the key to victory is staying at home and clogging lanes. Tim Tebow is much more effective running the ball than he is passing it. If he is allowed to get chunks of yardage with his legs, it will open up the little ability he has to throw the ball down field.

Even though Tebow has had his struggles throwing the ball, he could have success in this game. If the Steelers do not stay disciplined and allow Tebow to shift the focus of the defense to his legs, he can move the ball on a beat up secondary. The Steelers have the best pass defense in the league this year but they have a few guys that will not be available for this game. Ryan Clark will not play due to his blood disorder that almost took his life the last time he played a game at Mile High. Keenan Lewis is playing in this game but he has a hamstring injury that isn't conducive to good corner play. If that hamstring acts up, Bryant McFadden will be forced into action and we saw how bad that can be last week.

The new trend in the NFL as it applies to defense involves making splash plays. The Steelers have done a poor job of doing that this season despite their ranking. This game could set up for them to make some of those splash plays as long as they don't force it. Woodley and James Harrison need to stay at home and contain the edges. Everyone needs to stay in their lanes (I'm talking to you Lawrence Timmons). Tebow will make your splash plays on defense for you as long as you let him.

Prediction: Anyone that knows me is aware that I am a huge Tim Tebow fan. I think he can be successful in the NFL. A lot of that probably does come from me being a Florida fan but that is what it is. That being said, I think he is going to be totally lost in this game. The book is out on how to beat him. The Broncos know that. They were so concerned with it this week that they gave Brady Quinn first team reps in practice. First year starters struggle to win playoff games. First year starters that are one trick ponies tend to struggle even more. Steelers 31, Broncos 6.

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