Don’t be surprised this weekend if you see the big plays coming from guys who you haven’t seen as much in 2011. The Broncos have 2 cornerbacks in Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman, with a combined 23 years of NFL experience and 288 starts to their name. They will be Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown all day long. While I’m sure Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger won’t hesitate to try and utilize both Wallace and Brown, I also look for other names to be a factor in this game too.
Jerricho Cotchery is a savvy veteran who knows what it means to play in big games and make clutch plays in key situations. That’s been his niche during his career and he’s also shown some of that while with the Steelers in 2011. Cotchery won’t get the high profile attention in from the Broncos defense that other Steelers receivers will so look for him to have several big plays to his credit by the time it’s over. Not that Jerricho can’t outdo man to man because he certainly can, but I’ll take a matchup with him against a Nickelback or Safety most any day.
Weslye Saunders; certainly not a guy who you would think is going to beat you if you’re the Broncos but don’t put it past the rookie to get some looks from Roethlisberger. Heath Miller is still a safety valve for Ben and more than capable enough in holding his own against any defense, but Saunders could have an impact in this game as well.
Emmanuel Sanders, certainly not an unknown in the Steelers offense but has missed significant time this season with knee and foot injuries. When healthy he’s got great speed as well and has shown a knack for being fearless in going across the middle. It’s not like Broncos defense is playing anywhere near as well as they did earlier in the year, so you have to think their focus will be elsewhere and take their chances against the other weapons the Steelers have.
Antonio Brown’s team MVP and 1,000-yard season are nice but rather inconsequential.
Wallace and Brown, the lifeblood of the Steelers’ offense, combined for 142 catches, 2,301 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns during the regular season. Those statistics don’t translate into success during the postseason, but the self-proclaimed ‘Young Money Crew’ doesn’t expect a decline in production Sunday when the Steelers travel to Denver for an AFC wild-card game.
Even if they will face some of the most physical cornerbacks in the league.
“This is when the great players step up,” Wallace said. “It is good to be good in the regular season, but this is where legends are made. This is where you can make a name for yourself.”
That especially can be true when you face veteran cornerbacks like Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman, who have a combined 23 years of experience and 288 career starts between them.
Making big plays in a playoff game against Bailey would expedite the process of making a name for yourself, especially with receivers who have two career postseason starts between them like Brown and Wallace.
“They don’t have a lot of experience,” Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. “Every play is critical — that’s the difference between the regular season and the playoffs.”
The Broncos play a lot of press-man coverage that could present a problem for the Steelers, especially when combined with a pass rush provided by Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.
“Those guys line up, and they get in your face,” fellow receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “You are going to have to separate and get off the jam to have a chance.”
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was more succinct.
“If we can’t beat it, we won’t win,” he said.