The Pittsburgh Steelers need only look back to this past January as a reminder of what can happen when you don’t take care of business when you have the chance. Now it’s a new season, a new QB in Denver and a Steelers defense that has some new faces but the task remains the same, pressure the Quarterback and force turnovers.
Until proven otherwise, Peyton Manning should still be regarded as a top flight Quarterback in the NFL. Approaching the season opener at Mile High any other way is just asking for trouble if you’re the Steelers. Let’s face it, if Tim Tebow could put up 300+ yds against the #1 ranked pass defense in the NFL last season, then Peyton Manning deserves all the game planning you can muster up.
Past history tells you that when you play against Manning, the way to beat him is to pressure him and get in his face.Anybody remember Joey Porter and James Farrior late in the game in Indianapolis? It’s that kind of pressure all day long that can yield success. Pressure equals bad throws and bad throws equals turnovers. The Steelers preached all offseason and preseason about getting more turnovers, and now it’s time to put that into action.
This is where the front 7 of the Steelers has to take care of business and force their way into the Broncos backfield. It’s certainly not an impossible task by any means, Pittsburgh is more than capable of getting after any Quarterback in the NFL, and with Manning it’s a top priority. If Keisel, McLendon, and Hood can hold their blocks and establish the line of scrimmage then the Steeler Linebackers can wreak havoc up the middle and off the edges. In that thin Mile High air, the rotation of the line will be key to that success. So Cameron Heyward, Casey Hampton, and Al Woods will be key as well. I didn’t mention Alameda Ta’amu yet because we don’t know if the Steelers will keep all 7 lineman active or not.
Even if James Harrison does play in this game, he’ll likely be somewhat limited, giving way to 2nd year pass rusher Chris Carter. Deebo is known as one of the most fierce pass rushers in all of football and when he’s in there with Lamarr Woodley, the damage meter goes up no matter who the opposition is. You simply can’t double team both players so it’s imperative for the one on one matchups to be won at the line of scrimmage. When Carter does come into the game, Woodley will be getting the double team so Carter will have a chance to show that he’s got what it takes to be an outside Linebacker on Dick Lebeau’s defense. Anything less will put more pressure on a secondary that will already be without Ryan Clark due to his sickle cell trait.
Speaking of the secondary, Ike Taylor will get a chance to make amends from what he admits was his worst game ever. He’ll regularly go one on one with Demaryius Thomas while Keenan Lewis will likely draw Eric Decker for a good portion of the game. It will be interesting to see how Lebeau will gameplan his secondary against Petyon Manning overall after what he witnessed last year.
Taylor is no stranger to being alone with the offenses’ primary receiver and would love nothing more than pick off a Manning pass or two in this game. That’s something he doesn’t do very often, having only 2 picks in each of the previous seasons. The trade off is his blanket coverage which helps make up for that but Manning will surely test him early to see where his head is at. It’s not that Thomas is Jerry Rice or anything but he’s no slouch either, one bad move by Taylor is all it takes.
Manning is no dummy though, he’s not going to just key on Thomas all day long, he’s the type of QB that will throw to whoever is open so guys like Lewis and Cortez Allen will have to stay with their man all day long, and the extra Safety help deep can provide some interception opportunities.
Another key for the Steelers defense is Ryan Mundy, who should be starting in place of Clark. Mundy is a solid Safety but isn’t quite on the level of what Ryan Clark is. His ability to read Manning and help out in coverage will be key to keeping the big play in front of him.
This is a stiff test right out of the gate for the Steelers, and honestly I feel good about their chances in week 1. It’s not because Manning is coming off multiple surgeries and with a new team, but because Pittsburgh knows they have to start fast, and the motivation of a new season combined with the crushing lost from last year is more than enough motivation.