Something that former Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher used to day, “get a hat on a hat”, is probably embedded in the minds of Steeler fans for all of eternity. We heard it so many times it was like a broken record, but he preached doing so because of the importance of beating your man, taking care of your responsibility on the field. Doing so leads to success, plain and simple. Football is a team game, all 11 guys doing their part, but in the end it’s a battle of attrition; who wants it more.
When the Steelers travel to Denver for the season opener, the one on one matchups are going to be as important as ever. For the record, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Max Starks, and Marcus Gilbert aren’t the only ones who have important matchups this weekend. Everybody’s job is important but these 4 especially are what we’ll focus on for now.
Mike Wallace mentioned after practice how difficult it is to play against Champ Bailey. You have to be on your game and practice hard. Bailey has been in the league since 1999; he’s seen it all and done it all. He’ll go one on one vs. Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown a lot in the game, depending on how the offense lines up. Normally it would mainly be Wallace, but because of his late arrival to the team, don’t be surprised if he comes out for a series now and then just to rest until he’s back into the flow of playing football again. In that case, Bailey will draw Brown in coverage.
Wallace’s speed allows him to run by virtually any defensive back in the league but an experienced corner knows how to play speed guys as well as finesse guys and tough guys. For as good as Wallace is, don’t expect him to get behind Bailey all day long. This will a matchup that #17 needs to win as often as possible though for Ben to have a clear shot at getting him the ball. Both players are about 6′ tall, so going after a jump ball is not the most ideal scenario you can draw up when you’re playing against a pro bowl corner as good as Bailey is.
Tracy Porter and Antonio Brown should see a lot of each other this weekend too. Porter joined the broncos after spending his entire career previously with the Colts. He was the man who intercepted Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl if you remember. Bailey may overshadow the other corners on the Broncos roster but Porter can’t be taken lightly.
Both Porter and Brown are nearly identical in height, at 5’11 and 5’10 respectively. This is a matchup that Brown can and must win as well, and not just because of the similarities in build. The Broncos will let Bailey go one on one with the opposition’s top receiver which means Brown could see some double teams if the Broncos roll coverage that way, especially early when they test out just how ready Wallace is. He’s not afraid to go up after the ball and catch it in traffic, or go across the middle either. Roethlisberger will throw into double coverage if he thinks he can squeeze the ball in, which can be a double edged sword. One interception can mean the difference in a tight game so it’s as important for Brown to get some separation whenever possible as it is for Ben to put the ball safely where only his receivers can catch it.
Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert absolutely must give Ben time to throw. Since it’s early in the season, the Steelers offense is going to have some growing pains, there’s no two ways about it. The best way to avoid those is to have an offensive that can give your Quarterback time to throw. The Broncos best pass rushers are clearly Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. Both of these guys can move around on or near the line of scrimmage so the Steelers Tackles will have their hands full. Last season Miller had 15 sacks, and Dumvervil had 9.5 (missing 2 games last season).
The Broncos have rookies at both the primary and backup defensive end positions, opposite Dumervil so you’d like to think that benefits the Steelers offensive line. Nothing can be taken for granted though because with 2 guys as capable as Miller and Dumervil are, others can slip under the radar and have big games too.
Starks is coming off ACL surgery and Gilbert is in his second full year now in the league, mainly at RT. Setting the edge and protecting against the inside moves will give Ben that extra second or two he needs to find his open receiver.
Like we mentioned earlier, the rest of the teams has individual and collective matchups that they must win too, but the four we talked about here can be a big part of the success or failure of the Steelers on Sunday.