Broncos vs. Steelers: 5 Keys to the Game for Denver
This is a highly anticipated game for many reasons. Pittsburgh will return to the same stadium that its season came to an abrupt end on last season.
It will obviously be the regular-season debut of Peyton Manning in orange and blue as well.
According to Vegas, the Broncos are currently a 1.5-point favorite, but that's probably more for home-field advantage than anything else.
It will be an intense opener for both teams, but here are five keys that should lead to the Broncos starting 1-0.
Obviously, not having to play this game at Heinz Field will be key for a variety of reasons.
It's national television and the crowd, which is sure to be at or near a sellout, will be ready to go. This will create a comfort zone for Manning to work in, and the fans will be able to dictate the atmosphere of this game from the opening kickoff.
The Steelers are a very experienced team, so it won't rattle them much, but it's a factor in the favor of the Broncos without a doubt.
Get Peyton Going Early
Manning has not thrown a meaningful NFL pass since January 2011 in a playoff loss to the New York Jets. It will be imperative to get him in a groove in the early moments of this game.
Manning has been in the NFL since 1998, but because he's coming off missing an entire season and signing with a new team, there is sure to be a high level of anxiety. Once he completes those first couple of passes, it will be a huge weight lifted off his shoulders.
Yes, he's looked good in the preseason, particularly against San Francisco, but he needs to be able to do so when it counts.
The game plan should call for plenty of passing on the opening drive, short throws to Brandon Stokley, Andre Caldwell or one of the tight ends, just to get Manning loose and in the flow again.
Establish the Running Game to Open Up the Pass
The Broncos were able to rush for 131 yards in that Wildcard playoff game last season, and that will be key in this game to open up some passing lanes for Manning.
Keep in mind that Tim Tebow threw all over this Steelers defense in that game. The claim can be made that the Steelers weren't at full strength, but Tebow shredded them for 316 yards passing, and they don't bring much of a different defense into this game.
Getting Willis McGahee going for three to four yards a carry will make things easier for Peyton to employ the game he likes to play.
Demaryius Thomas absolutely abused cornerback Ike Taylor in that game last year, and that will be a matchup to watch on Sunday as well.
Also, Ryan Clark will sit the game out again due to his sickle cell anemia trait which can be exacerbated by the high altitude.
This goes for both sides of the ball, namely in the return game.
This is the one area where the Broncos never really found a solid solution in the preseason, but Omar Bolden showed flashes of greatness with a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the final preseason game. The return duties will likely fall on him and Matt Willis.
Setting Manning up with short fields could be a major key to this game as Manning is the type of quarterback who could make the Steelers pay for it.
On the other side, the Broncos need to keep the Steelers return game in check as they have one of the league's best return men in Antonio Brown although Chris Rainey could get plenty of chances to return kicks as well.
The Broncos defense will be tested by one of the league's more talented teams here, and that is why its leaders, Elvis Dumervil, Von Miller and Joe Mays need to come up big.
Steelers running back Isaac Redman ran for 121 yards against the Broncos in the playoff game last year. That number will have to be drastically decreased.
The Broncos had five sacks in that game as well of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but there is no doubt that Big Ben is at his best when he is on the run, scrambling. The Broncos need to get pressure on him and keep him inside the pocket, not allowing any of those ad-lib plays he has become known for.
Will This All Lead to Victory?
If the Broncos can get Manning in an early rhythm while getting the run game going along with playing solid special teams and keeping Roethlisberger at bay, they will have a great chance to open the season on the winning track, especially if they make the most of the fact that they are playing inside Sports Authority Field in front of a national televised audience.