NFL Week Nine Preview: Pittsburgh-Denver

TJ JenkinsAnalyst INovember 4, 2009

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 25:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers passes the ball during the NFL game against the Minnesota Vikings at Heinz Field on October 25, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Vikings 27-17. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Denver Broncos (6-1)
Monday November 9th, 2009
Mile High Stadium (Denver, CO)

This game between the defending Super Bowl Champions and the surprising Denver Broncos, led by quarterback Kyle Orton and first year head coach Josh McDaniels, could either be the best Monday Night Football game that we’ve seen this year, or it could be a complete dud.

The reason I say that is because of the fact that both of these teams have two faces. Both look Super Bowl ready at times and then completely flat at other times.

This game is going to be an aerial attack from both sides. Both teams are going to throw the ball until they’re around. Or at least until they’re in the red zone. The Steelers offense has shifted from a primarily running offense to a pass oriented attack over the past few seasons.

Roethlisberger has a plethora of targets to throw the ball to. The ever-reliable and recently acclaimed ‘dirtiest player in the NFL’ Hines Ward is having a strong season and leading the team in yards and receptions. The speedy Santonio Holmes rounds out the duo of Super Bowl MVP’s with his threat on the edge. Not to mention rookie sensation Mike Wallace who is coming into his own in the Steelers offense.

And that’s just the wide receivers for the defending champions. Along with that trio of pass catchers, Big Ben has one of the premier tight ends in the league in Heath Miller, and two backs who are very good at catching the ball out of the backfield in Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall.

Roethlisberger has hooked up with his teammates for 11 touchdowns this year.

Kyle Orton, on the other hand, has Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, and Jabar Gaffney to throw the ball to. Orton’s receiving corps may not have the gaudy numbers that Roethlisberger’s does, but that’s because Orton has seemingly mastered the art of the check down and throwing the ball away. He’s thrown nine touchdowns and only one interception this season.

Orton’s style of play presents a problem for the Steelers, as they’ve had little success stopping the ‘dink and dunk’ offense from marching down the field. They absolutely must make it a priority to keep Orton’s backs in check while playing the hook zone against his receivers.

Orton must make it a point to target one of the few weak links in the Steelers secondary, Ike Taylor. In 2008 Taylor allowed only 7.1 yards per attempt against him but has slipped this season to somewhere around eight to 10. In fact, against the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns, the corner has given up 174 yards on 17 attempts. That’s just over 10 yards an attempt. Should Orton choose to target Ike Taylor 10 to 12 times in this game, he should find success.

James Harrison and Ryan Clady are going to be battling it out all game long, while on the opposite side of the game Elvis Dumervil and Max Starks will be having their own personal battle. The only difference is that Starks is at an advantage due to Roethlisberger’s ability to move and make plays on the run.

The Steelers running game is anchored by left tackle Chris Kemoeatu, who is a master at the pulling guard position. Rashard Mendenhall should find room running behind him to either side. Denver running back Knowshon Moreno has only two more yards than the Steelers starter on 31 more attempts, and less touchdowns than Mendenhall.

Special teams may again be a key to the game for the Steelers as they’ve allowed special teams touchdowns in their previous two games, one to Cleveland return man Joshua Cribbs and the other to Minnesota return man Percy Harvin. Eddie Royal has already taken both a kick and a punt for a touchdown this year, both in the same game in fact.

Denver is coming off of a throttling at the hands of another AFC North opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. The final score? 30-7. They’re hungry, but are they hungry enough to knock off the champs? Only time will tell.

The wild card for the Steelers is whether or not Ryan Clark is permitted to play, both he and Head Coach Mike Tomlin are waiting until later in the week to announce that. He’s been cleared by all his doctors, but it’s still a game time decision.

TJ’s Prediction: I’m thinking that the Steelers take this one in a fairly close game. The Denver defense is playing lights out, led by outside linebacker Dumervil. As long as Roethlisberger can pass against the Broncos talented secondary, it’s the Steelers game to lose. The score? Pittsburgh 27 Denver 20

As always, my work can also be found on the Sports Jabber Forums & the Pittsburgh Pigskin Blog .