The Pittsburgh Steelers Need to Cut to the Chase
We are now at the halfway point of the season.
Since opening the season 1-2, the Steelers have gone undefeated to give themselves a legitimate shot at the third straight AFC North title.
The Steelers are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals with a 5-2 record, but the Bengals currently own the tiebreaker by virtue of a home win over the Steelers in Week Three.
We are currently in the month of November which is the time of year that can make or break a football team gunning for the playoffs. This also means that its time to see just how good the Super Bowl Champions really are.
Although offensively the Steelers have prevailed in big plays, the defense is still struggling at putting teams away, especially in the fourth quarter.
Next Up: Broncos Take on the Steelers
Coming off a bye, the (5-2) Steelers will face the (6-1) Denver Broncos.
The Broncos suffered their first defeat of the season at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens 30-7.
Baltimore (4-3) limited Denver to 200 yards, scored off the game's lone turnover, won the special teams fight and outscored the Broncos 24-7 in the second half.
Denver's offense posted a season-low 200 yards last week, going scoreless in the first half for the first time this season.
Baltimore held wide receivers Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall to under 35 yards receiving and QB Kyle Orton from throwing a touchdown.
In addition, the Ravens became the first team this season to rush for more than 100 yards against the No. 1 Denver defense.
The Denver Broncos will host the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night.
Will History Repeat Itself?
October 21, 2007 was the last meeting of these two teams with the Broncos defeating the Steelers (31-28) by the foot of K Jason Elam.
Although QB Jay Cutler is no longer at the helm, wide receivers Brandon Stokely and Brandon Marshall are still on the roster and combined 147 yards receiving and one touchdown that October.
Now, the offense is run by former Chicago Bears QB Kyle Orton.
In the first half of the season, Orton has been playing efficient ball, averaging 231 yards passing, at least one touchdown per game, with only one interception.
With an aggressive defense, the Steelers typically force its opponent to rely on underneath routes, and Orton is very efficient from zero to ten yards.
That being said, the Broncos like throwing in a lot of screens, to mask Orton’s inability to stretch the field.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall's numbers are down though he is on pace for 75 catches and 814 yards.
Steelers' Defensive Woes
The Steeler defense has not performed as well as overall as it did in 2008 when it dominated the NFL (No.1) in nearly every category except rush defense (No.2).
But the defense will still attempt to stop the run first without defensive end Aaron Smith (torn right rotator cuff).
To make matters worse, defensive end Travis Kirschke, who replaced Smith, suffered a torn left calf muscle in the victory over Minnesota.
Nick Eason, Brett Keisel's backup at right defensive end will move to the left side, while rookies Evander "Ziggy" Hood and RaShon "Sunny" Harris are expected to get plenty of playing time.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons (ankle) is listed as questionable which could put a strain in the middle of the defense against the Broncos dink-and-dunk passing attack.
Injuries Galore: Will they hinder?
Linebacker Keyaron Fox will make his third start at inside linebacker if Timmons does not play. As a special-teams' co-captain, Fox remains the leader on the field with 12 tackles.
Free Safety Ryan Clark will not play because of complications due to his sickle cell disease. But, Tyrone Carter, with possible help from Ryan Mundy, will replace him.
How will the Steelers fare against the Broncos come Monday?
The Steelers, who haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last 25 regular-season games, led the league in run defense at 76.6 yards per game and held the Vikings' Adrian Peterson’s running game to 89 yards.
Monday night they will face rookie running back Knowshon Moreno, veteran Correll Buckhalter and the Broncos' 11th-ranked rushing offense.
After the 30-7 loss to the Ravens, the Broncos' defense is looking to rebound from its worst effort of the season.
Surrendering a season-high 125 yards rushing, the Bronco defense still ranks third in the NFL in rushing defense at 86.1 yards per game.
Their third-down defense is on top as they do a nice job of getting themselves off the field.
According to media reports, it seems some Broncos believe the Steelers will concentrate their efforts on pounding the rock.
Denver will plan to slow the Steelers running game, led by Rashard Mendenhall who has a team-high 418 yards and four scores.
Mendenhall has done well in his four starts and averages 5.4 yards per carry.
The Steelers will want to run the ball in Denver to keep the Broncos' pass rush at bay.
RB Willie Parker who missed practice this week due to a fever, is expected to play.
Parker rushed for 93 yards on 21 carries in the last meeting and is expected to play without the specially designed shoe that protected his injured toe.
He believes he can play better without it.
Considering what the Ravens did to hand Denver their first defeat, Roethlisberger will be eager to go to the no-huddle offense.
Roethlisberger, third in the NFL with 2,062 passing yards, threw his 11th touchdown of the season.
He needs one more passer rating of 100 to give him more than Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
Each recorded 31 games of at least 100.
RB Rashard Mendenhall has shown that he can not only run, but has the ability to catch passes.
Thus far he has caught eight.
RB Mewelde Moore has continue to show his quality as the fourth quarterback taking some of the slack from Mendenhall and reducing any chance of mistakes that could cost the game.
Wide receiver Santonio Holmes is only third among Steelers pass-catchers with 30 but he's third in the NFL with 208 third-down receiving yards. His 497 yards are still on pace to produce his first 1,000-yard season.
This season, wide receiver Hines Ward leads the Steelers with 42 receptions for 602 yards. He has three 100-yard receiving games. He's fifth in the league in receiving yards, and his 14.3 yards per catch average is the highest since his rookie season, when he had 15 receptions for a 16.4-yard average.
He is tied with three players for the most receptions of 20 yards or more with 10. He's tied with Dallas' Miles Austin as the only players with at least 10 catches of 20 yards or more and three catches of 40 yards or more.
Ward's career total of 842 receptions ranked sixth among active players. He's eighth in receiving yards (10,382) and fifth in touchdown receptions (74) and he leads the Steelers in all three categories.
But, Ward has never had a 100-yard receiving game in Denver. His best came in 2003 when he caught eight passes for 81 yards.
The Steelers and Broncos have accomplished return men in Stefan Logan and Eddie Royal.
However, the Steelers must improve on special teams, especially in tackling.
Against Minnesota, Jeff Reed did not follow through on a tackle to stop return-man Percy Harvin from taking it to the house and closing in on the comfortable lead.
The Broncos have never allowed scoring returns in three consecutive games.
Denver yielded a Darren Sproles punt return TD and a Lardarius Webb kick-off run-back the last two games, just the third time in franchise history it's been done back-to-back.
This will be the 21st regular season meeting between these two teams.
Denver leads series 13-6-1. The Broncos are 7-2-1 at home vs. Pittsburgh.
The teams are 3-3 in the playoffs.
The Steelers have not won in Denver in the regular season since 1990, including a 31-28 loss in 2007.
However, Pittsburgh did win the AFC Championship Game in Denver after the 2005 season.
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