This week's Monday Night Football Game is a match up between two of the AFC's best, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos. The Steelers (5-2) go on the road to face the Broncos (6-1) at Invesco Field. This is an important game for both teams, just like every week in the NFL.
The Steelers want to remain red-hot as they come off their bye-week. After consecutive three-point losses to the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers ran off four straight wins, including a solid win over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Steelers are tied with the Bengals for the lead in the AFC North and are one game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens. A win this week will go a long way for the Steelers in their division as the Bengals and Ravens face off.
On the other hand, the Broncos are reeling from their first loss of the season last week to the Baltimore Ravens. This was the first loss for Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, and it should be interesting to see how he and the new-look Broncos bounce back against the physical Steelers.
The Broncos, with a 6-1 record, are in the driver's seat in the AFC West, but they want to put as much distance between themselves and the San Diego Chargers as they can, as they are fresh-off their collapse last year in the final weeks of the season. The Chargers (4-3), face a tough test this week in the New York Giants and are hoping for a Broncos loss and their own win.
This has the makings of another great Monday Night Football game and it could easily go either way. Now, a look at who has the advantage in this one.
Pittsburgh's quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, in third in the NFL in passing yards, second in completion percentage, first in yards per attempt, and second in yards per game. He is a dynamic passer and is one of the best at creating plays. Roethlisberger has been sacked 20 times already this season and is going to have to be elusive while facing the Broncos' defense who are second in sacks.
Pittsburgh has some of the NFL's best receivers in Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and Heath Miller is one of the best receiving tight ends. Roethlisberger has many weapons to choose from as he hopes to pick apart the Broncos' defense.
The Steelers running game as not been the dominant unit that it's known for being. They are in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing with only 107 yards-per-game as a team. Though under-performing, they are still a talented unit. Rashard Mendenhall is an explosive back as he showed in Week Four, when he exploded on the Chargers for 165 yards and two TDs.
The Broncos offense has done just enough to win this year. They are right in the middle, at No. 15 in the NFL in total offense; but when they have needed to move ball they have shown they can. The offense is an efficient unit and have the fifth-best turnover differential at plus-6.
Kyle Orton has won the respect of many Broncos fans. He has been an effective game manager and has only thrown one pick, something that is unusual for recent Broncos' QBs. Above all, Kyle Orton is a winner. He might not be the most skilled QB, even in the Broncos organization, but he has proved that he can win wherever he is.
The Broncos have one of the deepest receiving corps in the NFL. Brandon Marshall is a Pro Bowler and a play-maker with the ball in his hands. Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney are both solid receivers that run good routes and have great hands. Brandon Stokley is a smart receiver and is reliable on third downs.
The running game for the Broncos has been solid in the 2009 season. Knowshon Moreno has had a respectable rookie season to this point. The only complaint is too many fumbles, some of which have been crucial. Correll Buckhalter was a hidden free-agent gem for the Broncos and has averaged 6.0 yards per carry.
The offense line is one of the best units in the NFL. They are great at protecting the quarterback and opening up running holes. Their hands will be full with the active Steelers defense, but are coming off facing a similar defense in the Ravens.
The Steelers have the edge in this category because of their ability to consistently move the ball and play-making ability of Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers defense is once again the crushing unit which has made it one of the league's elite in recent years. Their defense is full of playmakers and hard-hitters. They lead the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed giving up only 76.6 yards per game.
The Broncos run many short passing routes, their goal being to give their talented receivers space to make people miss. But the Steelers are one of the league's best tackling units and it will be hard for Broncos players to break away.
Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons will be out for this Monday-night game. Steelers fans should not worry much because Keyaron Fox is a qualified replacement and only has five less tackles on the season than Timmons.
The Broncos lead the NFL in total defense giving up only 266.7 yards per game and have held opponents to 13.7 points per game.
Mike Nolan has revamped this unit into one of the the league's best. During the offseason, the Broncos switched to a 3-4 defense and addressed their needs via free agency instead of the draft. This has made them an experienced unit instead of a young, inexperienced one.
Elvis Dumervil has been an unstoppable pass-rushing force. He is second in the NFL in sacks with 10. This is especially impressive as he switched from a defensive end to a outside linebacker during the offseason. Ben Roethlisberger is often a culprit of holding on to the ball for too long and this could be a monster game for Dumervil.
The Broncos have a slight statistical edge over the Steelers on the season.
Pittsburgh's Special Teams
The Steelers are seventh in the NFL in average kickoff return yards and might break their first return TD of the season against Denver's shaky unit. In the coverage game, the plan is tackling Eddie Royal and not letting him affect this aspect of the game.
Jeff Reed is an experienced kicker for the Steelers and should benefit from the high altitude. He is 9-12 on field goals on the season and 20-20 on extra points.
Denver's Special teams
The Broncos have been awful on special teams coverage this year. In both of their last two games they have allowed returns for touchdowns. They make up for this with their own explosive returner, Eddie Royal, who ran back both a punt and kickoff for a TD against the Chargers.
The Broncos special teams unit has also hurt them in penalties as running into the kicker and offsides have extended drives for opponents this season.
Broncos kicker Matt Prater has a strong leg but has had problems with accuracy on middle length kicks. He could be a game changer with his ability to kick field goals of 50-plus yards. He is 75 percent on field goals on the season and 100 percent on extra points.
Coming off a bye week, the Steelers have had plenty of time to prepare for the Broncos. The Steelers are the defending Super Bowl champions and they have started to play that way. Mike Tomlin is an emotional coach and will have his players fired up for this one. With such an experienced roster, playing on the road should not be much of problem for the Steelers.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark had a scare two years ago in Denver. Clark suffers from sickle cell anemia. This condition, affected by the high altitude, led to the end of Clark's season. He had to have his gall bladder and spleen removed and he lost 30 pounds. A decision is still to be made whether or not he will play.
The only other injury for the Steelers is LB Lawrence Timmons who on Saturday said he will not play against the Broncos.
The Broncos have home field advantage at Invesco Field and Broncos fans are sure to be fired up for a Monday Night game. The Broncos are going to have to bounce back strong from their first loss of the season if they hope to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Josh McDaniels can flat-out coach. Denver was projected to have a rebuilding year and a .500 mark would have surprised some experts. The Broncos have been everything but mediocre. They jumped out of the gate under McDaniels and have shown they know how to win.
The Broncos have no injured players for Monday's game.
Denver is playing at home and has no injuries.
This one will be a bruising game with both offenses having trouble moving the ball. The Broncos will come out on top on the last drive with a game winning field goal.
Broncos 13, Steelers 10.