The Broncos are not off to a great start in the 2020 season. In their season opener on “Monday Night Football,” Denver lost a lead late (again) and fell to Tennessee by a score of 16-14. That’s a close final score, but the reality is it shouldn’t have been that close, as the Titans lost 10 points with three missed field goals and one missed extra point by kicker Stephen Gotskowski.
The Broncos simply aren’t good enough to let potential victories like that slip through their fingers. This week, the Broncos travel for the first time as they head east to face the Steelers on Sunday. Pittsburgh made easy work of the Giants in Week 1, and their defense looked ferocious when shutting down star running back Saquon Barkley and getting two interceptions on second-year quarterback Daniel Jones.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio knows how tough the Steelers defense can be.
“They’re very sound, number one. They’re playing very sound, fundamental football with a highly talented group. They’re solid across the board at all three levels with high draft picks and good players. You’re seeing the benefits of that from their perspective. They were one of the best defense in the league last year, had a good start last week. They’ll just probably keep playing that way,” Fangio said.
It’s not just the suffocating Pittsburgh defense that Denver will have to contend with. The Steelers are going to present huge problems for the Broncos on both sides of the ball. Here are three things the Broncos must do to beat the Steelers.
Handle the Pressure
The Steelers can bring pressure from all over the formation, and their pass rush is going to be a huge test for the Broncos offensive line. Second-year quarterback Drew Lock is going to be under pressure early and often. He’ll see pressure from the Steelers on multiple fronts, and he’ll have to handle that correctly if the Broncos want their best chance to win.
The interior of the offensive line was challenged last week by defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney. The Titans moved him around the formation, and he was able to harass Lock on multiple occasions. The Broncos interior of the offensive line is going to seriously be tested by multiple players, including two inside linebackers who can blitz in Vince Williams and Devin Bush.
Starting right guard Graham Glasgow knows the challenge and knows that if Lock gets rid of the ball quickly that will help them protect him better.
“It helps us a lot. I think that Drew does a really good job of trying to get the ball out on time. He does a good job of evading the pressure. I think that that’s just as an offensive lineman that’s something you love to see. I’ve loved playing with him so far. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this season and what’s to come after that,” Glasgow said.
Lock must get rid of the ball quickly because he’s unlikely to have much time to throw on Sunday. This means that Shurmur needs to put together the right game plan so his young quarterback the same way that Jones did for the Giants in the season opener.
Ground Big Ben
The Steelers looked like their old self on offense in Week 1 with the return of future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. In 2019, Roethlisberger missed most of the year with an elbow injury that knocked him out for all but two games. They rotated through a few other quarterbacks, but their offense never gained much traction.
In Week 1 against the Giants, Roethlisberger started out a little slow, but he finished strong. After taking a few hits, Roethlisberger started to light the Giants defense up – mainly by targeting wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. When was in a rhythm, Roethlisberger looked like his old self.
Fangio believes the veteran quarterback can still play at a high level.
“I don’t think his game has changed much at all. He’s still a great quarterback as we all know. He’s a big man in the pocket. He can make all the throws starting with the quick game to all the deep throws. He’s courageous in the pocket. He’ll hang in there. He’ll move around, buy time. He commands their offense. They have in their past gone no huddle where he can call it at the line of scrimmage. In some shape or form, the offense hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last 10 years. He’s the beneficiary of that in that he’s very confident and operates it very well,” Fangio said.
If the team fails to get to Roethlisberger, then it’s going to be a long day for the secondary. The Broncos are going to be without No. 1 cornerback A.J. Bouye as he deals with a shoulder injury that could keep him out a couple of weeks if not longer. Not only will this young secondary be tested by Roethlisberger, but they’ll have their hands full with a talented group of receivers including Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson and rookie Chase Claypool.
Finally Stop a Tight End
The Broncos have not been able to consistently cover tight ends for years now. This is not a new problem, and it’s still a big one for the Broncos defense.
Against the Titans in Week 1, the Broncos surrendered two touchdowns to tight ends – one to Mycole Pruitt and one to Jonnu Smith. The touchdown to Smith happened on a fourth-and-goal play where the Broncos defense looked completely lost.
Starting safety Justin Simmons explained what happened on that play.
“They had I-backs, a tight end wing, and they pretty much just split it. Compared to our reads, they gave us a really awkward look and it kind of messed up a couple of our reads. That’s why Smith was open on the seven route, it was a look that we hadn’t seen, so it was just a great play by them. I think with cleaner eyes and better technique, it’s something that we could have been able to cover a little better. It was just a great play by them, definitely a play that they drew up knowing we would be confused,” Simmons said.
The Steelers have a talented tight end in Eric Ebron. He’s a big, fast and physical target who can dominate a game. Ebron has the speed to be a matchup problem down the seam, and he’s got the size to be problematic near pay dirt.
The Denver defense might get lucky if Ebron stops himself. He’s always been a talented tight end, but as you saw in Week 1 against the Giants, Ebron will lose focus from time to time. If Ebron is dialed in, then the Broncos could be in trouble.
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