Steelers/Broncos X Factor: Dupree Vs Schofield

With another big matchup slated for this week in Pittsburgh between the 8-5 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 10-3 Denver Broncos, the Steelers will have to win some key individual matchups Sunday. Winning these are their best shot at beating a Broncos team that relies heavily on the league’s best defense.

Defensively, the Broncos hold opponents to just over 272 yards-per-game, while the Steelers offense racks up more than 404 yards-per-game. This is a game in which an unstoppable force (Steelers offense) meets an immovable object (Broncos defense.)

In the Steelers’ offense, Heath Miller has played a prominent role over the last few weeks in both the pass and run game despite missing the Indianapolis game with a rib injury. After returning from the injury, Miller preceded to haul in 10 passes for 66 yards in Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Miller was a consistent force for the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who looked No. 83’s way early and often against the Bengals. Without a ferocious pass rushing unit of Denver making the trek into Heinz Field, Miller could become the safety outlet once again for Roethlisberger, who is likely to be under duress quite often, Sunday, thanks to the Broncos defense that gets to the quarterback better than any defense in the league.

For Pittsburgh to be as effective as possible, Sunday, Miller once again has to provide Roethlisberger with a big target over the middle and in the flats should he find himself under pressure.

While Miller stands out as the X-factor of the offense, rookie outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who was recently promoted to starter this past week, could have a coming-out party against Broncos right tackle Michael Schofield, who was absolutely demolished by Oakland Raiders’ end Khalil Mack in the Raiders’ 15-12 win in Week 13.

Although Dupree is nowhere near the player Mack is off the edge for the Raiders, the rookie out of Kentucky has similar size, length and athleticism off the edge. Dupree can take advantage of Schofield is by using his quickness, length and strength when bending the edge.

Schofield, a second-year tackle out of Michigan, is more adept at moving forward in the running game compared to kicking off the line and dropping back to protect.

Mack was really able to take advantage of Schofield by converting his speed to power, something that Dupree hasn’t quite mastered yet through 13 games of his NFL career.

However, Dupree does lead all rookies in sacks with 4.0, along with New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha and Minnesota Vikings inside linebacker Eric Kendricks.

Though Dupree is a work it progress, he has enough raw ability to get by in Sunday’s game as a pass rushing threat against a below-average NFL tackle who struggles mightily against athletic pass rushers.

If Miller and Dupree can come up big against the Broncos on national television, the Steelers will have a great shot at coming out on top against one of the top teams in all of the AFC.

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