When you think of X-factors for a football game, you usually think of players on the field that could have a significant impact in the game one way or another.
Not this week.
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field in Mile High Stadium, I have Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley and defensive coordinator Keith Butler circled on my X-factor sheet.
With Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams set to miss Sunday’s game and Ben Roethlisberger significantly banged up with a shoulder injury, the pressure falls heavily on Haley to put the offense in the best situations possible from a play-calling perspective.
Haley has done a relatively good-to-great job with play-calling this season as three quarterbacks have had to take high-level snaps this season for the Steelers.
Now, on the biggest stage in football outside of the championship games, Haley has to be at his best and not overthink things with a hobbled Roethlisberger, and without the services of the top receiver in football and the 10th leading rusher in the league.
As Alex Kozora wrote the other day, package plays from Haley will have to play a significant role in this game against Denver.
Expect a lot of dinking and dunking from Haley and Roethlisberger, allowing guys like Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey to make plays after the catch, while also utilizing Heath Miller in the middle of the field to help keep the chains moving.
I’m sure Haley will be tempted to dial up a few deep bombs in this game — that’s in his nature — but he can’t get ahead of himself. The use of the deep ball all depends on how Roethlisberger is feeling in the game.
However, reports from Friday state that the veteran quarterback threw a full route tree in practice. If true, that’s great news for Pittsburgh.
With that said, one hit from the fearsome front seven of Denver could change all of that. It would serve Haley and the Steelers well to get the ball out of Roethlisberger’s hands quickly in the passing game.
Speaking of getting the ball out quickly, Peyton Manning better hope he can do the same thing as Roethlisberger, because it’s no secret that Butler is going to dial up plenty of blitz packages in this one.
Sure, Manning is arguably the best QB ever at diagnosing blitzes at the line, allowing him to shift protection around to better protect him. It’s going to be a chess match between Manning and Butler, but with the way Butler has dialed up blitzes and created significant pressure of the last few weeks, things look very promising for the Steelers defense.
If Butler dials back on the amount of blitzing he does against Denver, Pittsburgh could be in trouble. It’s hard for coordinators to matchup with players on the field, but football is a game of chess, for me at least.
Who pulls the right strings, dials up the right plays and makes the better moves will give their team a much better chance of winning, Sunday, in Denver.