The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to claim their seventh straight victory, which would mark the third season in a row in which they have been able to reach such a streak, and in order to do so they will have to go through the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium.
The biggest obstacle in achieving that goal would figure to be slowing down Denver’s pass rush, and in particular their book-end edge defenders in veteran Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb, who leads everyone in his class with nine sacks, one behind his All-Pro teammate.
While Alejandro Villanueva has been one of the better left tackles in football, though, there is a question mark this week at right tackle. Marcus Gilbert remains out, but it’s not clear if Matt Feiler will be filling in this time for the sixth game of the season. If he can’t go, rookie Chukwuma Okorafor will start.
Either way, the team’s plan to stop Miller doesn’t change, and that is to block him with multiple people. So that could open things up for Chubb, and admittedly has so far for him, in partially explaining his accumulating nine sacks up to this point.
But it’s not just Miller and Chubb, because the Broncos have depth too with Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett. Even if their starters get a breather, the Steelers’ tackles won’t. So this will be an endurance test against a front that can use reinforcements and has the homefield advantage in playing at altitude.
One interesting thing to note is that the Broncos are thin at cornerback after releasing Adam Jones earlier in the week. Chris Harris is there as always, but Bradley Roby is coming back from a concussion. Tramaine Brock is the only other cornerback on the roster with meaningful experience.
This will be a big game for James Conner in looking to rebound from a frustrating game a week ago. He didn’t get many opportunities on the ground, but he dropped two huge passes in the fourth quarter, one of which resulted in a turnover on downs, and the other would have been a touchdown.
Fortunately, the Broncos run defense has been among the worst in the league, and they will also be without inside linebacker Brandon Marshall. This figures to have the potential for a nice rebound game for the second-year runner.
One of the things in particular that I would like to be on the lookout for is how the Steelers approach the snap distribution at wide receiver behind Antonio Brown. Ryan Switzer was given a lot of work late in the game, but was that only due to a matchup preference, or will that continue?
Speaking of run defense, the Steelers’ own will have to pick up where they left off in the second half of last week’s game and not the first half. The Broncos have one of the top-ranked and most efficient running games in the league behind rookie Philip Lindsay, who has started the past three games.