The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their eleventh game of the 2018 regular season Sunday afternoon against the Denver Broncos in what figures to be another interesting contest between the two teams. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their fifth road win of the 2018 season Sunday at Mile High Stadium in Denver.
Sunday can’t be Miller time – It’s yet to be seen if it will be Matt Feiler or rookie Chukwuma Okorafor starting at right tackle Sunday against the Broncos. Whomever gets the start will certainly have their hands full most of the day with Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, one of the league’s top pass rushers. Miller enters Sunday’s game against the Steelers with 10 sacks on the season and many more quarterback pressures. The Steelers would be wise to stay out of as many must-pass situations as possible on Sunday and make sure to occasionally provide either Feiler or Okorafor some support on the right side in the form of a tight end or chipping running back. While Miller probably won’t play every snap on the left side of the Broncos defense on Sunday, that’s the side he predominantly lines up on. He can strip sack with the best of them so quarterback Ben Roethlisberger must take good care of the football whenever Miller gets close to him in the pocket. Miller can take over a game in a heartbeat if allowed to.
Left side runs shouldn’t be left out – Not only has the Broncos defense allowed an average rushing carry of 4.7 yards so far this season, they’re giving up nearly 128 yards per game on the ground. Additionally, the Broncos The defense has allowed a league-worst 6.92 yards per carry on runs to left of middle entering Week 12 against the Steelers with 7 of those 85 runs being explosive ones (20+ yards). Running a few power plays to the left side with pulling right guard David DeCastro leading the way might just result in an explosive play or two for Steelers running back James Conner, who only carried the football 9 times in Week 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Conner didn’t play the entire Week 10 game, either, so his legs should feel pretty fresh heading into Sunday.
Exploit weakened interior passages – For a second Sunday in a row the Steelers defensive front will face a makeshift offensive line as injuries have now decimated the Broncos starting five. Right guard Connor McGovern is now playing center and he’s now flanked by guards Elijah Wilkinson and Billy Turner. Steelers defensive linemen Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave, who had a great game last Sunday against the Jaguars, should get plenty of opportunities to get after Broncos quarterback Case Keenum on Sunday in Denver and especially on must-pass downs. A few nicely timed stunts should be able to get home during this contest. Additionally, while the Broncos offense has had some success with runs right up the middle so far this season, that shouldn’t be the case this Sunday.
Don’t let the horses run free deep – Broncos wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton, both of whom are SMU products, have 21 combined explosive receptions of 20 yards or longer so far this season. To put that into some sort of perspective, Steelers wide receivers Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster have 23 combined. 14 of those 21 explosive receptions that Sanders and Sutton have registered this season have come on deep passes that have flown more than 15 yards in the air past the original line of scrimmage. Keenum, by the way, is 15 of 27 (55.6%) on the season on his deep pass attempts to those two players. The Steelers defense is currently one of the best in the league this year when it comes to defensing against deep pass attempts and if they can continue to keep a lid on their coverages on Sunday against the Broncos it should result in another road win.
Play keep away – After a bad first three quarters last Sunday against the Jaguars, Roethlisberger finally got on track and led the Steelers offense to two final touchdown drives to win the game. Not only did he throw three interceptions against the Jaguars, he had another one called back on a penalty. Roethlisberger has to limit the interceptions on Sunday in Denver because the Bronco offense is potent enough to take full advantage of any short fields that they may get as a result of turnovers. If the Broncos win Sundays turnover battle, they’ll likely win the game as well.