The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their second regular season game of 2020 Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field against the Denver Broncos as they look to notch their second consecutive. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a home win against the Broncos.
Be Specialer – As a whole, the Steelers special teams units were not great in the Week 1 win over the New York Giants. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson fumbled one punt away and made an adveartture out of the next one. The coverage units also were not great against the Giants and if not for long snapper Kameron Canaday, a punt return for a touchdown might have occurred. Kicker Chris Boswell missed an extra point in that game as well. Those little details on special teams can potentially flip games, or at the very least, keep some opponents in contests they shouldn’t be. The Broncos hang around in their week one game and almost won it thanks to the Tennessee Titans kicker missing four field goals during the contest. On Sunday, the Steelers will be at home and with one game now behind them, we should expect and get a much better performance against the Broncos from special teams coordinator Danny Smith and his groups.
No Long Shot Horses – At its core, the Broncos offense has West Coast roots. it includes mostly short to intermediate throws of the higher percentage variety. Even so, the Broncos offense will call for quarterback Drew Lock to go deep a few times on Sunday. The Steelers defense can likely overcome the high percentage completion rate Lock might have on Sunday as long as the unit doesn’t give up big plays down the field. Last week against the Titans, Lock only managed to complete one deep pass of more than 15 yards down the field on seven total attempts. That lone completion came on the next to last play of the game and it was a gimme at that. Against the Steelers on Sunday, the Broncos might get wide receiver Courtland Sutton back and might dress rookie wide receiver K.J. Hamler as well. Both of those wide receivers, along with rookie Jerry Jeudy can stretch the field deep and deliver explosive plays like the one the Steelers gave up on Monday night against the Giants. Those field-flipping plays can’t happen and if a few do, they can’t be allowed to result in touchdowns.
Get Right On The Right – Due to injuries, the Steelers will have an interesting right side of their offensive line on Sunday against the Broncos as rookie Kevin Dotson will start at right guard and Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle. It will mark Dotson’s first NFL start and Okorafor’s third. Those two being inexperienced could lead to trouble in pass protection for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if they’re not on their screws. The Steelers might give Okorafor some help every now again, but that obviously won’t happen on every pass play. The Broncos have a talented defensive line group and an exciting young edge rusher in Bradley Chubb, who is bound to see some snaps against Okorafor. Dotson, on the other hand, will be busy with defensive tackle Jurrell Casey quite a bit on Sunday. You can bet we’ll have the magnifying glass on Dotson and Okorafor all Sunday afternoon, and both need to have acceptable showings and do their parts to keep Roethlisberger upright and heathy.
Cornering The Kids – The Broncos have somewhat of a mess in their secondary entering Week 2 as rookie cornerbacks Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey will be forced to play extensively against the Steelers with Bryce Callahan, the remaining veteran that’s healthy. This group of three cornerbacks should be tested early and often by Roethlisberger on Sunday at Heinz Field. Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will likely move around quite a bit on Sunday and should he draw Ojemudia or Bassey in man-coverage, he should have a big advantage. The Steelers effectively used pick and rub routes in their Week 1 game against the Giants and we could see more of that against the Broncos. While the Steelers wide receiver group is very young, it’s a fine unit top to bottom and clearly better than the group of cornerbacks they’ll be facing on Sunday. One of Smith-Schuster, Johnson, or James Washington should wind up having a huge game against the Broncos.
Careful Milking The Two Headed Bell-Cow – It sounds like running back James Conner will get the start again on Sunday against the Broncos despite him leaving the team’s Week 1 Monday night game against the Giants with an ankle injury after just 15 snaps played. If Conner starts, that means Benny Snell Jr. won’t. Should Conner struggle on the ground early against the Broncos, head coach Mike Tomlin needs to let Snell have a crack at being the bell-cow back for a while. The Steelers need one feature back and one change of pace back and one other back to provide a series or two worth of relief. Shuttling Conner and Snell in and out of games won’t allow either to get in a groove. If Conner can be that feature runner for the Steelers, he needs to show it early in Sunday’s game against the Broncos. If he can’t, he needs to become the backup and speller to Snell.