The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fifth regular season game of 2021 at home on Sunday afternoon against the Denver Broncos and they’ll enter that contest likely marked as a very small underdog. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game on Sunday to come away with their second win of 2021 season.
Keep Options Open – I said not long ago on The Terrible Podcast that I believe the Steelers offense should be running a higher rate of RPOs (run-pass options) with their offense struggling so mightily. I still firmly believe that and just a few days ago we saw Pro Football Focus suggest the same thing. “To no one’s surprise, the Steelers’ first-down offense makes a seismic leap in its efficiency and performance when an RPO is involved, PFF wrote a few days ago. “Not only does it fit the throws that Roethlisberger is best equipped to make, but it gets the ball in space and into loose coverage.” The Steelers offense must stay out of as many predictable down and distances against the Broncos on Sunday. If the unit doesn’t, Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller might have three or more sacks of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in that contest.
Tackle The Catches – It sure sounds like the Broncos will have quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on Sunday on the heels of him dealing with a concussion. Bridgewater has done a great job of getting the football out quickly so far this season on his way to registering a 72.1% completion rate and more importantly, no interceptions. In short, Bridgewater, assuming he plays on Sunday, is likely to convert quite a few of his pass attempts with likely most of them being short in nature. The Broncos are beat up at the wide receiver position on top of everything else. The Steelers defense must tackle the catch quickly on Sunday against the Broncos because that’s likely the best chance their offense has when it comes to producing explosive plays. Expect rookie running back Javonte Williams to used quite frequently in the passing game as well. If the Steelers defense can tackle the catch quickly on Sunday it would result in the Broncos offense needing to dink and dunk down the field without mistakes. That’s hard to do on a consistent basis. Yards after the catch will need to be studied thoroughly after Sunday’s game should the Steelers wind up losing to the Broncos.
Tighten Up – To date, the Steelers tight ends, Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry have combined to catch 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. Only seven other teams have less combined catches from their tight ends. The tape shows that the Broncos defense could be susceptible to some tight end over routes on Sunday. So far this season, the Broncos defense has allowed opposing tight ends to catch just 12 passes for 122 yards. However, five of those catches for 57 yards came last Sunday from Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews. The Steelers drafted Freiermuth in the second round for a reason and they need to start using him more in the passing game and especially against the Broncos middle linebackers and safeties. The Steelers are also paying Ebron $6 million this year to block poorly, drop passes and trip over his own feet and the feet of others. If they aren’t going to use him, they should trade him for a seventh-round pick.
Noah Who’s Getting Targeted In The Red Zone – The Broncos have five passing touchdowns on the season and two of them went to tight end Noah Fant. That’s the same Fant who caught four passes for 57 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers in the Week 2 game at Heinz Field. The Broncos do a great job of getting Fant open in the red zone and used a pick concept to get an easy touchdown to the tight end last Sunday against the ravens. Fant enters Sunday with 8 receiving touchdowns and six of them have come within the red zone (20 yard-line and in). By the way, one of the other five touchdown passes the Broncos have so far this season went to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who was placed on the team’s Reserve/Injured list on Saturday.
Take Away Game With Takeaways – The Steelers defense has managed to register just three takeaways this season and that’s not great at all. Two of those were fumble recoveries with the other being an interception, This Steelers offense is going to need all the help it can get moving forward and the defense needs to provide that help via turnovers. The Broncos enter Sunday with just three giveaways the season with one of those being an interception. Their offense has done a good job of protecting the football overall through four games. If the Steelers defense can’t register at least one takeaway on Sunday against the Broncos its hard to imagine them winning the game based on how their offense is likely to continue to have problems scoring points.