Game 8 Matchup: Steelers vs. Broncos

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Game plan

When the Steelers have the ball: The Broncos have been stingy on defense, allowing a league-low 96 points despite giving up 30 a week ago to the Ravens. They have switched to a 3-4 defense that features OLB Elvis Dumervil and puts more pressure on the quarterback. It has allowed them to get better coverage in the secondary, which is headed by Pro Bowl CB Champ Bailey and S Brian Dawkins. The Broncos allowed just two passes of 20 yards or longer against the Ravens, something they will have to prevent against Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens had 125 yards rushing on 35 carries against the Broncos, the first team to rush for more than 100 yards against them. RB Rashard Mendenhall has averaged 93.2 yards in his past four games as a starter.


Today

Game: Steelers (5-2) vs. Denver Broncos (6-1).

When: 8:30 p.m.

Where: Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium.

Television: WTAE and ESPN.

Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970).


When the Broncos have the ball: QB Kyle Orton has been surprisingly efficient, throwing nine touchdowns and a league-low one interception. He will be facing a defense without three starters: DE Travis Kirschke, LB Lawrence Timmons and S Ryan Clark. Orton has been effective distributing the ball to different receivers -- seven players have 11 or more catches -- and does a good job setting up screens to RBs Corel Buckhalter and rookie Knowshon Moreno. WR Brandon Marshall leads the team with 33 catches and four TDs and the Steelers will try to prevent big plays to him by assigning CB Ike Taylor to follow him. The Broncos average 123.1 yards rushing, with Moreno (420) getting the bulk of the carries (109). But Buckhalter averages 6 yards per rush. The Broncos are expected to be without RT Ryan Harris, which could be a problem against the Steelers, who have 13 sacks in their past three games -- five by OLB James Harrison.

Keep an eye on

WR/KR Eddie Royal: He had a 93-yard kick return for touchdown and a 71-yard TD punt return vs. San Diego Oct. 19, and that could present a problem for the Steelers' coverage units. They have allowed a kickoff return for touchdown in each of their past two games -- a 98-yarder by Joshua Cribbs and an 88-yarder by Minnesota's Percy Harvin. The only other team to allow two kickoff returns for touchdown this season is the New York Jets.

Intangibles

The Broncos had their six-game winning streak ended last week by the Ravens, but they are 3-0 at home. They are 20-9-1 at home on Monday Night Football. The Steelers have won four in a row, the second-longest win streak in the league, but they are 1-2 on the road and are 2-6 in their past eight meetings against the Broncos (including playoffs). Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have not lost on Monday night (4-0) and have won 11 in a row in prime time.

To win, the Broncos must ...

1 Not be yonkos. They looked intimidated vs. the Ravens and did not match Baltimore's intensity, something they must do vs. the Steelers.

2. Buck the big play. They lead the AFC with 23 sacks and have to make sure Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have enough time to throw.

3 Not let Knowshon be a no-show. The Steelers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 29 games (counting playoffs).

To win, the Steelers must ...

1. Pile on Orton. He has been efficient for the Broncos, using screens and quick throws to slow the pressure and throwing just one interception.

2. Not get branded by Marshall. He can create matchup problems in the secondary, especially with S Ryan Clark not playing.

3. Not let Elvis be a hound dog. Dumervil, the AFC sack leader, uses his smallish size (5-11, 248) to get underneath tackles and gain leverage.


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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