Video courtesy of Benstonium
Welcome to the this year’s first installment of Know Thy Enemy. You may notice another Know Thy Enemy running on another Pittsburgh Steelers site, a site I started and a feature I began writing five years ago. Obviously those uncreative hacks can’t think up their own material so they’ve decided to coast along with my leftovers. Accept no cheap substitutes!
For the newbies, Know Thy Enemy is my weekly catch-all post where I preview the Steelers’ upcoming game. I analyze the team’s opponent, look at how they match up, and also give a final run down of key injuries for either side. So without further ado, let’s get to it!
The Denver Broncos handed the Steelers what was undoubtedly one of their most embarrassing playoff losses ever last season. Even defensive mastermind Dick LeBeau is still shaking his head over how last season ended. Ordinarily when a team engineers a magical playoff run which culminates in a franchise’s biggest win in nearly a decade, they spend the off-season building upon what got them there. John Elway, VP and de facto GM of Denver, went the other way. He tore it all down and decided to start over.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BRONCOS OFFENSE
Of course Elway’s biggest move was jettisoning the man responsible for all his team’s magic, Tim Tebow. They were comfortable giving up on the Messiah because they were able to acquire a Football God. Peyton Manning, fresh off a season lost to serious neck surgery, was cut loose by the rebuilding Colts. Elway pounced and thus ended the Tebow Era in Denver.
The history of superstar QBs leaving their original team at the twilight of their career isn’t pretty. Joe Namath stumbled through a forgettable season with the Rams and Johnny U finished up with an unmemorable run with the Chargers. Joe Montana had slightly better results with the Chiefs (including a memorable overtime playoff win against Bill Cowher‘s Steelers, thanks to some inept punting from Mark Royals). Much like riding the Thunderbolt at Kennywood or making love to a woman, the second time is never as good as the first. Preseason reports were Manning looked every bit the Manning of old but experiencing the same level of success as he had with the Colts, where he won 12+ games in eight of his thirteen years, would definitely be a case of defying history.
The Broncos were a rumored suitor for disgruntled Steeler Mike Wallace although that never materialized. Almost exclusively a running team under Saint Tebow, Denver is shifting to a more pass heavy offense this year. Some thought that meant they’d load up on wide receivers but the only name they brought in was Ratbird/Colts retread Brandon Stokely. Manning doesn’t really need great receivers anyway as we saw last season when guys he made look great like Pierre Garcon went down the tubes without him.
They do have Demaryius Thomas aka the man who gave Ike Taylor the worst day of his life back in January. Thomas is a big (6’3 230 pounds) fast wide out who could blossom into a superstar if Manning plays up to his old level. Eric Decker is another big youngster who could benefit if teams start doubling Thomas. Also it’s important to remember the game being up in Denver means no Ryan Clark due to his sickle-cell trait. I always felt Clark was overrated but watching Ryan Mundy look lost in his place during that playoff debacle has made me rethink that stance. Mundy will likely start in his place once again on Sunday.
Also not playing will be linebacker James Harrison. Harrison has been battling a balky knee all training camp and had minor surgery to clean it up a few weeks back. The hope was he’d be back in time for the opener but he didn’t practice Friday which is Tomlin’s test for who plays on Sunday. Chris Carter will likely make his first career start in his place as Jason Worilds is just now coming off the disabled list.
Last season, Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were on the field together for only five games. Nice to see 2012 starting of on the same sour note.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BRONCOS DEFENSE
The Todd Haley officially begins on Sunday night. Luckily for him, the team now has a full complement of weapons with the return of Mike Wallace. Wallace says he’s comfortable with the playbook so it’s expected he’ll start opposite Antonio Brown. The Steelers are an embarassment of riches at wide out with the Young Money Crew in addition to Jerricho Cotchery, And that’s not even factoring in their excellent tight ends. Wes Saunders won’t be available as he starts serving his suspension for PEDs but both Heath Miller and Leonard Pope are accomplished pass catchers.
The Steelers also have a lot of running backs although none of them even know who’s starting on Sunday. Rashard Mendenhall is listed as doubtful which usually means a guy isn’t playing although it looks to be a game time decision. Isaac Redman battled a sore shoulder during preseason but is supposedly healthy and looking forward to picking up where he left off in Denver where he was a lone bright spot on offense. Meanwhile, Jon Dwyer, who was clearly the surprise star of preseason, looks to see if he earned more than a back-up role. Chris Rainey will get his touches out of the backfield but who totes the rock is still a mystery and may remain one until game time.
Also on the injury front, as expected first round pick RG David DeCastro was put on limited IR, meaning he can come back at mid-season. The team’s new look OL will look a lot like last year’s, with (right to left) Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, Willie Colon and Max Starks starting. Let’s hope they fare better this time around against a very talented Broncos defense.
DE Elvis Dumervil is an elite caliber player who all but wrecked the Steelers last time. He was assisted by LB Von Miller, another up-and-coming star. The team’s first round pick out of Cincy, DE Derek Wolfe impressed coaches enough to earn a starting spot. This team is quick and strong up front so if the lineman aren’t on their game, we’ll be seeing Big Ben running for his life yet again. The good news is if they can buy him some time, Ben should enjoy some success against a shaky Broncos secondary. They imported Saints CB Tracey Porter to pair with 15 year vet (!) Champ Bailey in hopes that’ll shore up the pass D but I remain skeptical.
The bottom line is this looks like a match-up of two very potent offenses and two teams with some question marks on defense. The last time we met the Broncos, their only hope was to keep the game close and hope for some breaks. This time, I think they’re going come out guns blazing. Let’s hope Boss Todd and his boys have the goods to hang with them. If not, it could be another Mile High disaster.