Some call Denver a mecca of happiness, but for the Steelers, The Mile High City has been anything but friendly.
Pittsburgh has a record of 5-10-1 in Denver, including last year’s 29-23 surreal overtime loss in the playoffs.
While Tim Tebow destroyed the Steeler secondary in that game, he is no longer at the helm. Instead, it is a player the Steelers know all too well––Peyton Manning, and he’ll be gunning for them on Sunday night in the nationally-televised season opener for both teams.
“We have to deal with him, but we also have to realize they are a playoff football team without him,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said during his press conference on Tuesday.
Making the game even rougher is the fact the Broncos perform pretty well during home openers, boasting a 38-10-1 slate.
The Steelers had a key cog missing last year in the playoff loss––safety Ryan Clark. Unless one has been under a rock, Clark’s absence was no secret.
Clark suffers from a sickle cell trait that nearly killed him after playing in a game there in 2007. He sat on the sidelines, and will not play again in the opener.
“It’s a terrible week for me every time the Denver game comes around. It’s the first game, Sunday night, I would like to play against Peyton Manning and his comeback, but I wont,” Clark said. “But I’m trying to turn a terrible week and turn it into something positive.”
That something positive is Ryan Clark’s Cure League, which will work with UPMC and two other entities to help find a cure for the disease, something he announced this week.
Ryan Mundy will take Clark’s place at safety. Mundy, who played in all 16 games as a reserve/special teams guy last season, tied for a team high seven tackles during the playoff loss. He also forced two fumbles in the contest.
The good news for the Steelers, especially on defense, is both Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel will play. Keisel was at full throttle during practice on Wednesday. Linebacker Jason Worilds was also practicing with his wrist wrapped and should play.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin only ruled out one defensive player in Stevenson Sylvester, but James Harrison who has been practicing on a limited basis is still a big question with his knee. Larry Foote sat out practice on Wednesday with an ankle sprain.When it comes to the Broncos game, a player to watch will be Keenen Lewis, who is slated to start, taking over the departed Wille Gay’s slot. Lewis, who was a third round pick of the Steelers in 2009, has earned the spot, but should he faulter against Manning, expect to see Cortez Allen.
The offense will be missing lineman David DeCastro. He is the only player Tomlin has ruled out playing.
What will be interesting is who starts at running back. Isaac Redman is the favorite, but has had injury problems throughout the pre-season. Steelers players say Rashard Mendenhall is looking good once again, and he practiced Monday and Wednesday. If neither of those two can go, look for Jonathon Dwyer and not rookie Chris Rainey, who has looked impressive in the pre-season to get the workload. Baron Batch injured his groin this week, and his status may be questionable.
Receiver Mike Wallace is another story. Although Emmanual Sanders is slated to start in his place, Wallace who has kept in shape and according to Tomlin is performing well, has done a good job learning Todd Haley’s new system. Look for him to also see a lot of action on Sunday.
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Matt Pawlikowski is a veteran journalist covering all things Steelers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.