Kickoff: 8:20 p.m.,ET
Site: Sports Authority Field at Mile High (76,125) • Denver, Colo.
Announcers: Al Michaels (play-by-play) Cris Collinsworth (analyst) Michele Tafoya (sideline)
Last year, the Steelers entered the Mile High City as perennial favorites to win the wild card playoff game, boasting a 12-4 slate. Their dream was quashed quickly in overtime as Tim Tebow led the Broncos to a stunning 29-23 overtime victory. With that in mind, one would think revenge is on the mind of the Steelers. Denver head coach John Fox, a native of Western Pa., doesn’t see things that way.
“No, because usually that’s history. History doesn’t have too much importance on the present, so for right now our focus is on the present. Their team is different, our team is different, and whoever plays best will win.”
Fox pretty much hit things on the spot. This is a totally revamped Denver team. Tebow is gone, and now it’s Peyton Mannings job. Manning’s debut is one of the most anticipated in years by a player for any team. The former Colt hasn’t tossed a football since January of 2011.
“Opening day is always an exciting time. I’ve always felt that it’s kind of probably as close to a playoff atmosphere as you can get in the regular season,” Manning told media on Wednesday. “Playing a tough team like Pittsburgh, playing on prime-time at night is certainly going to add to the atmosphere. But it still comes down to execution and like I said, its a really tough opponent that we are playing.”
The Steelers defense was ranked No. 1 against the pass last year until Tebow lit them up for 307 yards.
Sunday, Manning has a chance to make history. If he can duplicate what Tebow did in January, he will best Hall of Famer Dan Marino for most career 300-yard passing games with 63. More than likely that won’t happen, even though the Steelers boast a new cornerback in Keenen Lewis and safety Ryan Clark will sit the game. The reason: During Manning’s career he is just 2-2 against Pittsburgh and has thrown just seven touchdowns with four interceptions. He has passed for 1074 yards.
Manning isn’t talking about records, though. Instead it’s all about what he can do for the Broncos.
“I know how hard I’ve worked to get back to this position, how much time I’ve put into rehabbing, how much time I continue to put in and how hard I have worked to try and get comfortable in this system,” Manning said. “That’s really all that I know that I can do and I’m going to play as hard as I possibly can.”
Steelers offensive lines vs. the Broncos defensive line – Last year while Tebow got the best of the Steelers defense without the services of running back Rashard Mendenhall, Issac Redman found his niche and rushed for 121 yards against Denver’s Elvis Dumervill and Von Miller. The problem was Denver still tallied five sacks on Ben Roethlisberger. With center Maurkice Pouncy and guard Willie Colon both playing, things should be much better even with the absence of rookie guard David DeCastro who was expected to be a key cog. The edge goes to the Steelers.
Steelers special teams vs. Broncos special teams – The Steelers will rely on a new punter in Drew Butler who has yet to kick in a regular season game, while Denver returns one of the league’s elite in Britton Colquitt, who averaged 47 yards per punt last season. Considering this game may come down to a field goal, Denver boasts one of the better kickers in the league in Matt Prater. Not only can he boom the ball into the end zone (70.1 touchback rate), he also can hit from long, making a 59-yard field goal last year in the thin mile high air. Suisham did hit a 51 yarder last season, but the edge her goes to Prater. EDGE – Broncos
Quotable: Wide receiver Brandon Stokley on how to prepare for the Steelers defense - ”They cause a lot of confusion and a lot of problems with the 3-4. The guys that they have playing in it are very talented. You have to account for some of those guys and know where they are at all times because if you don’t you know you have a turnover. Their scheme is very good and the players they have doing it are very good. They are big, they are physical and they cause a lot of problems.We have our work cut out for us Sunday.”
Injury report:Unlike Pittsburgh, who has two players out and several others questionable for the game, the only Bronco on the Denver injury report is guard Chris Kuper, who has been ruled out of Sunday’s game.
Matt Pawlikowski is a freelance writer covering all things Steelers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.