The Pittsburgh Steelers will try to continue their playoff run without several key players.
Tomorrow afternoon, the Steelers will square off against the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs. They will do so without league-best WR Antonio Brown, and RB DeAngelo Williams, who misses his 2nd consecutive game.
Also of major concern is the throwing arm of QB Ben Roethlisberger. He was injured last weekend in the victory over Cincinnati on a sack by Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict. His right shoulder was driven into the ground, and as a result he suffered a sprain of the AC joint, and reportedly torn tendons as well. His throwing distance was affected when he returned to the game on the final Steelers possession.
Roethlisberger was able to make some throws in practice on Friday, and so the team is hopeful his arm responds OK to that activity and he will be able to play Sunday. Backup QB Landry Jones got plenty of reps this week in practice as well in the event Roethlisberger is unable to go.
Antonio Brown’s absence will be a difficult hurdle to overcome. He has been the most dependable offensive contributor this season. Martavis Bryant will be counted on to step up into a top role, as well as Markus Wheaton. Look also for Heath Miller to be a primary target.
With questions surrounding Ben’s arm strength, the short and intermediate pass game could be key, which relies on guys being able to make something happen after the catch. This would also help to keep Ben from being hit as much if he is able to get rid of the ball quickly. Any further hits to his throwing arm side could put him out for the game.
As for the running game, the Steelers will again look to Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. Both played key roles in last weekend’s win over the Bengals. Establishing some success in the running game would greatly help keep the pressure off of Roethlisberger to carry the team on his injured shoulder.
It is a daunting task to succeed against Denver’s talented defense even with a full compliment of offensive weapons, so without Brown and Williams that task gets even taller.
With all the concerns over the health of the offense, the actual determining factor in this game could be the play of the Steelers defense.
If the Steelers defense cannot get pressure on Peyton Manning, or cannot limit the splash plays by Denver’s talented receivers, it won’t matter what the Steelers offense is able to do. Peyton Manning simply is not the player he once was, and can be forced into bad decisions resulting in turnovers.
I believe that the effectiveness of the Steelers defense will be the deciding factor in this game. If they can keep this game lower scoring until late, the Steelers may be able to edge out the Broncos. If they fall behind early, they may lack the playmakers on offense to keep up with Denver.
Steelers and Broncos kick off tomorrow afternoon at 4:40 for the right to move on to the AFC Championship game.