Nothing has been easy for the Steelers this season, but then again, they probably wouldn’t have it any other way at this point. By now, the Steelers are so accustomed to being without key players every week that is has become standard operating procedure. This Sunday they are going to be without the NFL’s best receiver, Antonio Brown, as he failed to make it out of the league’s concussion protocol. The Steelers, at least, are expecting Ben Roethlisberger to be able to start, despite his shoulder injury. The Steelers are better equipped to win a game where Antonio Brown can’t play, than one without Ben. The simple fact is, Ben can be Ben without Brown, but Brown can’t be Brown without Ben, which is something that has already been witnessed during Roethlisberger’s four and a half game absence earlier this season. For Ben to have a successful start, he’ll have to at least be able to throw the ball thirty yards down field. Chances are he wouldn’t be starting if he couldn’t throw it that far, so that shouldn’t be much of a concern.
Ben still has plenty of weapons available to get the job done on Sunday, one of whom could be rookie receiver Sammie Coates, who is looking to be the next man up. Coates, at 6-1 and 212 lbs, has the size and speed to cause the Broncos secondary a lot of problems, if he is focused. Most of his drops occurred due to a lack of concentration, but when he is on, Coates is as explosive as they come. NFL Network guest, Charley Casserly, doesn’t have much faith in either Martavis Bryant or Markus Wheaton stepping up with Antonio Brown out, along with most mediots who are paid to give their opinions on these matters. The Steelers don’t really care though what the opinions are of those outside their locker room, because those people haven’t contributed anything towards the Steelers success this season. Some say the Steelers are playing with house money at this point, and maybe they are, but that just makes them more dangerous. That would mean that they really have nothing to lose, and that all of the pressure is on the Broncos. Maybe that’s why some of the Broncos players started talking early on this week, because they are feeling the pressure.
Speaking of pressure, as important as it will be for the Steelers to keep the pressure of Ben Roethlisberger, it will be just as important for them to apply it to Peyton Manning. In their game against San Diego to finish the season, Manning’s return, in place of an injured and ineffective Brock Osweiler, gave the Broncos a psychological lift in a tough win. If the Steelers can get consistent pressure on Manning, and force him into enough mistakes and turnovers to get him out of the game, having to turn to an injured Osweiler could take a psychological toll on the Broncos. In ten games this season, Peyton Manning threw 17 interceptions, so it’s a very real possibility that it could happen. This is definitely not the same Peyton Manning who threw 55 touchdown passes two years ago, and Keith Butler has the toys who can make Manning’s life very uncomfortable. With a secondary that is playing it’s best football of the season as of late, going up against a declining Hall of Fame quarterback who has touchdown to interception ratio of 9:17, the defense could be in a position to salt away, what could be, a low scoring game.
The Steelers aren’t being given much of a chance to win this game, but victories aren’t awarded on opinions or speculation, they are earned. The Steelers have earned everything they have gotten this year, and they are going to Denver to win. “They” said the Steelers were done when Ben went down. “They” said the Steelers were done when Bell went down. Now “They” say that the Steelers are done now that Antonio Brown is out for the game. Well, “They” don’t realize the heart that the Steelers have played with, and “They” don’t understand how little their opinions mean to the Steelers players and coaches. Regardless of how this game turns out, the Broncos are in for a fight, way more of a fight than they are wanting. The Steelers are already in the heads of the Denver Broncos, after their big come from behind win over them in week 15, and don’t be surprised if it carries over into the game. The Steelers believe they can win this game. If the offensive line can keep Ben clean, and Toussaint and Todman have success running the ball, the Steelers will advance to the AFC Championship game.