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7 things to watch for at Denver

Posted Jan 17, 2016

Here are a few things to keep an eye on when the Steelers face the Broncos is the AFC Divisional Playoff game.

What to keep an eye on in the AFC Divisional Round Game against the Broncos:

PRESSURE AND PROTECTION: The Broncos led the NFL in sacks in the regular season with 52 and the Steelers finished third with 48. Protecting the quarterback on both sides will need to be an all-day proposition.

ENCORE PERFORMANCE: Broncos OLBs Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware combined for 18.5 sacks this season (11 for Miller, 7.5 for Ware) but had zero tackles, zero sacks and one quarterback hit between them in the Steelers’ 34-27 victory on Dec. 20 at Heinz Field (Miller had the QB hit, Ware wasn’t listed on the stat sheet despite playing 31 snaps). Can the Steelers handle them as well this time as they did last time for as long as it takes?

BIG BOY PADS: The Broncos like to establish the run and will try to do so against a Steelers’ defense that finished fifth in the NFL in run defense (91.2 yards per game). The Steelers also finished No.2 in rushing TDs allowed (six) and tied for No. 2 with the Seahawks in rushing first downs allowed (71). Denver had 13 rushing touchdowns and 19 passing TDs in 2015.

The Steelers, likewise, value the running game and will be tasked with establishing one against the NFL’s No. 3 run defense (83.4 yards per game).

START FAST, FINISH STRONG: The first meeting between the teams featured the Broncos sprinting to a 27-10 lead and the Steelers rallying for 24 unanswered points. Can the Steelers do better at the outset and avoid a halftime deficit similar to the 27-13 hole they found themselves in at the break the last time? And can the Broncos produce a stronger finish? Denver was shutout in the second half on Dec. 6 at San Diego, on Dec. 13 against Oakland and on Dec. 20 at Pittsburgh.

THE TURNOVER EFFECT: The Broncos’ minus 4 showing in takeaway/giveaway included an NFL-high 23 interceptions and 31 giveaways (tied for the third-most behind Dallas and Tennessee’s 33 each). Can the Steelers induce turnovers and take advantage? Or, can the Broncos work around giveaways as well as they did in their regular-season finale against the Chargers, when Denver turned it over five times and won, 27-20?

TIMELY TURNOVERS: The Steelers tied for the NFL lead in red zone takeaways by collecting seven of their 30 inside the 20-yard line (six interceptions, one fumble recovery; the Jets and Saints also had seven). Turnovers have a way of becoming more impactful in such situations.

NEXT MAN UP: The Steelers have gone 8-3 without All-Pro RB Le’Veon Bell and All-Pro C Maurkice Pouncey in the lineup this season (7-3 in the regular season). Can they also replace All-Pro WR Antonio Brown and keep the ball rolling?

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