Jussel: Broncos should start Manning era with win over beat-up Steelers

You’ll remember the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers visited the Denver Broncos.

It was just one more chapter in the book that made Tim Tebow a household name — a first-round NFL playoff game in which Tebow, on the first play of overtime, hit wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in stride for a long, game-winning touchdown.

Broncos 29, Steelers 23.

It was Tebow’s last play as a Bronco.

It won’t be Thomas’s last.

Matter of fact, if things go according to Hoyle, Thomas will play a huge part in the Broncos’ success this season, catching perfectly thrown pass after perfectly thrown pass from a fellow named Peyton Manning.

It all starts tonight against the visiting Steelers in what some are predicting may become the most-watched regular-season game in pro football history.

Manning and the Steelers tend to draw big crowds.

It won’t be a familiar matchup for Manning. In his 13 years of play with the Indianapolis Colts, he has played against the Steelers four times, winning two, losing two, with one of those a playoff loss in 2005 after a regular-season win earlier that same year.

By his standards, Manning has been only OK against the Steelers, going 95 of 151 for 1,079 yards with seven TDs and four interceptions, basically 24 for 38 for 265 yards with two TDs and one interception per game.

Keep in mind those four games Manning played against the Steelers were against some of the best defensive units in football.

Now put it in your mind that, although the Steelers are still certainly a playoff contender and head coach Mike Tomlin always has them playing with a nasty attitude, the version we see tonight is not the Steel Curtain, not even close.

While the Steelers did go 3-1 in preseason mostly because they were plus-seven in turnovers, they are beat up in several areas: their defensive front seven, the offensive line, and at the running back spot. That’s lots of spots.

For almost the last decade, their front three in the 3-4 defensive alignment was Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel. Smith has retired, Hampton has been injured throughout training camp and won’t play much if at all tonight, and Keisel has been hurt in preseason and may play sparingly.

Tonight, Pittsburgh’s front three will likely be Ziggy Hood, Steve McLendon and either Keisel or Cameron Hayward, a second-year player.

The Steelers’ offensive line lost top draft choice David DeCastro, tabbed to be a starting guard, for the season to a knee injury. Left tackle Max Starks has also been recovering from a torn ACL and has been battling to keep his starting position away from rookie Mike Adams, who also injured a knee early in preseason and is not in peak condition.

Think Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger will be keeping an eye out for Denver rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, especially after the line allowed 14 sacks in the preseason?

Other noteworthy tidbits that have the Steelers reeling a bit going into the regular season:

The running back situation has stud Rashard Mendenhall out as he continues to recover from ACL knee surgery, and his backup, Isaac Redmond, has a bad ankle and bad hip.

A couple other defensive standouts, star outside linebacker James Harrison and starting safety Ryan Clark, are also iffy. Harrison just had arthroscopic knee surgery a couple of weeks ago, and Clark suffers from sickle cell trait and routinely does not play at altitude in Denver.

We also should mention wide receiver Mike Wallace just reported to camp this week and will be spotted in the lineup as he struggles to learn new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s terminology.

If all this sounds like Denver should win in a romp, well, you know better.

The Steelers, very much with backs against the wall, back down to no team.

They still have Roethlisberger, of course, at quarterback, Antonio Brown has been a standout at wide receiver in preseason in stepping up for the missing Wallace, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley and strong safety Troy Polamalu are among the best at their positions in the game.

Tomlin’s squad will battle. The question: Does their depth across the board hold up against Manning’s new-look (in Denver) no-huddle offense?

I don’t see it happening.

Manning will be sharp in the early going and even sharper as the evening wears on as the depleted Steelers wear down at New Mile High.

Denver’s defense, in much better shape than at any time last season, will pressure Roethlisberger and the turnovers will go in the Broncos favor.

The Manning Era starts on a positive note: Broncos 28, Steelers 24.


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