(Photo via Eric Ebron's Instagram)
The Pittsburgh Steelers will aim to improve their record to 2-0 for the first time since the 2017 season this Sunday at Heinz Field. The 7-point favorites are matched up against a hungry Denver Broncos team that suffered a heartbreaking Week 1 loss from the hands of the Tennessee Titans. They will undoubtedly be ready to give their best effort in order to avoid falling to 0-2 for the second consecutive season under Vic Fangio. As for Pittsburgh, Week 2 is the perfect time for a few players to break out and showcase what they will be able to do for the 2020 season. Let’s get started.
TE Eric Ebron finds the end zone not once, but twice.
The 2020 free agent signing was fairly quiet in the passing game on opening night for Pittsburgh, but expect that to change this week against Denver. Both of the touchdowns that the Broncos conceded last week were to the tight end position, one to Jonnu Smith and the other to MyCole Pruitt. With the offensive line banged up for Pittsburgh, expect them to utilize their tight ends a lot more this week. When asked about the potential of running plays with two tight ends, Roethlisberger stated, “I think there’s a lot of things that we can do, and I think we’re still scratching the surfaces with the two-tight end sets." Furthermore, in his last healthy season, Roethlisberger threw for 1,039 to the tight end position. Big Ben will surely call Ebron’s name in the red zone on Sunday as the Steelers will strive to correct a disturbing 2019 trend. Last year, the Steelers only scored a touchdown on 35% of drives that surpassed the opponent’s 20-yard line. With Roethlisberger back under center, he and his new offensive weapon should be lethal near the goal line in 2020, and I expect to see it start this week featuring multiple scores for Ebron. Side note: Eric Ebron has a total of 16 touchdowns since the beginning of 2018, ranking the highest among any TEs in that time period.
WR Diontae Johnson tallies 150 receiving yards.
2nd-year wideout Diontae Johnson will look to have his first true breakout game against a banged-up Denver secondary on Sunday afternoon. He will likely be lined up against 2020 3rd round pick Michael Ojemudia for the better part of the day. Ojemudia held his own against Tennessee on Monday night, however, he will be facing a much more potent air attack with future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger slinging it around the yard. The connection between Big Ben and Johnson got off to a strong start in Week 1, and it is reasonable to expect that it will get stronger against the Broncos. With CB Bryce Callahan following likely shadowing WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Roethlisberger will surely take advantage of Ojemudia’s inexperience. Couple that with Johnson’s ability to separate from defensive backs, the former Toledo Rocket is primed for a big day.
LB Bud Dupree forces a fumble as well as causes a safety on Sunday.
Bud Dupree was everywhere on the field against the Giants a week ago, and he will get another favorable matchup against Denver on Sunday. Denver LT Garrett Bolles will be responsible for slowing down a red-hot Dupree, and that may spell trouble for QB Drew Lock’s offense. Not only has Bolles committed a league-high 45 penalties over the past 3 years, but he is also nursing an elbow injury that has limited him all week at practice. As for Dupree, he totaled four tackles last week, including 2 for a loss and registered a hit on QB Daniel Jones. In addition, he forced Jones to throw a game-changing interception by chasing him to the sideline and getting both hands right in his face as Jones threw a prayer that landed in DE’s Cameron Heyward’s arms. Another stat that bodes well for the former Kentucky Wildcat: Drew Lock fumbled the football twice last week in the loss against the Titans. Dupree, who had a nose for the ball a year ago forcing 4 fumbles, should find himself in the backfield with Drew Lock often enough to create at least one “splash play” for his defense. To take it one step further, I predict that the Steelers’ defense will engulf Denver’s QB near the goal line on Sunday and Dupree will cause a safety via a sack of Lock or a penalty on Garrett Bolles.
The second game of the season for Pittsburgh will certainly be an interesting one, but I expect both the offense and the defense to have a strong showing. These players in specific will play a big role in the Steelers’ potential success this week, and if they do you can expect the Steelers to roll to a 2-0 start.