Match up: Denver Broncos (0-1) +7.5 @ Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)
Location: Heinz Field
Tidbit: This marks just the third time since 2006 that the Broncos make the trip East to Heinz Field. The Steelers will not be allowing fans into the stadium for this home opener.
Keys to victory for the Broncos...
1. Ball security
Although Broncos quarterback Drew Lock didn't throw any interceptions in his Week 1 game against the Tennessee Titans, he did show instances of being reckless with the football. Twice in the first half, he fumbled the snap- once from under center and once from the shotgun.
Luckily for Lock, he was able to quickly recover both of these mishaps, however, he isn't going to want to tempt fate against the opportunistic Steelers defense. Lock also has a big arm and has the tendency to want to show it off with risky attempts. He'll want to balance risk vs. reward smartly on Sunday.
2. Take advantage of man to man situations with Jeudy
First-round draft pick Jerry Jeudy flashed on film in his NFL debut, particularly against man coverage. The Broncos did a good job of moving him around the field to put stress on the defense, and he had good success in the slot.
Even though Jeudy drops this ball on this route, he does a great job of crossing his defender's face and gaining inside leverage to get wide open on this slant. If he lines up in the slot, Jeudy will likely see a lot of action against Mike Hilton in the Steelers nickel package.
3. Pressure Big Ben
In this play, you can see how Denver lines up Bradley Chubb off the edge and sets up MLB Josey Jewell as if he'll be in coverage against the split tight end. Chubb and Jewell then run a stunt, having Chubb rush the B gap and applying pressure to the quarterback. Given Pittsburgh's current issues with depth at the offensive line, expect Denver to use similar concepts to get into the backfield.
Keys for victory for the Steelers...
1. Roethlisberger continues to settle in
While it took Roethlisberger a little bit of time to get comfortable, we certainly saw flashes of greatness from the future Hall of Famer. He was at his best when the Steelers were in 11 personnel with 3 receivers on the field, picking apart the weak Giants secondary. His first big time play came on 3rd and 9 from his own 32 where he connected with rookie Chase Claypool for a big 28 yard gain. Here, Roethlisberger sends JuJu-Smith Schuster in motion before the snap and recognizes a Cover 2 man look. Roethlisberger does an excellent job of manipulating the defense with his eyes by looking toward the middle of the field and notices that the safety is paying particular notice to Smith-Schuster. Big Ben proceeds to throw a strike to Claypool against the sideline.
It's interesting to note how much trust Roethlisberger shows in Claypool in this situation. If he doesn't convert here, the Steelers are down 3-0 and punting it right back to New York. Even though he might have Diontae Johnson on the drag, he pulls the trigger on Claypool with the one-on-one.
Claypool made the most of his playing time, winning his reps consistently even though he only saw three touches.
2. Slow down the rushing attack
Putting a halt to Denver's running game will be a key component for victory on Sunday. If the Steelers put the Broncos in 3rd and long situations, Lock will be forced to take more chances. It's unclear right now if Philip Lindsay will play, but he is an integral part of the Broncos attack. Before he left Monday's game with a toe injury, Denver liked to put both he and Melvin Gordon on the field at the same time using 21 personnel. This kind of alignment can also create mismatches in the passing game with tight ends and running backs being covered by linebackers.
With Lindsay out, the Broncos typically ran Gordon with power concepts with Graham Glasgow as a pulling guard out of 11 personnel with 3 receivers, forcing the Titans into nickel. In order to stop this attack, interior defensive linemen such as Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt must continue to take on blocks while the speed of the Steelers defense works downhill.
3. TJ's turn?
Last week, outside linebacker Bud Dupree shined while dominating rookie offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. This week, TJ Watt looks to do the same against right tackle Elijah Wilkinson, who appears to be the weak link of the Broncos line.
Watt showed why he's a DPOY candidate with his Week 1 interception. In this play, Watt diagnoses the route concept and puts himself directly into the throwing lane. This is the result of studying, preparation, and athletic ability to finish the play, displaying Watt's abilities as a complete player.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler used Watt as a chess piece in Week 1, sometimes lining him up directly over the A gap, especially in run situations. Watt's versatility is part of what makes him such a special, well-rounded player.