The Denver Broncos keep running into red-hot opponents, a trend that will continue when the streaking Pittsburgh Steelers visit on Sunday.
Three weeks ago, the Broncos (4-6) faced the Houston Texans on a five-game winning streak. Twice they played the explosive Kansas City Chiefs. They also came close to handing the Los Angeles Rams their first loss, and last week they battled the Los Angeles Chargers, winners of six in a row.
Sunday’s game will have a familiar feel. After a slow start, the Steelers (7-2-1) have won six straight and are steamrolling toward another AFC North Division title. With the Le’Veon Bell drama in the past, Pittsburgh can concentrate on finishing the season strong.
Next up is a Denver team coming off an impressive win over the Chargers. The Broncos pulled out a 23-22 victory on a field goal on the final play.
“When you win in this league, you have great weeks. When you lose, you have horrible weeks,” Denver coach Vance Joseph said. “I think the work that we put in and the games that we’ve played, it’s been close. It’s been field-goal games. To win one obviously assures guys that the hard work is being rewarded. It’s good for our football team to win one.”
The Steelers also pulled out a nail-biting victory, with Ben Roethlisberger leading a fourth-quarter rally against Jacksonville and scoring on a 1-yard plunge with five seconds left in a 20-16 win.
The win increased Pittsburgh’s division lead to 2 1/2 games over Cincinnati and Baltimore, and gave the team more confidence.
“I understand that can be a byproduct of it,” coach Mike Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But I stay focused on the variables that are within our control — the tangible things, the process, the prep, play, analysis, repeat process.”
Roethlisberger could take apart Denver’s battered secondary if the offensive line gives him time. The Broncos are aggressive defensively with linebackers Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb rushing off the edge to apply pressure.
If the line can hold, receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown and tight end Vance McDonald should fine space downfield. Denver’s backline defense is thin with cornerback Bradley Roby in the concussion protocol and the release of 35-year-old Adam Jones on Wednesday.
The Broncos’ best option is to keep the Pittsburgh offense on the sidelines with sustained drives. Denver has two dynamic rookie running backs and receiving weapons for quarterback Case Keenum to use.
Phillip Lindsay leads the team with 670 yards rushing, which is eighth overall and second among rookies despite being undrafted out of Colorado. Royce Freeman, the team’s third-round pick, returned from an ankle injury to score a touchdown against the Chargers.
Freeman gives Denver an inside running attack, while Lindsay is a change-of-pace back who gains yards on the outside and catching the ball.
The Broncos need both to be productive if they want to stop Pittsburgh’s win streak and make a late push for the playoffs.
—Field Level Media