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Opening Week Brings Tough Test

Posted Sep 8, 2012

With the regular-season opener upon us, DenverBroncos.com takes one last look at the Sunday night matchup between the Broncos and the Steelers.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The stage is set for Sunday night when the Broncos will host the Steelers in the national spotlight of Sunday Night Football on NBC.

“I’m really anxious to see what we do,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “I’m excited, because I know what we can do. Now we’ve just got to go out there and prove it to ourselves.”

Though the two teams squared off in the AFC Wild Card Round last season, both sides have acknowledged that things are much different this time around.

Most notably, four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning is under center for the Denver Broncos.

“I’m just focusing on what we need to do to get prepared for Peyton,” Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said. “Guys like him earn their reputations with their play and usually rising up in significant moments so obviously this is a significant one for him and we’re expecting his very best.”

For the players on the Pittsburgh defense, going up against Manning is different than going up against any other quarterback. Preparation is different, too.

“He calls all of his offense from the line,” Steelers linebacker James Harrison said. “He audibles from what the defense is doing. You have to try and do things to combat that.”

The respect is mutual.

Manning knows the Steelers defense is perennially one of the best in the league. Since 2004, when Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau took over, Pittsburgh has ranked as the top defense in the league four times, and never out of the top 10.

“You know that Pittsburgh is going to have an excellent defense,” said Manning, who needs one touchdown to become the third quarterback in league history to throw 400 career passing TDs. “They’re extremely well-coached, they play well together and they have excellent players, so that’s a pretty lethal combination. We’ll certainly have our hands full.”

As LeBeau attempts to prepare his defense for a Manning-led Broncos offense before Sunday, Denver Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio has also put a lot of emphasis on containing the opposing quarterback.

In preparing to play Ben Roethlisberger, Del Rio has stressed the quarterback’s combination of size, arm strength and mobility.

“He’s got the ability to extend plays with his feet and the arm strength to throw the ball down the field,” Del Rio said. “You’ve got to get people to him and then you’ve got to actually get him down. That’s a challenge.”

But containing Roethlisberger is only half the battle. For years, the Steelers have prided themselves in a physical and efficient rushing attack.

“I think they’ve got a very vaunted running game, that’s for sure,” Head Coach John Fox said. “They’ve got a very big offensive line. They’ve got a pretty good blocking element at fullback and tight end. Their runners are big and physical for the most part.”

There’s plenty of buildup surrounding what will be Manning’s Denver debut and a rematch of last year’s AFC Wildcard Round, which ended in dramatic fashion.

Manning said he expects the opponent to be ready. He hopes the fans are, too.

“Playing a tough team like Pittsburgh, playing on primetime at night is certainly going to add to the atmosphere,” Manning said. “We’ll certainly need the fans to be hopefully an advantage for us and make it tough for Pittsburgh to communicate.”