ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --There was no relief or happiness in the Broncos' locker room Friday at the news that Antonio Brown would miss Sunday's game because of a concussion suffered on a vicious hit from Cincinnati's Vontaze Burfict last week.
The Broncos wanted Brown to be healthy; that's the most important aspect of this ongoing story.
"That's unfortunate for A.B.," said Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. "We know that it's a game that he wanted to play in; it's a big game for him, for the Steelers, for everybody.
And on the field, they wanted the challenge of trying to contain a receiver who diced them up for 189 yards and two touchdowns on 16 receptions Dec. 20, and who just completed the most productive two-season stretch for any wide receiver in NFL history.
"I was kind of upset, to be honest," said cornerback Bradley Roby. "Last night, I studied a lot [of film] of just him. I studied him for a long time, and then the first thing I see this morning is, 'He's out.'"
But just because the Steelers will not have Brown doesn't mean they don't have dangerous targets. Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton combined for 149 yards and a touchdown on 16 receptions in Week 15. Ben Roethlisberger trusts both, and they are capable of exploding.
"They have still got a bunch of speed, a bunch of talented guys on the field -- and they've still got Ben Roethlisberger, so we know we've still got to do our part," Talib said.
Bryant caught 50 passes for 765 yards and six touchdowns; Wheaton grabbed 44 passes for 759 yards and scored five times.
"They just do their job," Roby said. "The offensive coordinator [Todd Haley] does a good job of using them to their strengths, and they do it well. Ben [Roethlisberger] is a great quarterback. Anytime you have a great quarterback, he's going to get it to you on the money, so as long as you continue your route and get to your spot, you'll be job. They're great supplements to [Brown]."
Bryant's length -- he's 6-foot-4 and has 32 5/8-inch arms -- allows him to reach out for passes others struggle to grab, and his reach and size provides issues as he moves up to No. 1 receiver.
"[Bryant] is a different type of receiver, though. A different type of guy," Roby said. "Who knows? We're not the coach; we can only continue to prepare and be prepared for anything."
Roethlisberger's ability to use deft footwork to extend plays will give Bryant and Wheaton chances to break off their routes and force Roby and the Broncos' other cornerbacks to maintain coverage integrity a few seconds longer on many plays.
"It's harder, because somebody breaks a route, and then you break under it, and you expect the ball to be there and it's not," Roby said. "It's something you have to practice, and I think we have practiced that well this week."
"We know that Big Ben is the engine that makes it go for real," Talib said. "He's playing, so we're going to prepare the same way -- simple as that."