Just days after a last-minute loss to the Titans, the Broncos have a chance to turn the page and even up their record early in the 2020 season. To do so, they'll have to knock off a talented Pittsburgh team that earned a convincing road win in Week 1.
That won't be easy, and the Broncos will have to avoid the simple mistakes that plagued them in Week 1, such as drops, penalties and turnovers. If they clean up those aspects of their game, they should have a chance to start their road slate with a win. That would be a definite upgrade for the Broncos, who were just 2-6 on the road last year. And while an 0-2 hole would be discouraging, Denver isn't focused on playing the what-if game.
"You have to go out there and really just play," Shelby Harris said. "You can't be worrying about records and stuff. It's too early in the season. We have to go out there and really just play good football and just go out there and shut the Steelers down. We have to be the better defense on Sunday.
"… Obviously, no one wants to start 0-2, but it definitely will set us in the right direction when we go out there and get this W."
CAN THE BRONCOS' OFFENSE MAKE MORE EXPLOSIVE PLAYS?
On Monday, Drew Lock misfired on several long passes that would've potentially broken the game open in Denver's favor. He compared the missed connections to slicing the ball on the golf course, and he pledged to spend some time on the driving range this week to better the timing between him and his receivers. Against a Steelers defense that allowed just 291 yards and 16 points in Week 1, Lock would be well-served to connect on a few of those passes this week. It may be difficult to string together 12- or 13-play drives, so earning yardage in chunks could make the difference on Sunday at Heinz Field. Plus, if Lock can stretch the defense through the air, he may help out the Broncos' running game.
His task won't be easy, as he'll have to avoid a Pittsburgh secondary that features Pro Bowler Minkah Fitzpatrick and former first-round pick Terrell Edmunds. The Steelers picked off Daniel Jones twice in Week 1, although one of those came when defensive lineman Cameron Heyward dropped off the line of scrimmage into coverage and picked off a deflected pass. Lock could get his favorite deep-ball target back, as Courtland Sutton is listed as questionable for Sunday's game and is considered a game-time decision.
WHO WINS AT THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE?
Football games are often won or lost at the line of scrimmage, and that will be particularly true on Sunday against the Steelers. When the Pittsburgh offense is on the field, the Broncos will face an offensive line that will be without two starters in Zach Banner and David DeCastro and a key reserve in Stefen Wisniewski. Roethlisberger was sacked just twice against the Giants in Week 1, but if Denver can get pressure with Jurrell Casey, Bradley Chubb, Jeremiah Attaochu and Co., they could find some success in the pass rush. Denver held Derrick Henry to a respectable 3.7 yards per carry in Week 1, and they'll need to be similarly stout against James Conner and Benny Snell Jr., who rushed for 113 yards last week.
The need to win at the line of scrimmage may be even more pronounced when Denver's offense is out there. The Steelers have dominant pass rushers in T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Heyward, who will challenge the Broncos across their offensive line. The matchup at right tackle will be particularly important, as Elijah Wilkinson struggled at times in the Broncos' Week 1 loss. Lock's mobility should help, though. He has been sacked just five times in six career games and stayed clean against the Titans. The Steelers sacked Daniel Jones three times in Week 1, so Lock must remain wary. Getting the running game going may be more of a challenge. The Broncos will be without Phillip Lindsay, and they'll face a Steelers defense that allowed Pro Bowler Saquon Barkley just 6 yards on 15 carries. It's imperative that the Broncos maintain a semblance of a running game to prevent the Steelers' pass rush from teeing off against Lock.
CAN DENVER'S SECONDARY HOLD UP WITHOUT A.J. BOUYE?
The Broncos placed their top cornerback A.J. Bouye on injured reserve on Wednesday, and the unit will be tested right away. Head Coach Vic Fangio suggested the team would use a cornerback lineup that features Bryce Callahan and third-round pick Michael Ojemudia as the outside cornerbacks and undrafted rookie Essang Bassey as the slot cornerback. The Steelers' wide receiving corps features several weapons, including JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and second-round pick Chase Claypool. Smith-Schuster caught six passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1, while Johnson added six catches for 57 yards. Smith-Schuster's size — he's 6-foot-1 — may force the Broncos to put the 6-foot-2 Ojemudia on him rather than the 5-foot-9 Callahan, but that's a tough ask for a rookie in his second career game. If there's one bright spot heading to Pittsburgh, it's that Ben Roethlisberger should give the Broncos' secondary chances to make plays. He didn't throw an interception in Week 1, but Kareem Jackson said this week that the secondary expects to have a chance to snag some game-changing interceptions.
"Going into this game, we all know Big Ben's going to throw it around the yard quite a bit," Jackson said. "We should definitely have some opportunities to get our hands on some balls. He's a big-time quarterback in this league. They're going to let him run the show as he has done for the last decade. For us, it's all about being in the right place at the right time, executing as a defense and … just going out and training ourselves to make those extra plays that we need to be successful as a defense."