ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Steelers offense presents two primary threats – two major strengths, two ways it will try to beat you.
"(The biggest challenge is) stopping that run game," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who has faced Pittsburgh five times in his career. "You know one thing about the Steelers — they're always going to try to run the ball and establish their run game. Then, contain (quarterback) Big Ben (Roethlisberger). He's one of the most dangerous at what he does. He hasn't been a two-time Super Bowl winner for no reason. He's a great quarterback."
Defensive tackle Justin Bannan is another veteran on the Broncos who has seen his fair share of Pittsburgh. Bannan has played nine games against the Steelers in his 10-year career – seven during his four-year stint with Baltimore.
His memories of chasing after Roethlisberger aren't fond ones.
"When I was in Baltimore, he would drive us crazy because we just knew we had to contain him and if he broke containment, that's how he got us," Bannan said. "The guy is elusive and he's a big guy so you think he's not that fast, but he really is. With the combination of size and speed, it makes it tough."
Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio has preached to his defensive unit all week that multiple players have to get to Roethlisberger so that he doesn't get loose.
What makes the Steelers' offensive attack so dangerous is that even if the quarterback is contained, the primary objective remains intact.
"(He's) got the arm strength to throw the ball down the field," Del Rio said. "(But) that's not even what they really want to do. They really want to pound you in the run game. So it will be a good test for our defense."
That test -- as Bannan recalls -- happens in the trenches.
"I know what they bring to the table," Bannan said. "At the end of the day, it's a fist fight. That's how it is with those guys. It's a game that's won in the trenches I believe. We have to come out and play our game."
Although the Denver defense has prepared all week to win that battle in the trenches by stopping the run and containing the quarterback, execution will make the difference.
"Certainly that's the plan everybody goes in with," Del Rio said. "But the more effective we are in getting that done, the more effective we'll be in slowing their offense.
A FIRST FOR THOMAS
On Sunday night, wideout Demaryius Thomas will experience a first.
"This is my first opener, period," said the third-year pro. "I've been hurt the past two years. It's my first game to go out and play with the team, healthy. So I'm excited."
Thomas feels prepared for the Week 1 test against the Steelers because he's had his first full offseason to get ready.
"Being able to go through OTAs, minicamps and all with a new quarterback, it was a big deal," Thomas said. "It's better to get the reps on the field than just sitting in meetings and watching. It was great for me to be healthy this year to get the actual reps instead of the mental reps."
The Steelers are already quite aware of the danger that Thomas poses to a defense. He ended Pittsburgh's 2011 season with an 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run on the first play of overtime in the AFC Wild Card Round. This time around, Thomas thinks he might be a primary target of the Steelers' defenders, although it won't affect his mentality on Sunday night.
"I've read some stuff about people wanting revenge, but I'm just going to go out and do what I do best," Thomas said. "Go out and play to my best ability, get open for my teammates and that's about it."
STEELERS SPEED CHALLENGES SECONDARYBailey and company will be tasked with covering the Steelers' receiving corps, which includes Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders – receivers who use speed as their biggest weapon.
"This is probably the fastest group we'll see," Bailey said. "Not to take anything away from other guys, but they've got three of the speediest guys you'll see on any roster. We've got our hands full, but we're up for the challenge."
Mike Wallace returned to practice Monday for the first time this season after ending a holdout. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin isn't sure what type of role Wallace will play against the Broncos, but Bailey said that hopefully, the missed practice time will limit the fourth-year wideout in the game.
"I sure hope (he's rusty), because he's dangerous," Bailey said. "If you let him get by you, you can count that as seven (points). He's one of the most dangerous receivers."
The potential matchup of Wallace versus Bailey is one of the many reasons behind the buildup surrounding the Sunday-night showdown.
"The hype — I think that's why this game is so popular," Bailey said. "That's what makes this game great. I love being a part of it."