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Steelers team reporter Missi Matthews weighs in on Broncos' Week 2 matchup

Take a trip back through Broncos history with photos from some of the Broncos' best games against the Steelers.

As the Broncos approach the season, we're chatting with reporters who cover each of the team's opponents. We continue with Missi Matthews, a team reporter for Steelers.com

For a look at all angles of the Broncos' Week 2 matchup, click here.

Aric DiLalla: What is Ben Roethlisberger's status as he recovers from a season-ending elbow injury, and what's the team's outlook for him for the season?

Missi Matthews: "Everybody from our team president, Art Rooney II; our general manager, Kevin Colbert; [head coach] Mike Tomlin has said and has consistently said — I'm talking about from the very beginning of the offseason — that he is on schedule, maybe even ahead of schedule. They're very confident he will be ready for the start of the season — for even Week 1. We open against the Giants on 'Monday Night Football.'"

AD: When healthy, do you expect him to be the same quarterback that we've seen over the last 15 years?

MM: "Yeah, absolutely. I even go back to training camp last year, 2019. Ben just looked so good. You could just tell he had a little pep in his step. He was ready to go for the season. I think he was really wired for it as well. It was just unfortunate. Six quarters into that season, he goes down and he's out for the rest of the year."

AD: JuJu Smith-Schuster had a 97-yard touchdown against the Broncos the last time these two teams played and had a Pro Bowl season. He kind of took a step back last year without Roethlisberger. What are the expectations for him in Year 4?

MM: "I don't think JuJu put up numbers that he was happy with, that probably anybody was happy with. Even just from an inside perspective, it was extremely difficult for anything to get going on the offense last year due to the injury of Ben. It's not even like they had one quarterback come in and play the remainder of the year. There were two young guys in Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges who kind of went back and forth. Mason Rudolph came back in when they benched 'Duck' [Hodges] in the Jets game. And then he got hurt. I think really not having Ben, who everybody was used to, who just really understood the Steelers' offense — it was obviously built around him, being that this is going to be his 17th season in 2020 — I think that hurt everybody. And I think not having a ground game either definitely hurt things in terms of the wide receivers and tight ends last year."

AD: At running back, is James Conner still the guy to know at that position, or is there another player Broncos fans should keep an eye on?

MM: "He unfortunately dealt with a few injuries last season and missed six games. Everybody is confident that he can return to that Pro Bowl running back that we saw the season prior. Everybody has said that. They did draft a running back in the draft, but it wasn't with their first pick. Everyone thought — we didn't have a pick until the second round — that it was going to be a running back. It was not. They went wide receiver. They still have Benny Snell Jr. who was a rookie last year and stepped up when Conner got hurt. Jaylen Samuels is kind of that Swiss Army knife guy that can kind of do it all. They do have depth there at that position. Obviously they want James to return to that Pro Bowl caliber and be the man again."

AD: Devin Bush is probably always going to be tied to the Broncos because of the trade last year. How would you grade his rookie season, and what do you expect this year from him?

MM: "I think the sky is the limit for Devin Bush. Being a rookie is never an easy thing, being that first-round draft pick when you know the team had to trade up 10 spots to get you. That was a position the Steelers' defense was really missing — some stability. He was a rookie and probably had some great moments, also had some not-so-great moments, because you're learning on the fly, being thrown into the mix. He played so many snaps, was able to keep up, keep his body healthy. I think he will really get more in tune with the playbook in Year 2. Coach Tomlin always talks about the Year 2 jump of wanting to see even more out of guys because you've had the chance to go through it. You know what to expect. Also Minkah Fitzpatrick coming in helps settle the defense, as well. I think that helped Devin a lot, too."

AD: The Steelers ranked fifth in total defense in 2019. Is there a sense this group is going to be just as good in 2020?

MM: "I think so, and I think there's pressure on them to be even better. Stephon Tuitt was a huge loss. He was also injured after Ben Roethlisberger. When you hear Steelers, you know Ben, but Stephon Tuitt was having a really good season until he got hurt. He's coming back healthy. That's more stability among the defensive line. Of course the Steelers lost Javon Hargrave to the Eagles in free agency. He was definitely a key player. Knowing that Minkah's going to have a full offseason, a full preseason, a full training camp with the Steelers — that also is going to help out as well."

AD: You mentioned a couple of those losses. Which addition — via either free agency or the draft — could have the biggest impact in our Week 2 game next year?

MM: "I think any rookie's kind of jumping on a moving train unfairly due to the circumstances. I think a lot them have special teams capability. That's what we heard from Steelers management after the draft. Eric Ebron, who the Steelers brought in through free agency, I think he is somebody who Ben is going to love who can really help that offense and maybe he's a guy that can help take pressure off JuJu Smith-Schuster, as well."

AD: What's the mood in Pittsburgh about the team's ability to make a run back to the playoffs with a healthy Roethlisberger?

MM: "It was two straight years of not making the playoffs, which is very atypical in Pittsburgh for sure. There's obviously excitement because you figure the rest of Ben's body — yes, he had to undergo surgery, and he's rehabbing and he's working hard — but his legs are going to be fresh. His body didn't take as many physical hits and things that he typically endures during the season. I definitely think there's excitement. It's crazy to say, but when the Steelers traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick, it wasn't a popular move. It was like, 'Are you kidding me? You just lost your starting quarterback. That first-round draft pick could be really high. You're trading it away?' I think Minkah quickly proved [his value]. He came in and played. His first game, i just remember his first interception, and that's when everyone was like, 'Oh, wow. OK. Maybe this isn't so bad.' That first-round draft pick that we traded for Minkah to the Dolphins was No. 18. It's not like it was a top-10 pick. I think there's excitement that the defense is going to continue to grow. And anytime that you get your franchise quarterback back, there's definitely excitement with that, as well."

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