Denver’s ‘D’ will be a challenge

PITTSBURGH — Sunday? This is Sunday? It’s been one of those weeks where three or four days have seemed like Sunday, so that accounts for the confusion.

OK, if this is really Sunday, the Steelers are in Denver and in a potentially troublesome game against the Broncos.

The first problem is Denver. The altitude always makes it a challenge to play there. In the past, the Steelers have gone west early to adjust to the different atmosphere.

The Broncos aren’t overwhelming anybody at 4-6, but they’re coming off a win over the Los Angeles Chargers. They have a pretty good defense that gets after quarterbacks effectively. The Steelers have an offensive line that might be ready to spring a leak since they may be down to their third option at right tackle.

Marcus Gilbert is out, replacement Matt Feilers is questionable and that leaves 21-year-old Chukwuma Okorafor, who has never started an NFL game. The Broncos have Von Miller with 10 quarterback sacks and Bradley Chubb, who has nine.

That could be a problem, no matter how solid the rest of the line is. This kicks off an especially challenging stretch of schedule, which includes games against the Chargers, New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, who are currently a combined 24-7.

The AFC North is, as usual, there for the taking, but the path isn’t easy.

It could be almost as difficult as figuring out what day this is.

Plug a hole

MLB’s Winter Meetings are coming up, and they’re usually a swap meet for teams looking to make additions.

The Pirates’ offseason shopping list includes a shortstop to replace Jordy Mercer. They may have found him already.

The Pirates will settle for a part-time player who can share the position with rookie Kevin Newman in 2019. The long-range plan is to hope that former No 1 draft pick Cole Tucker can take over, probably in 2020.

Erik Gonzalez was acquired from Cleveland in a five-player trade that sent Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff to the Indians. Gonzalez has been billed as a possible utility player for the Pirates. He may be capable of holding down at least part of the shortstop job.

The priority there is being solid enough defensively to help a pretty good starting pitching staff. Mercer was sure-handed and accurate with his throws, but his limited range was a liability.

Gonzalez has the potential to be a significant defensive upgrade and at least match Mercer’s modest offensive numbers while sharing time with Newman.

Bad attraction

Golf’s first foray into pay per view flopped because of technical difficulties.

The one-on-one showdown between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson was beset with transmission problems, and that led some providers to refund the full $19.95 fee that buyers paid.

That should serve as a reminder that PPV technology isn’t always perfect and it’s possible — maybe even easy — to lose a program the promoter has spent mullions to organize and promote.

Not only do buyers lose a program they wanted, they’re left with bad feelings about purchasing PPV programming in the future.

Crisis management

Is it possible to have brush fires on ice?

If so, the Penguins do. They discovered Patric Hornqvist has a concussion, news that came a day or so after the team placed goalie Matt Murray on injured reserve with a mysterious lower body injury.

So with Murray out, goaltending is in the inexperienced hands of Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry, which won’t make a lot of people feel another championship is imminent.

It’s been a mess of a season so far. Usually this kind of crisis leads to a coaching change, if only as a distraction. In this case, though, there’s no logical reason to think Mike Sullivan is in trouble.

If there’s one thing working in the Penguins’ favor, it’s the ridiculous length of the NHL season.

November’s problems may be distant memories by the time April rolls around.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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