Broncos’ defense not afraid of Steelers
The Associated Press
DENVER — The Pittsburgh Steelers can unnerve plenty of defenses with the NFL’s best pair of pass catchers and the league’s top tight end tandem.
“We’ve had a tough game every week,” Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We haven’t had any easy games. So, this is just another top offense that we get to see, another great challenge and we’re up for it.”
The Steelers (7-2-1), bursting with playmakers in wide receivers Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James and running back James Connor, are the third consecutive opponent to bring a winning streak of at least five games into their matchup against the Broncos (4-6).
The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the last team to face that sort of gantlet, wrapping up an 0-14 season with losses to the Raiders, Steelers and Patriots by an average of 40-10.
The Broncos snapped the Chargers’ six-game roll with a stirring comeback last week capped by Brandon McManus’ field goal as time expired — one game after his errant kick as time expired allowed the Texans to escape with their sixth straight win.
“We’ve seen it all already,” Harris said. “Now, it’s just another challenge, another great offense, another great quarterback and receivers. We’ve had some success this year playing the top offenses.”
In addition to letting Deshaun Watson and the Texans duck out of Denver with a win, the Broncos had their chances against Jared Goff and the Rams and twice against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. They lost those four games by a combined 12 points.
“Close calls against really good football teams,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “This is definitely a team that is much better than their record shows. They’re a team that’s kind of sitting there.”
Ready to pounce.
“They got a big win last week and need to get this win,” Roethlisberger said. “We don’t look at records. We look at going on the road to a tough place to play against a really good football team.”
Other subplots in the Steelers’ first trip to Denver since the playoffs following the 2015 season:
The Broncos counter Pittsburgh’s dynamite duos with the league’s most prolific pass-rushing pair in Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb, both of whom are riding five-game sack streaks.
The two defensive ends, Miller and Chubb, have combined for 19 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, 29 QB hits, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception.
“It’s unbelievable, maybe the best one in the game right now, those two guys,” Roethlisberger said.
Miller is coming off his 100th sack and a key interception that was a game-changer and maybe a season-turner, and he certainly has the attention of the Steelers.
“I’ve got nothing but crazy respect for him,” Roethlisberger said. “Such a good football player and he really takes pride in his craft. He’s almost scientific about it.”
Miller was the MVP of the Pro Bowl last year, where he was coached by Mike Tomlin in the Steelers staff.
“I thought he was an alien,” Tomlin said. “He was a special player among a group of special players. He went by me in the fourth quarter and said, ‘Coach, I got this.’ I watched him take over a Pro Bowl and change the climate inside that stadium.”
“An alien?” replied Miller. “Like, which one? There’s Martians with the big head or is it like ‘Alien’ the movie?”
The Steelers are 15-1-1 in their last 17 road games, though the going has typically been difficult in Denver. Pittsburgh has dropped four of its last five visits to the Mile High City, including a pair of playoff setbacks in 2012 and 2016.
“We know it’s a tough place to play,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “I know I’ve never won a game there and I’ve been around a while. It’s one of those places where, no matter how hot you might think you are, things can change in a minute.”
While Brown has caught at least one touchdown in eight consecutive games, it’s the development of Smith-Schuster that’s helped keep Pittsburgh’s offense humming even with running back Le’Veon Bell sitting out the season.
Smith-Schuster has 64 receptions for 866 yards and has developed a rapport with Roethlisberger that is paying off in the clutch. He caught four passes in Pittsburgh’s final frenetic two drives last week against Jacksonville, including a leaping 35-yard grab that helped set up the winning touchdown.
REPLAY OR REDEMPTION
“It’s the best of the best,” Harris said of his matchup with Brown, who got the best of him the last time they lined up against each other three years ago.
Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, snapping Harris’ streak of 35 games without allowing a score.
“I didn’t play well that night,” Harris said. “But I’m ready for Sunday.”