The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Denver Broncos this week in a matchup that could be a playoff preview.
A whole lot goes into winning or losing this kind of game, but in this case there are two specific matchups that will determine the outcome more than any others.
The question is this: can the Steelers receivers beat the Broncos’ cornerbacks one on one?
Let’s take a look at the evidence.
Denver has two of the best in the business with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Pro Football Focus ranks Harris third overall this year, and Talib at 23. Both have positive pass coverage ratings and Harris’ is among the elite. As a team the Broncos give up only 188.2 passing yards per game, which is fewer than any other NFL team. They also rank first in opponents points per game (17.3) and nobody has scored more than 29 points on them this year.
Last week the two of them blanked Amari Cooper (zero catches on eight targets) and limited Michael Crabtree to just 19 yards.
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The receivers they’ll be facing this time around are a little bit different, though.
As of right now Antonio Brown ranks second in the NFL with 1,397 yards and is tied for second in yards after the catch with 483. Brown routinely makes plays that no other receiver can and has had his way with some of the league’s better corners this year (Vontae Davis comes to mind.)
On the other side Martavis Bryant has dominated since returning from his four-game suspension. In eight games he has already tallied 672 receiving yards and scored six touchdowns.
Who will come out on top?
Recent history suggests that Harris will get the better of Brown. The two have met twice before and Brown’s numbers have been relatively pedestrian. He has totaled nine catches and 144 yards with no touchdowns. However, the most recent meeting was in early 2012 and a whole lot has changed for the Steelers since then.
The additions of Bryant and Markus Wheaton give Pittsburgh an array of weapons that makes it nearly impossible to double cover anybody. A solid run game led by DeAngelo Williams doesn’t hurt matters, either.
Then again, the Broncos didn’t have a pass rush like they do now.
It’s a tough call to make and to be honest we’re not sure who will get the edge. Usually great defense will beat great offense any day of the week, but there are always exceptions to the rule. If this game turns out to be one of them, the Steelers should be able to win.