Steelers vs. Broncos: Early impressions by the numbers

JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

Set for the Pittsburgh Steelers home opener versus the Denver Broncos, we return with the stat breakdown, early impressions by the numbers.

Yes, I know everyone in the Pittsburgh Steelers community has been anticipating the return of this series. It is back, and we are going to continue to expose the tendencies of all our opponents through numbers.

Debuting “EITB” to the people week two against the Denver Broncos for the 2020 season, the matchup is very intriguing on face value. They are a young roster with skill and talent that is exciting as any other team but are very raw at the same time. Naturally, they can remain competitive despite that, but in the NFL, the experience is vital.

Opening as 7.5 point favorites, the Steelers are in line to convincingly beat the Broncos for its home opener at Heinz Field & seek redemption in breaking their current two-game losing streak against Denver.

The Steelers response on both sides of the ball should bring clarity

Off to a struggling start against the New York Giants, the Steelers could pull away after 23 unanswered points to win 26-16. As for the Broncos in their week one matchup, they lost 13-16 to a game-winning field goal by the Tennessee Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski, after missing his previous three.

In contrast, both games appear way closer than what the score indicates, considering the Giants’ garbage-time touchdown late in the fourth quarter. And this will be the only similarity between the two.

For any player that had at least 15 rushing attempts, no player in the NFL other than Saquon Barkley ran for less than 29 yards, much less six, as compared to the 116 yards Titans RB Derrick Henry gained on the Broncos defense (2nd most in the NFL).

On the 43 attempts by Titans QB Ryan Tannehill, he completed at least 80% of his passes against six separate defenders for the Broncos, four targeted at least five times. The only Broncos defender wouldn’t be targeted at least five times & allow a 50% completion rating? CB A.J Bouye, who fell to a shoulder injury and will be without the team.

Week one rust?

The Steelers themselves had three defenders that were targeted at least five times & allowed a plus 50 completion percentage, & this is where all eyes need to be Sunday. CB Steven Nelson, S Terrell Edmunds, LB Devin Bush.

Nelson, coming off a strong first-year as a Steelers, was the worst player in coverage for the Steelers, allowing seven catches on nine targets for 82 yards. Looking ahead, he will be tasked against the likes of rookie WR Jerry Jeudy, leading the team with eight targets that could find himself purposefully moved away from veteran CB Joe Haden.

And as for Edmunds & Bush, that defended for a combined nine completions on 13 targets for 92 yards against the Giants, here comes Denver’s TE Noah Fant. Or the Broncos best offensive player week one with five receptions for 81 yards & a touchdown, & maybe shaping into the player everyone thought he would be.

All points important considering Denver will be without their projected strong-duo at RB after Broncos Philip Lindsay was diagnosed with turf toe & could miss anywhere between 3-8 weeks. Still, in week one, he & Melvin Gordon were only dealt for 22 rushing attempts & four targets through the air. Also, with the lack of a strong offensive line, the emphasis is leaning towards a generating passing attack under Denver’s new OC Pat Shurmur.

On the other side, the offensive line injuries for Pittsburgh are serious and heading into a game against DT Jurrell Casey & DE Bradley Chubb. Although the Mile High defense only had one sack, they tallied for seven QB hits. However, the Steelers have a pass-rushing group of their own as well to boast.

Does OC Randy Fichtner notice the obvious deficiencies upfront & challenge himself in mixing his playbook? Can the front seven sustain this level of play against the run? Will the offense move forward with the more athletic Benny Snell at RB?

Next. Pittsburgh Steelers vs the Broncos: 4 things to know about their week 2 matchup. dark

The Steelers are favorable, and although the Broncos offense may not have the pure talent the Giants do, they will be a bit more equipped defensively & prepared all around, posing a matchup that could be closer than what the betting lines say.