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Scouting Report: Broncos’ Weapons Stress Defenses

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The Broncos come into Pittsburgh off a tough loss to the Tennessee Titans. While they did lose, it was a great effort by the Broncos against a team that was in the AFC Championship last season. This game on Sunday is by no means a walk in the park for the Steelers, as they will learn through watching film of that week one matchup. What can the Steelers expect to see on both sides of the ball? What playmakers will they have to watch out for? Can they exploit any matchups?

Broncos Schemes

The offensive scheme run by Pat Shurmur is one that maximizes Drew Lock’s ability to win as a quarterback. They take advantage of his mobility, but also use his arm strength. Much like the Giants, this is a team that wants to push the ball vertically given the right opportunity. However, Shurmur also sprinkles in motion and lots of rollouts to take advantage of Lock’s legs. The misdirection that Shurmur uses on his offense opens up guys at all levels of the field, but especially at the immediate flats.

This is one of the examples of that rollout. They make the formation tight but have set this up all day long. As the run game shows, the Broncos love to use 12 and 13 personnel to get their way in the running game. It is a dual-zone and gap scheme that they use. They counter the overaggressiveness of the defense with play-action rollouts such as this. The Steelers will have to be careful when they get too aggressive playing against Melvin Gordon and the running game.

One other characteristic of the Broncos scheme is they spread defenses out. This partially helps the running game by lightening the box, but even more so, they love to cause traffic to either attack underneath or get guys open down the boundary. With Courtland Sutton in here, plays like this would likely be more successful. If the Broncos have him on Sunday, their scheme is far more potent. They can push the ball down the field more with Sutton on board.

As far as the running game goes, again, this is a diverse running game that does not have one big constant. Aside from the abundant use of motion, they did use a lot of pulling guards and motion to get lead blocks out in front of Gordon. That is likely to be a constant this week given their heavy success last week on these runs.

As far as the Broncos defense, this is primarily a quarters scheme. That often means attacking the Broncos underneath will be a way to really shred them. However, they also were beaten badly on deep over routes off of play-action against the Titans. The Steelers do not like to use play-action often, but this is a week it could show up in at least a limited capacity. Even if the rushing attack is not as potent as a Derrick Henry-led attack, the Steelers can still have success in this area.

This is pretty simple. The Broncos have Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell as their linebackers, and at best, they are average in coverage. They are very exploitable, which should see the Steelers attack the middle of the field often with guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster this week.

The other thing to watch out for is star safety, Justin Simmons. Simmons loves to come down from the two-high shells that the Broncos can implement and rob the middle of the field. Similar to how the Steelers use Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Broncos like to run man coverage to free up their playmaking safety.

Key Players to Watch

TE Noah Fant

Fant was a big part of the Broncos first half gameplan on Monday night. An athletic tight end that bust seams with ease, Fant is the definition of a mismatch weapon for any offense, but especially one that likes to space out defenses. If Fant gets a mismatch against someone like Vince Williams, the Steelers could be very prone to some chunk plays on Sunday and they will have to scheme against that.

S Justin Simmons

Simmons continues to be one of the best safeties in the NFL right up there with guys like Fitzpatrick. He is a versatile chess piece that condenses a million roles into one on this Denver defense. Maybe the most important thing to take a look at when considering what Simmons can bring to the table is his range and ball skills, both of which are excellent. Ben Roethlisberger will have to be careful as he tries to test the defense anywhere near Simmons this week.

WR Courtland Sutton

Sutton is essentially the question mark of this game at this point. If he ends up playing on Sunday, the Broncos can implement more vertical schemes rather than just play the rollout game like they did last week. There is no guarantee that they will be able to do either sufficiently, but with Sutton, the Steelers cornerbacks will be far more stressed by the big, smooth receiver who can bring down anything thrown his way.

Key Matchups to Watch

Kevin Dotson vs Jurrell Casey

This is perhaps the most important matchup of them all. With David DeCastro and Stefen Wisniewski, both out with injuries, Steelers rookie Kevin Dotson is being thrown into the fire against one of the better defensive lineman in the NFL right now. It is about to be the toughest matchup for Dotson on his young career, but he has been facing guys like Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt all week to train him for this. In those limited snaps against the Giants, Dotson looked good, but he’ll have to rise to the occasion here to protect Roethlisberger.

Steelers Receivers vs Broncos Cornerbacks

On the other side of the ball, this is the one to watch. With A.J. Bouye hitting injured reserve for the Broncos, they have lost their top cornerback for at least three weeks. Even with rookie Michael Ojemudia playing well, they will still have mismatches all across this matchup. Essang Bassey, an undrafted free agent, will have to rise to the occasion for the Broncos. Bryce Callahan is a decent slot cornerback, too. However, the Steelers have an opportunity to use their receiver talent and have a successful day through the air.

T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree vs Garrett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson

Just like last week, the Steelers star tandem of edge rushers has a favorable matchup heading into Week 2. Just last week, they notched 15 pressures in total. Bolles was not bad last week, but he did get beat, and facing Dupree is no easy task for anyone, especially him. Wilkinson got dusted more than a few times by Harold Landry and Jadeveon Clowney. Now, Watt is in the perfect position to have yet another big game this week. If Drew Lock panics under pressure, this Broncos offense could be stymied by the Steelers pass rush.

 

Steelers Opponents

Report: Titans Could Face Fine for COVID-19 Outbreak that Caused Postponements

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The Tennessee Titans will not have to forfeit any draft picks, but may be subject to a fine for the team’s handling of its COVID-19 outbreak that caused the postponement of its scheduled Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to a report by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Schefter said that there will be no discipline for any individuals involved, only to the team, and that punishment will be a result of unclear communication regarding player workouts outside the facility and a lack of compliance with regards to wearing face masks.

The Titans had reportedly held players-only workouts while the team’s facility was shut down, which may have resulted in the team’s extended period of positive tests that caused it to miss its game against the Steelers and its Week 5 game against the Buffalo Bills to be moved to a Tuesday night.

The Steelers and Titans will make up their Week 4 game this Sunday, rescheduled during what was supposed to be the Steelers’ bye week.

Instead, it will be the first of a three-game road swing as the Steelers will visit Tennessee, the Baltimore Ravens and then the Dallas Cowboys.

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Steelers Opponents

Report: Titans TE Jonnu Smith Questionable for Steelers Game

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Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith is considered questionable for Sunday’s upcoming game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a “minor” ankle sprain, according to a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Smith suffered the injury in the first half Tennessee’s 42-36 (OT) win over the Houston Texans last Sunday, finishing the day with just one catch for 13 yards.

Smith is off to a tremendous start in 2020 and has quickly become one of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s favorite targets, catching 19 passes for 234 yards and five touchdowns. He had seven touchdowns over his first three seasons combined.

While Smith’s status for Sunday is still uncertainty, it was confirmed Monday morning the Titans will be without left tackle Taylor Lewan for the rest of the season, who suffered a torn ACL against the Texans.

Selected by Tennessee in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft our of Florida International, Smith has spent his entire four-year career in Nashville.

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NFL

Around the NFL: Titans Set Up Battle of 5-0 Teams; Colts Complete Historic Comeback Over Bengals,

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Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap early-week action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective. 

AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND

Tennessee Titans 42 Houston Texans 36 (OT)

The Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers were supposed to meet as 3-0 unbeaten teams back in Week 4, but a COVID-19 outbreak shut down the Titans’ facility and had the game rescheduled to Week 7.

But that hiccup and unexpected early bye week hasn’t slowed the teams down at all. As the Steelers were dismantling the Cleveland Browns to improve to 5-0, the Titans escaped with an overtime win over the Houston Texans to set up a battle of unbeaten 5-0 squads.

The Titans jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but had to come back to force overtime. Ryan Tannehill completed eight of nine on the final Titans drive of regulation, the last a 7-yard scoring strike to A.J. Brown. In overtime, do-it-all back Derrick Henry took a pass 53 yards to set up his own game-winning score.

Earlier in the game, Henry did this.

He finished with 22 carries for 212 yards and two touchdowns and becomes the man that will keep the Steelers defense up at night as the 5-0 squads prepare to meet.

Indianapolis Colts 31 Cincinnati Bengals 27

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OCTOBER 18: Cincinnati Bengals Quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws the football in game action during a NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals on October 18, 2020, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by MSA/Icon Sportswire)

The 2020 NFL season has been the year of the comeback thus far, and the Colts added to that narrative against the Bengals on Sunday, erasing a 21-point deficit to top Cincinnati 31-27. This is the first season in league history in which at least one team has overcome a deficit of 16-or-more points and won in each of the first six weeks of the season.

The key to Indianapolis’ impressive comeback proved to be the wily veteran Philip Rivers, who passed for 371 touchdowns and three touchdowns in the win. Rivers became the sixth player to post 30 career games with at least 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes in NFL history, joining Drew Brees, Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Brady.

Opposite Rivers was the stellar rookie Joe Burrow, who bounced back against a stout Colts defense after a poor showing in Baltimore last week. Burrow threw for 313 yards, his fourth 300-yard passing over the last five games, but he failed to toss a touchdown and was picked off once. He did rush for a touchdown, as did running backs Joe Mixon Giovanni Bernard. Rookie wideout Tee Higgin was another one of the few bright spots on the day for the Bengals, as the former Clemson Tiger caught six passes for 125 yards.

Cincinnati will look to snap their losing skid in a rematch with the Browns next week. The banged-up Colts will get a much needed bye before travelling to Detroit.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38 Green Bay Packers 10

A game that many expected and hoped to be shootout Sunday evening between two legendary quarterbacks ended up being a one-sided drubbing thanks to the Tampa Bay defense and the game plan of coordinator Todd Bowles.

The Buccaneers orchestrated an exceptional strategy pressuring Aaron Rodgers and halting a Packers offense that came in averaging a league-high 38 points per game. Under constant duress Sunday, Rodgers was sacked four times and tossed two interceptions. It was the first time Rodgers tossed no touchdowns and threw multiple picks since Dec. 14, 2014 against Buffalo.

Although not overwhelming, Tom Brady was surgical for the Bucs, carving up Green Bay’s defense to the tune of 166 yards and two touchdowns. Brady was also finally able to connect tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught five passes for 78 yards and a score, his first as a Buccaneer. Brady and Gronkowski now have 91 touchdown connections over their careers, which surpassed Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for the third-most touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver duo in NFL history.

Tampa was also dominant on the ground, as running back Ronald Jones II rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns. In comparison, Packers star Aaron Jones rushed for just 15 yards on ten carries with a score.

The Packers will get an opportunity to right the ship next week in Houston, while the Buccaneers will head west to face the Raiders on Sunday Night Football.

Chicago Bears 23 Carolina Panthers 16

The Panthers had no answers against the smothering Bears defense Sunday, as Chicago is 5-1 for the first time since 2012.

Carolina’s offense continues to struggle in the absence of injured star running back Christian McCaffery, with the Bears forcing three turnovers and putting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater through hell all afternoon. Chicago sacked him four times and intercepted him twice, as Bridgewater posted a quarterback rating of just 50.3, his lowest since Week Ten of 2018. Bears defensive end Khalil Mack accounted for one of those sacks and two tackles-for-loss.

While not a flashy day for the Bears offense, the unit did its job Sunday led by quarterback Nick Foles, who passed 198 yards and a touchdown with an interception. He also rushed for a score. The offense was never able to kickstart the run game otherwise, but they were efficient, scoring on five of their first eight drives of the game.

Chicago will look to keep their hot start rolling when they travel to face the Rams next week on Monday Night Football. Carolina attempts to get back on track at New Orleans in Week Seven.

MONDAY NIGHT PREVIEW

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills, Monday, 5:00 p.m., WPGH-TV

Before it became the first half of a tantalizing Monday night double header, Week Six’s monster matchup between the Chiefs and Bills was supposed to be played on Thursday night. The game had to be moved to Monday after last week’s Buffalo-Tennessee was played as one of the few Tuesday games in NFL history.

Monday’s early evening face off will pit two of the NFL brightest, young star quarterbacks against each other in the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen. Both signal callers are off to tremendous starts this season with remarkably similar stats. Allen is second in the league with 14 touchdown passes, while Mahomes is third with 13. Allen is also second in the league in passing yards, Mahomes is fourth. Mahomes has thrown only a single interception. Allen has tossed only three.

With both quarterbacks performing at such high levels, Monday’s matchup could be decided by the defenses, and Kansas City has the edge against the pass. The Chiefs have allowed just seven passing scores this year, and intercepted six passes, which is tied for the third-most in the league.

Buffalo’s best option could be to turn to the run game with Allen and running back Devin Singletary. Allen has 20 rushing touchdowns over the last three season, while Singletary is averaging 109.2 scrimmage yards over his last five home games. The Chiefs are 30th in the NFL in rush defense and have allowed five yards-per-carry.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

Atlanta Falcons 40 Minnesota Vikings 23

Denver Broncos 18 New England Patriots 12

New York Giants 20 Washington 19

Baltimore Ravens 30 Philadelphia Eagles 28

Pittsburgh Steelers 38 Cleveland Browns 7

Detroit Lions 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Miami Dolphins 24 New York Jets 0

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

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