Five keys to the game for Pittsburgh

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
11:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

Here are five keys to Monday night's game for the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) against the Denver Broncos (6-1):

Be physical: The Baltimore Ravens proved last week that Denver could be worn down by bigger, more physical teams. Pittsburgh’s personnel is very similar to Baltimore's, so the Broncos could struggle in many of the same areas. The Steelers need to set the tone early with their physicality. The Broncos are a "finesse" team, and as evident by their record, that works well for them. But oftentimes it takes a while for teams outside the AFC North to adjust to the smashmouth brand that is played within the division. Pittsburgh needs to take advantage of that, especially on the road.

Play smart defense: For a 6-1 team, Denver's offense can be relatively easy to stop. It takes a smart defense that won't be fooled by the various screens and quick-hitting misdirections. Stopping the run will be the first focal point. After that, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton likely will struggle trying to beat teams singlehandedly through the air. Denver is very gun shy when it comes to attacking opponents vertically with Orton under center. Therefore, look for Pittsburgh to bring many defenders closer to the line of scrimmage to challenge Denver's hesitancy to go deep.

Big game from Troy: Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu recently returned to the team following a left knee injury he suffered in the season opener. Although he’s made some plays, Polamalu still hasn’t looked 100 percent. The dynamic safety had two additional weeks off to rest the knee. With veteran safety Ryan Clark not expected to play, that puts an even greater emphasis on Polamalu controlling the middle of the field for Pittsburgh.

Ball security: Lately the Steelers haven’t been taking care of the football, and it’s hard to tell if this is just a small issue or a growing trend this season. Pittsburgh fumbled the ball five times (losing four) in its past two games. It didn’t hurt the Steelers in home wins over the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings. But careless turnovers Monday could hurt the Steelers a lot more on the road against Denver. Pittsburgh second-year tailback Rashard Mendenhall has lost two fumbles in two games.

Use new wrinkles: In the past, the Steelers would bring out a trick play or two later in the regular season. That hasn’t been the case as much under current offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. But coming off a bye week, this would be a great time to catch a good opponent off guard on both sides of the football. Pittsburgh ran a tailback pass by Mewelde Moore earlier in the season that worked for a touchdown. The Steelers shouldn’t get too giddy with trick plays, but perhaps a couple of new wrinkles would help. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau also is known to constantly draw up new packages. So, don’t be surprised if you see something new from the defense as well.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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