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Steelers/Broncos pregame stretch...

September 7, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode
Blogger’s note: From here out, we’ll be doing a pregame stretch blog and postgame wrapup blog for every Steelers game. We’ll also be commenting extensively on the team all week on Twitter @15MinutesBlog. In keeping with our personal decision to lessen the importance we place upon college athletics in our life, there won’t be any Penn State blogs this season but we’ll tweet casually about the team, especially during games.

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) vs. Denver Broncos (0-0)

Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Weather – or not?: Partly cloudy, game time temperature of 75, 0 percent chance of rain. Those are near ideal conditions – if it weren’t for that whole 5,280 feet above sea level thing.

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Announcers: Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth, Michelle Tafoya

Annoyance factor: Michaels remains unassailable and we remain a huge fan of Collinsworth, who works hard to get better every year and has the best total mix of personality and football knowledge going today. That likely means we’ll be picking on Tafoya in our game blog.

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Referee: Gerald Wright

Competence factor: OK, the replacement officials have been utterly terrible BUT with a few weeks to get acclimated to the speed of the game and more repetitions they’ll improve to being just plain terrible like the regular officials. We hope the dispute is settled soon, but the sentiment that there are only 100 people in the world who can officiate NFL games is laughable.

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The line: Denver -2

Smarts say: The Steelers opened here as 1-point underdogs, reflective of a game where there are questions about age and health on both sides. The line slid another point midweek when news broke of Larry Foote and James Harrison’s uncertain status for Sunday. It will probably move again after Friday’s practice, based on how much those two guys participate. The over/under of 44.5 means the smarts see something in the neighborhood of 23-21 Broncos.

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Key matchup: Steelers blitz packages vs. Broncos protection schemes

Because: The Steelers fielded the league’s top-ranked defense last year despite ranking in the bottom half in sacks (17th with 35, 15 behind the league leaders). It’s highly doubtful they’ll repeat that overall ranking in 2012 without improving their pressure and sack production. The matchup is triply amplified in this game because of Peyton Manning’s health (with the exception of the 2005 playoff upset, Pittsburgh has never had much luck pressuring Manning in Indy) and the age/injury challenges for the black and gold defenders.

Quick hits:

+ We’re not a doctor and we’re not an NFL insider, but we’ve got pretty good spidey sense and the James Harrison “knee injury that won’t heal” situation is making our spidey sense tingle in a Jack Lambert big toe sort of a way.

+ We love the NFL as much as anyone but our sports culture’s total fascination with the league has resulted in media oversaturation to the nth power. Every network, cable channel, web site, blog and app has their own “expert” churning out their own “unique” content. It can get quite ridiculous as it was Thursday afternoon when we saw some “exclusive expert analysis” that suggested the Broncos (who have two of the best pass rushers in the game) just might try to pressure the Steelers (who have a much-maligned and once again injury-wracked offensive line). So now you know.

+ We told you last winter that the Steelers would let Mike Wallace test the RFA market, that no one would sign him, that he’d eventually sign a tender and play for Pittsburgh in 2012, that the Steelers would not offer him the Top 5 receiver money he’s looking for, that they’d decide not to franchise Wallace for 2013 and that Wallace would sign an unrestricted free agent contract in the range of $50-$55 million somewhere else. We’re halfway there and we’ve seen nothing to make us think the second half of the prediction isn’t going to play out just as the first half already has.

The pick: There seems to be a fairly large gap between the national perception of where the Steelers are (trending downward) and the local perception (19-0, Stairway to Seven baby!). The reality, of course, is probably somewhere in between. But let’s do a reality check on this game: Pittsburgh has two injured running backs, a No. 1 receive who started practicing Monday, an offensive line in flux, a questionable defensive line, a limping linebacker corps, a starting safety who won’t play because of an illness, a new special teams coach and a brand-new punter. That’s a pretty daunting list under any circumstances, let alone under the circumstances of going on the road to face an all-time great quarterback and two healthy and snarling pass-rush specialists. The only way we can see Pittsburgh winning this game is with a lights out performance from Ben Roethlisberger or some electric stuff from Chris Rainey… Broncos 27-21.

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