Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Matchups, prediction between two teams needing a win

Aging stars headline the Broncos vs. Steelers matchup in Week 5, as Von Miller should dominate Ben Roethlisberger, who is on his way out.

For the second time in as many weeks, Vic Fangio and Co. take on an AFC North opponent in a Week 5 Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers matchup. The Broncos were exposed last week against the Baltimore Ravens.

Largely playing an off-brand of football, the Steelers have been terrible on offense and perhaps even worse on defense this season. Given the mirroring records of 3-1 for Denver and 1-3 for Pittsburgh, this matchup may actually favor the underdog.

Denver Broncos offense vs. Pittsburgh Steelers defense

The Broncos will be led by Teddy Bridgewater in all likelihood. Returning from the concussion protocol, it looks like Bridgewater will be a go for Denver. Had he not been able to play, Drew Lock would have led the team as he did in Bridgewater’s absence against Baltimore a week ago.

Teddy Bridgewater vs. Steelers defense

Teddy is the ultimate stopgap while a team figures out its long-term quarterback plans, but he still offers plus value at the position. Clearly, he helped lead the Broncos to three wins, while the club’s lone loss came while he was sidelined. Still, Bridgewater is limited as a passer, averaging just 4.9 completed air yards per pass this season.

He’s kept the ball out of harm’s way while not testing the deep waters much. That pits well against a Steelers defense that has given up 8 passing touchdowns compared to just 1 interception this season. T.J. Watt is a game-wrecker but has been injured this year. Cam Heyward changes opponents’ game plans but is also dealing with injuries.

Pittsburgh will be without Cameron Sutton at cornerback, and their defense lacks star power as in years past. Even a game manager like Bridgewater may be capable of defeating Pittsburgh this year.

Advantage: Broncos

Broncos weapons vs. Steelers secondary

The Steelers enter this game with Tre Norwood and James Pierre as the only cornerbacks who have played in every game. Without Sutton, they’re also without their leader in pass breakups. It’s been ugly since a season-opening win against Buffalo. Through four games, the Steelers have allowed 93 points, including 77 over their last three contests.

Pittsburgh has forfeited 50 first downs through the air as their secondary just can’t seem to help the defense off the field. They’ve given up 8 passing touchdowns compared to just 1 score on the ground.

Denver enters this game with Courtland Sutton leading the team in targets. Meanwhile, Tim Patrick and TE Noah Fant have each caught 2 TDs. Sutton and Patrick are both averaging over 14 yards per reception, recording multiple first downs a game. They may not be a deep unit, but their efforts at every level of the field should pay dividends while Fant should match up with Pittsburgh S Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Even if Fitzpatrick limits Fant, the advantage is clearly in Denver’s favor.

Advantage: Broncos

Broncos offensive line vs. Steelers defensive line

With a healthy unit, the Steelers’ defensive line is must-watch football. Even with a limited Watt and Heyward, they’re still a formidable squad. In fact, the defensive line is about all that’s gone right defensively for Pittsburgh this year.

Watt has 5 sacks, while Heyward has been credited with multiple pressures in every game this year. Alex Highsmith has proven to be effective at getting after the quarterback and Melvin Ingram is still rushing the passer with ease. Combined, Pittsburgh has recorded 8 sacks and 45 total pressures, per Pro Football Reference. Watt (13), Ingram (10), Heyward (9), and Highsmith (5) have combined for 37 of those 45 pressures.

Denver’s offensive line will have their hands full with the Steelers’ group up front. Pittsburgh is nearly two-deep at each position despite injuries, while Denver’s offensive line has been suspect, at best. From left to right, Garett Bolles, Quinn Meinerz, Lloyd Cushenberry, Netane Muti, and Bobby Massie have fared much better on the ground than in pass protection.

Though not all their fault, Broncos quarterbacks have been sacked 12 times this season. That’s a recipe for disaster when a good pass-rushing team can pin their ears back.

Advantage: Steelers

Denver Broncos defense vs. Pittsburgh Steelers offense

Big Ben Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Fame quarterback — there’s no doubt about that. What is in doubt, however, is whether Big Ben can still throw the ball downfield on a consistent basis.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Broncos defense

Roethlisberger is getting rid of the ball faster than any quarterback this season. Per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Roethlisberger is averaging just 2.33 seconds to throw, the fastest in the NFL by a long shot. The next closest is Andy Dalton (2.47) followed by Dak Prescott (2.51). Roethlisberger has become famous for his checkdowns during inopportune situations, and he’s seemingly lacking awareness as much as he lacks arm strength.

He struggles to find his receivers downfield in general, but that will especially be the case against a talented Broncos secondary. Rookie CB Patrick Surtain is more than living up to his billing, while the safety duo of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson has been incredibly solid. Denver is limiting opponents to only 12.3 points per game and just 62 total first downs.

Najee Harris has been Roethlisberger’s favorite target, but the Broncos haven’t allowed more than 17 yards through the air to a running back.

Advantage: Broncos

Steelers weapons vs. Broncos secondary

Independent from their quarterback, the Steelers’ offensive playmakers are top notch. The wide receiver corps of Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and JuJu Smith-Schuster can compete with any trio in the league. Despite Roethlisberger having lost some of his arm strength this year, the trio has combined for 573 yards and half of Pittsburgh’s receiving touchdowns this season.

The Broncos will have to stand tall as they play a full game against Pittsburgh’s weapons. For as good as Surtain, Simmons, Jackson, and Kyle Fuller have been, they’ve still allowed yards in bunches. All four starters in the secondary are allowing double-digit yards per completion this season.

Matching up talent for talent, independent of quarterback play, the Steelers have the edge.

Advantage: Steelers

Steelers offensive line vs. Broncos front seven

Any time you have to defend against Von Miller, you’re largely going to be overmatched. Miller has recorded 12 pressures and 4.5 sacks so far this season. However, opposite Miller, Denver has had a large gap in overall pressures and impact on games this season.

They’ve been relatively slow to pressure quarterbacks and haven’t been able to consistently beat offensive linemen. The Broncos have made up for it with crafty blitz packages and second- and third-level defenders getting home with pressure. Linebacker Alexander Johnson and safety Caden Sterns are second on the team with 2 sacks apiece.

The Steelers’ offensive line was once a formidable unit. They once stood tall in the face of pressure. This year is nothing like years of old, however. The front five of Dan Moore Jr., Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, and Joe Haeg (filling in for Chukwuma Okorafor) have largely lived up to expectations. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, expectations were very low.

Despite being a one-man show in the pass rush, Miller should win multiple battles with ease. Denver should also be able to manipulate blitz packages to get home with sacks, especially with rookie running back blocking in the backfield.

Advantage: Broncos

Betting line and game prediction

The Broncos are favorites over the Steelers, even given that playing at Heinz Field is difficult for any team. Denver should be able to exploit a few mismatches, but this battle is largely going to come down to quarterback play.

In any other year, Roethlisberger is always a good play in pick ’em games. Yet, in 2021, his play has declined — and declined quickly. The Broncos have shown the ability to limit other teams’ passers, no matter how good their pass catchers are. Denver should win this game on the vaunted Heinz Field turf.

Prediction: Broncos 24, Steelers 17

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