|AFC Championship - Steelers/Broncos
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics Writer January 19, 2006
Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers upset the Indianapolis Colts on the road while the Denver Broncos were able to put away the defending Super Bowl Champions. For the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger is looking like a veteran that has played in the league for years. The Steelers hopes nearly came to an end when Jerome Bettis fumbled last week, but their excellent defensive effort came through in the end. The Broncos capitalized on the Patriots' turnovers, showing the country that they are not a team you can forget about. Both teams have great running games, but it may be the passing games that they rely on in this one. Now that these two teams meet for a chance to go to the Super Bowl, who will come out on top?
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|AFC Championship - Team Stats
#2 - Denver Broncos
|Overall Record: 11-5
Road Record: 6-2
Offense: 15th overall
(5th rush, 24th pass)
Defense: 4th overall
(3rd rush, 16th pass)
|Overall Record: 13-3
Home Record: 8-0
Offense: 5th overall
(2nd rush, 18th pass)
Defense: 15th overall
(2nd rush, 29th pass)
|Positional Rankings (With Last Week's
Roethlisberger: 14 of 24 for 197 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1
Note: For the second week in a row, Roethlisberger removed doubts
that the Steelers had to completely rely on the running game to make it
far in the playoffs. Not only did Roethlisberger make the tackle that
sent the Steelers to the AFC Championship, but he played a near-flawless
first quarter. Almost all of his throws throughout the game were on the
money, and that allowed the running game to succeed in the fourth
15 of 26 for 197 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception.
Note: At the start of the season, I would have told you that you
were nuts if you said that Jake Plummer would take his team to the AFC
Championship. From Week 1 of the season though, Plummer has gone from a
mistake waiting to happen to a player who is calm and makes all of the
right throws. It's not easy to beat the defending Super Bowl champions
twice in a season, especially once in the playoffs, but that's exactly
what Plummer has done.
17 carries, 59 yards, 3.5 avg. 3 catches, 19 yards.
Jerome Bettis: 17 carries, 46 yards, 2.7 avg, 1 touchdown, 1 fumble.
Note: For the second week in a row, the Steelers running game will
face one of the top run defenses in football. Parker has shown that he
can't break a big play against a fast defense, calling for a similar
game that he had against the Colts. One thing the Steelers running backs
are great at though is moving the chains. If the Steelers need two
yards, they'll get two yards.
6 carries, 19
yards, 3.2 avg.
Mike Anderson: 19 carries, 69 yards, 3.6 avg, 2 touchdowns. 1
catch, 14 yards.
Note: The Broncos also have a nice one-two punch at running back,
but will be facing a tough run defense for the second week in a row. The
Broncos usually find one running back that'll produce a little better
than the other in a particular week, and that happened to be Anderson
against the Patriots. The Steelers will have to watch both backs
carefully because right when they think they've keyed in on one of them,
the other could go the distance.
3 catches, 68 yards.
Heath Miller: 3 catches, 61 yards.
Antwaan Randle El: 3 catches, 30 yards, 1 touchdown.
Note: It doesn't look like the Steelers' receivers had that big of a
game, but most of their production came early on. Roethlisberger's
throws were right on the money and Ward, Miller, and Randle El all came
through. The Broncos' defense is prone to giving up yards in the passing
game, which Roethlisberger will look to exploit early.
|Rod Smith: 6 catches,
96 yards, 1 touchdown.
Ashley Lelie: 5 catches, 50 yards.
Jeb Putzier: 3 catches, 37 yards.
Note: These three members are the core of the Broncos receiving
game, and the people that Plummer counts on every week. All of them will
get their touches throughout the game, and Lelie and Smith are capable
of beating the Steelers secondary down the field when Plummer rolls out.
They'll have to look out for Polamula though, who is always a threat to
break up a route.
18 points allowed.
Note: The Steelers "blitzbergh" attack on the Colts last week was
simply amazing. The Colts pride themselves in the fact that Manning is
well protected all day long, but he was under pressure before the
shotgun snap came to him it seemed. Troy Polamula completely fooled
Manning at least three times, and should have had one interception. The
linebacking crew will try to get to Plummer, but they must be aware of
the fact that Plummer rolls out of the pocket often.
|Defense: 2 interceptions,
3 fumbles recovered, 13 points allowed.
Note: Without a doubt, the Broncos were able to beat the Patriots
by executing as a result of turnovers. When Faulk fumbled, it led to a
touchdown. When Hobbs fumbled, it led to a field goal. When Brady threw
an interception to Champ Bailey, took it back 100 yards. The Broncos
will find it difficult to force the Steelers well-trained offense into
turnovers, but it's an absolute must if Denver wants to win the game.
El: Randle El is always a threat to return one, especially if the
Steelers have an offense backed up near their own end zone.
Note: Jeff Reed may have an advantage kicking in Denver's
Jason Elam: Elam should be
pleased that he's kicking where he's comfortable.
Note: The Colts counted on Vanderjagt last week and he didn't
come through. If Elam is put in a similar situation, expect him to get
the job done.
made a drastic turnaround in the playoffs from last year, and proved me
wrong after I predicted he would experience a "sophomore slump." From
the games I have seen him play in as of late, his accuracy has improved
tremendously and he is just as deadly as Plummer can be when he throws
on the run. His leadership on the field is definite even on the road,
but you have to wonder what'll happen if he has troubles early with the
altitude in Denver.
Although the Steelers passing game deserves a lot of credit for what
they've done, they would not be able to win a single game if not for
their running game. Parker and Bettis did not dominate the Colts last
week, but the only thing that stopped Manning from getting back on the
field quicker in the fourth quarter was about 11 straight runs for
Pittsburgh, taking around six minutes off the clock at a critical
juncture of the game.
Defensively, Troy Polamula is the "X" factor for the Steelers. He seems
to be everywhere on the field whether he stunts a blitz, blitzes, or
runs across the whole field to dive and break up a pass. The Steelers
know that Denver will be ready to pick up the blitz better than the
Colts did, so Dick Lebeau will have to call his plays wisely.
need to have big plays to beat the Steelers. Although the Colts were
able to burn the Steelers deep later in the game, Manning did not have
an answer for the blitz. As soon as Plummer sees the blitz, he'll throw
the ball to Smith for a two-yard gain if he has to. Whatever it takes to
minimize mistakes, Plummer will do it. When the Steelers blitz, he can
also run out of the pocket for a short gain, or throw the ball away to
prevent a sack.
It'll be very tough to defend the Broncos running game for Pittsburgh.
Anderson and Bell always present problems near the goal line. Their
presence allows Plummer to beautifully run a play-action pass for a
touchdown. It's rare that a team can shut down Denver's running game,
but it'll be critical that that the Broncos have the appropriate
packages ready for any 4th-and-1 situations they encounter during the
The Broncos defense needs turnovers. The Patriots offense seemed to
dominate the Broncos statically, but that doesn't mean a thing if they
force a punt just shy of field goal range or cause a crushing turnover
when you're about to score. Denver's defense often comes through in the
clutch, but it's not often that the Steelers turn it over.
|AFC Championship Prediction
Winner - Pittsburgh Steelers
|This is a game
that features quarterbacks I felt were incapable of making it this far.
I thought that Roethlisberger would fall into a sophomore slump while
Plummer would continue his inconsistent play. Both teams are so evenly
matches on both sides of the ball. Both teams have a good group of
running backs and are among the league leaders in overall rushing. Both
defenses are great at stopping the run. Both defenses have playmakers in
the secondary, but are vulnerable in giving up yards. The Broncos have
an advantage with their home atmosphere, but it doesn't seem to matter
where the Steelers play right now: they are simply on fire. Take the
excitement from both of the AFC divisional games last week and combine
them; that'll be the feeling in this one. Pittsburgh will advance to the
Super Bowl after Bettis fails to fumble this time.
Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Denver Broncos 17.