The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended last year in Denver on that improbable first play of overtime in that Wild-Card loss to the Broncos. Pittsburgh’s 2012 season begins in Denver Sunday night (8:20 pm Eastern, NBC), as the Steelers go looking for a little revenge.
But if RB Rashard Mendenhall, who missed the entire pre-season recovering from the knee injury he suffered late last season, can’t go Sunday, how one-dimensional might the Steelers’ offense be?
Pittsburgh went 12-4 last year, but because of two losses to Baltimore the Steelers had to start the playoffs on the road on Wild-Card weekend. Pittsburgh then got thoroughly outplayed by the underdog Broncos in falling into a 20-6 halftime hole.
But the Steelers rallied, and forced overtime by tying the game with a touchdown with four minutes to go. Then, on the first play of OT, Pittsburgh allowed famed passer Tim Tebow to hit Demaryius Thomas on a deep down-and-in, and he then split Steelers defenders and ran the rest of the way for a game-winning (and gut-wrenching) 29-23 Denver victory.
Over the off-season Pittsburgh parted ways with several familiar names and faces, and as it usually chooses to do went with the ‘replacement from within’ method to shore things up.
But the big dilemma for the Steelers coming into this season will be to find someone to run the ball, to take some pressure off Big Ben and the passing game. Mendenhall has returned to practice, but his availability for Sunday’s game is still very uncertain.
Without Mendenhall, Pittsburgh’s running game would probably come down to third-year pro Isaac Redman.
In the good news department, WR Mike Wallace reported to camp last week, after a contract-related holdout, and he’ll probably step right back into the starting lineup.
Denver, as you might have heard, make two very big moves over the off-season; they signed some guy named Manning to play quarterback, and dumped Tebow off on the Jets.
So a team that got to the divisional round of the playoffs last year replaces a scatter-shooter at QB with one of the best to ever throw a football. However, there is still concern about Manning’s health; he has, after all, undergoing multiple surgeries on his neck, and was rarely tested in the pre-season.
The Numbers Game
Last week most NFL odds boards were listing the Pittsburgh Steelers as three-point underdogs for Sunday night’s game, with an ‘over/under’ of 45. But as of Tuesday afternoon most NFL betting outlets had dropped Pittsburgh to +2.
The oddsmakers seemed to have the Steelers pegged about right last year; as underdogs on the betting lines they went 1-3 straight-up.