Scouting report

January 11, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht

Broncos run offense vs. Steelers run defense

Denver, behind top AFC rusher Terrell Davis, will try to keep quarterback Kordell Stewart off the field by moving the ball on the ground against the league's top rushing defense. Davis, healthier than he's been since injuring his shoulder in Week 16 against San Francisco, managed only 75 yards in Denver's 35-24 loss at Three Rivers Stadium last month. The Broncos need a great blocking game from fullback Howard Griffith.

Edge -- Pittsburgh

Broncos pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense

The Broncos' Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey and Shannon Sharpe form one of the NFL's top receiving trios. Quarterback John Elway threw a franchise-high 27 touchdown passes. Look for Denver to test rookie cornerback Chad Scott, while watching for Pittsburgh safety/cornerback Carnell Lake to make a game-turning play. The Steelers figure to blitz often. Denver needs to protect Elway as it did against Kansas City a week ago.

Edge -- Denver

Steelers run offense vs. Broncos run defense

Expect the Steelers to run Jerome Bettis relentlessly, even on some passing downs. Denver's run defense has been mostly inconsistent. Broncos tackles Keith Traylor and Maa Tanuvasa must keep Pittsburgh center Dermontti Dawson off middle linebacker Allen Aldridge.

Edge -- Pittsburgh

Steelers pass offense vs. Broncos pass defense

Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart probably can't afford his usual poor first half followed by an excellent second half. Stewart's speed means Denver probably cannot blitz with abandon, like it did in last week's 14-10 victory over Kansas City. Expect Denver to give Stewart constantly changing looks. Yancey Thigpen, the Steelers' biggest threat, will see plenty of double teams.

Edge -- Denver

Special teams

Denver's Darrien Gordon is the most likely game-breaker. Broncos kicker Jason Elam was erratic during the regular season; Pittsburgh kicker Norm Johnson is still amazingly dependable. Steelers punter Josh Miller has been inconsistent.

Edge -- Denver

Key matchup

Pittsburgh's success depends on its ability to run, so the game could turn on how well Steelers center Dermontti Dawson disrupts Denver middle linebacker Allen Aldridge to give Bettis room to run inside.

Edge -- Pittsburgh

Intangibles

The Steelers have lost only twice in their past 26 home games, and they controlled the Broncos last month. The Broncos have regained confidence during their playoff run. Pittsburgh lost at home as a heavy favorite to San Diego three years ago in the playoffs, and was nearly upset by the Colts a year later.

Edge -- Pittsburgh

Prediction

The Steelers are nearly unbeatable at home, but Denver is the hotter team at the right time. The Broncos' offensive balance and ability to keep Stewart in check will take them to the Super Bowl. Go with the Broncos by four.

Edge -- Denver

Keys to the game

1. With quarterback Kordell Stewart still erratic, the Steelers must run effectively again. Another 100-yard game by Bettis probably sends Pittsburgh to San Diego.

FTC 2. Now would be a fine time for Pittsburgh rookie cornerback Chad Scott to play the game of his life. Expect John Elway to pick on Scott early and often.

3. This expected battle of field position could turn on a big kick or punt return. Denver's Darrien Gordon is the most likely to break one, so keeping him in check will weigh heavily.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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