Monday Night Football: Steelers at Broncos
by Matt Severance - 11/7/2009
Did the Baltimore Ravens expose the Denver Broncos in last week's 30-7 victory? It was Denver's first loss and first non-cover in its seven games, and oddsmakers at Bodog list the Broncos as three-point home underdogs for Monday's game against Pittsburgh.
What was perhaps doubly concerning about last week's loss for Denver is that it was coming off a bye week yet could manage only 200 total yards against the Ravens defense. Things certainly won't get any easier Monday against a Pittsburgh defense that is No. 8 overall (five spots higher than Baltimore) and No. 1 against the rush - that unit is playing much better since Troy Polamalu returned. Denver was held to a season-low 66 rushing yards against the Ravens. The Bengals and Lions are the only two Steelers opponents to post 100-plus yards on the ground this season.
Pittsburgh, which is 0-5 ATS in its past five road games, enters off its bye week - the Steelers have split their past six games following a bye. The team has never lost on Monday Night Football under coach Mike Tomlin but hasn't won a regular-season game in Denver since 1990.
There are two key individual matchups to keep an eye on Monday. The first is Steelers left tackle Max Starks against Broncos pass-rushing demon Elvis Dumervil. Starks has allowed 4.5 sacks this season, while Dumveril has 10 to rank second in the NFL. But Dumervil seems to be hit or miss: he has multiple sacks in four of Denver's seven games but has been shut out in the other three - including last week. Meanwhile, Steelers linebacker James Harrison, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, could have a big night. He had seven sacks in October and will go against Broncos right tackle Tyler Polumbus, who is making first NFL start with Ryan Harris out this week with two dislocated toes on right foot.
The Broncos defense ranks first in the league in yards allowed per game (266.7) and yards allowed per play (4.4) and second in the league in scoring defense, allowing 13.7 points per game. Denver ranks third in rushing defense but allowed 125 yards rushing against the Ravens -- the first time this season an opponent has rushed for more than 100 yards against the Broncos.
It appears that Pittsburgh will be without two starting defenders. Defensive end Travis Kirschke has a calf strain and is a longshot to go. And then there's the incredibly unique case of safety Ryan Clark. He has a rare sickle-cell blood condition that nearly caused him to die after playing in Denver two years ago. Clark was hospitalized after the game and later needed operations to remove his spleen and gall bladder because oxygen couldn't flow into those organs in the thin mountain air. He lost more than 30 pounds before he finally began feeling better more than two months later. This reaction to high altitude happens to just one percent of those affected by the sickle-cell condition. Clark has been medically cleared to play but it's very unlikely he does. Tyrone Carter would start in his place.
In Pittsburgh's four-game winning streak, it has either scored first or led after the first quarter in each. Denver's offense has scored just two offensive touchdowns during the first quarter, and the Broncos haven't had one since Week 3. Sunday in Baltimore, Denver was shut out in the first half for the second time.
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