Salutations from the western suburbs of the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pa., where the Broncos will duel with the Pittsburgh Steelers later today:
Three things to watch:
- 1. Who’s Carrying It? Tatum Bell said this week that he won’t be at 100 percent, but he practiced all three days and was listed as probable throughout the week. Will he make it through more than just one half and a smattering of touches thereafter? Will Mike Bell see fill-in action? And if Tatum Bell continues endure toe pain, will Cedric Cobbs re-ascend back to the active game-day roster for the first time since injuring his ankle on a problematic kickoff return at Kansas City in December? Or might Cecil Sapp’s sprints last Sunday justify placing him in an emergency tailback role? He was, after all, a Heisman Trophy contender at tailback for Colorado State in 2002 and worked from the position in his first Broncos season of 2003 before shifting to fullback.
- 2. Defense Bounce-Back? The Broncos still lead the NFL in fewest touchdowns allowed this season, and their defensive statistics remain impressive for the whole season even after yielding 34 points last week. The $64,000 question today is this: Was last week an aberration, or the end of a six-game, season-opening run unlike any other in the league since holding and pass-interference rules were changed to the offense’s favor in 1978?
- 3. Home Cookin’: And we’re not talking about a Primanti Brothers sandwich, either. While Pittsburgh is 0-4 this season away from Heinz Field, the team is 2-1 at its home confines, with an average score of 27.3-14.0 in those games, compared with an average loss of 23.3-16.0 on the road. No one Steeler seems to be more impacted by the road/home discrepancy so far this season than running back Willie Parker. He’s gone over 100 yards in all three home games this year (average per game: 119.0 yards), while he hasn’t gained more than 83 yards in a road game this season (average per game: 51.75 yards). All but one of his five rushing scores this year have come at Heinz Field. The Broncos, meanwhile, haven’t allowed a 100-yard runner since Larry Johnson in Week 2.
Head Coach Mike Shanahan occasionally reminds questioners that the answers to many queries will come “at 2:15 Sunday.” Some might not arrive, though, until later on in the contest that begins at that time. So stay tuned, wherever you are.