Jan 172006
Authors: Brett Okamoto

Normally I would say that if your game plan is making Ben Roethlisberger beat you, you better come up with a new game plan.

Big Ben is the man. Within the next few years the guy will win the Super Bowl, the MVP and cure cancer.

Despite that, I still have to say: Ben, it's not your year just yet.

One reason that has allowed Roethlisberger to become one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league is that his team is a run-first program. The Pittsburgh Steelers ran the ball 549 times this year, while passing only 379. So right about the time most defenses huddle near the line of scrimmage to plug the run, is the time Big Ben unleashes a 60-yard highlight reel.

Fortunately – Denver's defense isn't most defenses.

The Broncos ranked No. 2 in the league in rush defense this season. The Steelers' offensive line is impressive, but the Bus (Jerome Bettis) is running out of gas and Willie Parker is a player, not a star. What that means is that this game will be won – at least if you're the Steelers – through the air instead of the ground.

Common sense says the Broncos should be panicking. After all, their pass defense ended No. 29 out of 32 teams in the NFL. Surprisingly, the Broncos actually look at that statistic as an advantage.

"We always want the quarterback to throw at us," cornerback Darrent Williams told the Denver Post this year. "We may give up a play here or there, but we're also going to make the big play."

Sounds crazy but it works. New England's Tom Brady threw for 341 yards against Denver, but he also threw two interceptions, one in the end zone. Denver gave up a lot of ground, but only 13 points.

Expect the same thing to happen when the Steelers come to Invesco Field at Mile High on Sunday. The Broncos didn't lose a single regular season game in front of the home crowd this year. They're not about to make this their first.

And if you're worried about the Broncos not finding the end zone – don't be. This team has always been a little unconventional. They have a fullback who has scored six times, but received only 21 touches. They use three running backs. Plummer should change his name to Plumber the way he looks lately. But this squad works better as a team than any one remaining in the playoffs.

The Broncos have choked so often in past years there's almost this uncomfortable feeling going around that it's inevitable the end is coming. Sleep soundly Denver, this is your year. Not Ben's.

Brett Okamoto is the Collegian's sports editor.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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Jan 172006
Authors: Scott Bondy

Someone must be looking after Jerome Bettis and the rest of the Steelers – a guardian angel or something. The unthinkable happened this past weekend as Bettis fumbled with less than two minutes in the game, his first this year. The unthinkable happened when Ben Roethlisberger made his first career tackle to save a game-winning fumble return for a touchdown. The unthinkable happened again when the NFL's most accurate kicker missed a field goal to send the game into overtime.

I have to believe the Steelers have this mysterious destiny. A destiny that includes coming into Mile High and beating the Broncos this weekend.

Sure, the Broncos went undefeated at home, big deal. Half those games were against pitiful opponents. Home field doesn't matter to the Steelers. They've won nine road games this year, including two in the playoffs. Plus, Mile High is an average stadium in regards to crowd noise. The thin air won't be a factor in the game as well. These guys are in shape and the intensity will push all outside elements to the side.

I'm a firm believer that guys who have put in their dues, worked their butts off their entire career and never taken a play off should be rooted for to win a championship (in any sport for that matter). Bettis is quietly one of the best backs in NFL history, and currently ranked fifth all-time in rushing yards. His monstrous body has been barreling over defenders for years. Obviously, I don't know Bettis, but he seems like a stand-up guy. Because of all this, I expect his teammates to rally around him and win.

Although The Bus is the most storied and popular Steeler, Roethlisberger runs the show. Put simply, he's a winner. He isn't the most gifted quarterback and isn't asked to do spectacular things, but he gets the job done.

Jake Plummer is more talented at the quarterback position than Roethlisberger, but he doesn't lead his team in the same way. Plummer has little playoff experience and the little he has, it's not pretty.

Luckily, Plummer is coached by Mike Shanahan, a proven winner. But there is no coaching advantage in this game. Bill Cowher is a respected coach in the league and has experience in the playoffs as well (minus the rings).

I don't know who the better team is. I just know the Steelers have something going. They may have had some luck on their side, or may have wanted it more, but the way they've been playing has certainly turned some heads. And I don't expect that to change anytime soon. Look out Super Bowl XL. Here come the Steelers.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm