Manning Begins Broncos Career Against Steelers

By: Michael Robinson | Thursday, September 6, 2012

Quarterback Peyton Manning gets a tough first test in a Denver Broncos uniform in hosting the  Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football.

Denver is getting a lot of respect on the Don Best NFL odds screen as 1½-point favorites, although it is down slightly from the -2 opening. The total is 44½. This is not surprisingly the prime-time game at 8:20 p.m. (ET) as NBC knows the ratings will be extra big for Manning’s debut.

These teams met in the playoffs last year with Denver getting a shocking 29-23 OT home win as 7½-point ‘dogs. Tim Tebow threw probably the most important pass he’ll ever make in his career, an 80-yard hookup with Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.

That game was only eight months ago, but might as well be a lifetime. Tebow was jettisoned to the Jets as soon as the Broncos won the Manning sweepstakes. Manning will be making his first real pass since January 2011 after sitting out last year with a neck injury.

The now 36-year-old signal caller has looked good in preseason, but has diminished arm strength and reportedly is struggling throwing to his right. Coach John Fox will likely keep his throws down the first few games and feature the league’s top-ranked rushing attack from last year (164.5 YPG). Willis McGahee will be the featured back after almost reaching 1,200 yards.

When Manning does throw, he has a solid tandem in Thomas and Eric Decker. Manning always loved using Dallas Clark and other tight ends while with Indy, and Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme (former Manning teammate) will fill that role.

Fox is considered a very good defensive mind and he did get the ‘D’ to stiffen up in the second half last year. There is a new coordinator in Jack Del Rio after Dennis Allen left for Oakland, but the continuity should be fine. However, there are big questions at defensive tackle and linebacker D.J Williams is also suspended the first six games.

Pittsburgh is one of the most stable franchises in the NFL, but this offseason has seen some turmoil. The fiery Todd Haley has replaced Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator and it remains to be seen if Haley can get along with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The 30-year-old Roethlisberger threw for over 4,000 yards last year and is extremely feared for his ability to scramble and make plays down the field. However, explosive receiver Mike Wallace is still learning the new offense after a contract holdout and could struggle as a starter on Sunday.

The running game is also a question with Rashard Mendenhall likely out after recovering from knee surgery. Isaac Redman (ankle) should play despite being banged up, while Jonathan Dwyer will also get some carries. The offensive line has been shaky in recent years and there was another big blow with rookie guard David DeCastro (knee) possibly injured for the year.

The Steelers defense ranked first last year (271.8 YPG) under legendary coordinator Dick LeBeau. There are injury concerns with outside linebacker James Harrison and his backup Jason Worilds questionable and probable respectively with knee injuries.

Safety Ryan Clark is being held out with his sickle cell trait dangerous in the thin Denver air. Inside linebacker Larry Foote (ankle) is listed as questionable, but will probably play.

LeBeau has his work cut out for him this week, but he’s used to mixing and matching players. He will certainly put the pressure on Manning to see how his body responds to the layoff.

Pittsburgh looks like a dangerous ‘dog in this contest.

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