Five Steelers to watch in Week Two against Broncos

Before every game of the 2020 NFL regular season, Steel City Underground will do a full-roster analysis to find five Pittsburgh Steelers players to keep a special eye on when watching on game day. This week we focus on the Steelers’ second week of play against the Denver Broncos.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) will host the Denver Broncos (0-1) at Heinz Field on Sunday (1:00 p.m. EDT). The Broncos lost their Week One game against the Tennessee Titans by two points, 14-16. Both teams will be utilizing a few new faces in their Week Two matchup due to injuries. Regardless of how these two teams opened their season, there are five Steelers players to watch that could affect the end result of this game.

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Next men up on O-line: Okorafor and Dotson

With both Stefen Wisniewski (pectoral) and Zach Banner (knee) suffering injuries in Week One, Chukwuma Okorafor will get the call to take over at right tackle this week. After being drafted by the Steelers in 2018, Okorafor started at that position in his only appearance of the 2019 NFL regular season (vs Los Angeles Rams, Nov. 10, 2019). During training camp, Okorafor battled with Banner for the starting position, so his performance will be critical on Sunday.

“Injuries always concern you, especially when it’s the guys protecting you… We will miss (Zach Banner), but we also have confidence Chuks will do the job.” – Ben Roethlisberger

Head coach Mike Tomlin felt that the battle for the right tackle spot was a close one between Banner and Okorafor in camp. “I thought both guys were starter capable and I still feel that way,” Tomlin said. “So, I’m extremely comfortable with Chuks and his ability to play and his overall readiness.”

The other player on the line to watch will be rookie Kevin Dotson in the right guard position for still-injured David DeCastro. “He’s a young guy who hasn’t had a lot of work… it is going to take a tremendous effort by him and by us,” Tomlin admitted. “And by us, I mean us putting him in the very best position to perform, so there is some dual responsibility there.”

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Rebound from Johnson

On Monday night, Diontae Johnson showed a lack of confidence in the punt return game on special teams. He was unfortunate to lose sight of the ball on the first punt from the Giants after the Steelers defense had held up well against Daniel Jones and the New York offense, subsequently muffing it and giving the ball right back to the opponent. On his second punt return opportunity, Johnson grabbed the ball and awkwardly just fell on it.

Johnson did seem to shake things off as the game progressed but it was Ray-Ray McCloud who went in on special teams and Johnson was asked to get active in the offensive game plan.

The Steelers can’t afford Johnson to not rebound from a lackluster performance. After having a breakout season in 2019, Johnson will be asked to improve his awareness and show he can be counted on regardless of where he’s asked to play against the Broncos.

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Ready to run

Despite earning the ire of fans on social media after coming up lame due to an ankle issue, James Conner looked more than ready to go exiting training camp. Conner has been plagued by injuries, which has been unfortunate and has hurt his stock whether he can help it or not.

Alternatively, Benny Snell entered the game and gave the Steelers run offense a big boost in Conner’s place. Showing that he isn’t just fast but can run with real purpose and burst for extra yardage, Snell was deemed the “Snell Cow” (a play on “Bell Cow”) for his performance.

“I’m really proud of the way Benny stepped up… He ran the ball hard, picked up some blitzes. I missed him on a pass… which I think would have been a big play.” – Ben Roethlisberger

If Conner, who didn’t practice on Wednesday, is unable to go on Sunday, watch for Snell to be ready to go against a Broncos team that is without veteran Von Miller, who was replaced by Jeremiah Attaochu last week.

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Experienced WRs vs Rookie CBs

In this week’s case, an area to keep an eye on will be how the Steelers receivers, especially the experienced James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster, do against the Broncos’ two rookie cornerbacks, Michael Ojemudia and Bryce Callahan (Essang Bassey in the slot). Denver lost A.J. Bouye to injury in Week One and have activated De’Vante Bausby to the 53-man roster but they’re likely to still have the rookies on the field after Bausby, a fourth-year player, only appeared in five games for the Broncos in 2019 and was released by the team when they trimmed their roster to 53 players and landed on the practice squad ahead of last week’s game against the Titans.

Both Washington and Smith-Schuster had good performances in Week One, with both scoring touchdowns from Roethlisberger.

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