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Emmanuel Sanders wants to help Broncos' offense think big

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders landed awkwardly on his shoulder late in the Broncos’ Oct. 18 win in Cleveland, his season has been a struggle.

Since then, there has been the ankle injury on the first play from scrimmage in the Broncos’ Nov. 8 loss in Indianapolis, the no-catch game in the loss to Kansas City, to go with 19- and 17-yard games the past two weeks against San Diego and Oakland.

Still, Sanders hopes Sunday's return to Pittsburgh, where he spent the first four seasons of his career, can be a kick-start.

“I'm looking forward to it," Sanders said. “It's going to be fun. It's going to be different. I spent four years over there. It was definitely a blessing. (Steelers) Coach (Mike) Tomlin and the Rooneys, they gave me my opportunity in the National Football League, so I'm forever thankful for that."

Before Sanders hurt his shoulder, he was averaging 6.3 catches and 87.8 receiving yards per game. In the seven games since he has averaged 2.7 catches and 37.3 receiving yards per game.

He suffered the ankle injury two games after the shoulder injury, and missed one game (against the Bears). But with Demaryius Thomas fighting some ill-timed dropped passes at the moment to go with the Broncos' run game having produced a season-low 34 yards in this past Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, the Broncos could use Sanders to turn his homecoming into a big night.

“Every game down the stretch is going to be a big game, we all know it," Sanders said. “It's playoff football right now. We have to handle business. Obviously, we dropped an egg versus Oakland and we had an opportunity to be first place in the AFC. We dropped an egg, like I said, so what can we do about it? We can't do anything. We can't carry that luggage. We can only move forward. It's on to Pittsburgh."

Late in the first quarter against the Raiders, Brock Osweiler just missed Sanders, overthrowing him on the kind of game-changing play the Broncos need. Denver has eight pass plays of at least 40 yards this season and Sanders has made four of those receptions, including the two-longest pass plays the Broncos have this season -- the 75-yard touchdown against the Browns and a 64-yard catch against the Colts.

But as defenses gang up on Thomas and crowd the line of scrimmage against the run, the Broncos need Sanders to help loosen things up a bit.

“(Big plays) are very important," Osweiler said. “Any time you can hit a 70- or 80-yard touchdown -- we like to call them one-play drives -- it's huge for your football team. It softens up secondaries. It allows you to throw more things underneath and, once again, we had an opportunity last week against the Raiders. I overthrew Emmanuel. I believe that I need to put some more air under that throw to let him run underneath it. That's just one of those areas that I just keep telling you guys that I'm learning and I'm growing. ... If we can hit some explosive plays downfield, it's certainly going to help this team and it's going to open up other things.”