Broncos hope for better results with second look at Steelers

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos don’t exactly have to dig through the archives to find all of what they know about how this year’s Pittsburgh Steelers have done things.

They only have to flip back one calendar page, to a 34-27 Steelers' victory Dec. 20 in Heinz Field.

"You do have the game plan kind of fresh in your mind,’’ said Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby. “You kind of remember what they kind of like to do in certain situations and things like that. It's definitely good that we just played them.’’

Sunday’s AFC divisional round game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High will be the second time in four weeks the Broncos have faced the Steelers. And while both teams face slightly different circumstances this time around -- Peyton Manning will start at quarterback for the Broncos while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (concussion) are question marks for the Steelers -- the guts of any game plan will look the same.

In fact, since Halloween the Broncos have faced all three of the other teams that remain in the AFC’s playoff field -- the Steelers, the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos faced the Chiefs not only in Week 2 but in Week 10 as well, and the Broncos faced the Patriots in Week 12.

But the matchup with the Steelers was just a month ago for both teams, so any good feelings the Broncos may have about knowing the opponent, they can rest assured the Steelers likely feel much the same way.

“I’m sure it’s that way for both of us because we prepared for each other -- what, four weeks ago, three or four weeks ago?’’ said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. “Anytime you prepare for somebody in this league, you’re very thorough in all phases. We’ve each played two or three games since then, so you take that information, you get some new information over the course of the last few weeks and get ready to play.’’

The Steelers will have to decide how much, if any difference, Manning’s presence will make in the Broncos’ offense. Brock Osweiler, in what was his fifth start in Manning’s place, threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns in the Dec. 20 meeting.

Osweiler was 14-of-18 for 214 of those yards and all three of the touchdowns in the first half of that game, as the Steelers scored 21 unanswered points in the second half for the win.

“You get ready for everything, but teams aren’t going to change what they do that much in the playoffs,’’ said Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. “You get ready to adjust, but we do what we do, they do what they do and you execute.’’

Defensively, Roethlisberger’s and Brown’s injuries could drastically alter what the Steelers do. If Roethlisberger, because of his injury, can’t throw to all parts of the field or if Brown is (or isn’t) in the lineup, the Broncos defense will have to adapt quickly when they see how the Steelers open the game.

Roethlisberger’s 380 yards passing Dec. 20 were the most against the Broncos’ defense all season and Brown’s 189 yards receiving were also the highest total for a receiver against the Broncos this season. Brown was also one of just two players -- Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge was the other -- to have more than one touchdown pass against the Broncos this season.

Both Brown and Barnidge had two. Brown and Martavis Bryant were on the receiving end of 26 of Roethlisberger’s 40 completions against the Broncos as Brown had 16 catches and Bryant 10.

In the first meeting the Broncos were largely in man coverage with Chris Harris Jr. on Brown much of the time.

“Of course we want to avenge our loss, but it’s the playoffs now,’’ said Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson. “ ... We just have to go out there, be smart and do what we know how to do.’’

“It’s a playoff game and we know what happened last time,’’ said safety Darian Stewart. “We definitely remember it, of course. We just have to go out there with our A-game and just be ready to compete. It’s going to be best-against-best again. We’ll have full strength and we’ll have to limit their yards.’’