There’s a cliche’ about throwing out the game tape after a demoralizing loss. But the Steelers might as well discard the footage of last January’s 29-23 playoff defeat to the Broncos for tactical reasons.
Little of what Denver’s offense does now resembles the zone-read option that the Broncos leaned upon last year. In fact, it could be impossible to conjure an offense more diametrically different than the quick-pace, Peyton Manning-friendly attack the Broncos installed in the offseason.
The language of the playcalls might be the same, but that’s a flexible nomenclature; it’s been used for the all-out aerial assaults of the Tom Brady-led Patriots of recent years and the madcap QB-on-the-run attacks of last year’s Broncos and the 1970′s Patriots, when a neck-rolled Steve Grogan was darting between linebackers and safeties.
So the film from last year is useless to Pittsburgh’s defense. Colts footage comes in handy — as does practical experience from four games against Manning.
“It’s not something that we have to go back and look at. We’ve seen Peyton, of course, in some significant games over the years here in Pittsburgh,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
But never did Manning deal the Steelers a knockout blow like Demaryius Thomas did last January when he stiff-armed Ike Taylor and sprinted 80 yards with Tim Tebow’s final pass in Denver as a member of the Broncos for a sudden-death touchdown.
Manning’s performances against the Steelers are modest, by his standards; he’s 2-2 against them with an 85.9 quarterback rating on 90-of-151 passing for 1,079 yards with a 7-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But he hasn’t played against them since 2008, and three of his four games against the Steelers came when their sideline was still coated in Bill Cowher’s errant spittle.
If “revenge” comes into play for Pittsburgh, it’s strictly emotional, based on the venue and the helmet color of their opponents, and not because the Broncos resemble the team that beat them last year.
Even then, the “revenge” angle rings hollow.
“There’s no such thing as revenge games,” said Steelers linebacker James Harrison. “The only way to get a revenge game is if you put it in the same situation with the exact same people, with the exact same time and it means the exact same thing. There’s no way you can get a revenge game.”
But Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson doesn’t expect the Steelers to be so blasé about the revenge angle.
“Most definitely. Most definitely,” Vickerson replied when asked whether he thought the Steelers would want revenge.
But then he tempered his response.
“They might have some stuff on this year, first game coming back, but at the end of the day, man, that’s last year. It’s a new year,” Vickerson said. “They changed some stuff; we changed some stuff. A whole new ballgame.”
In more ways than one.
“That’s a different team as far as I’m concerned personally,” Tomlin said. “We recognize that we’re different, we acknowledge that they’re different, obviously.”