The Broncos and Steelers are both coming off tough double-digit losses seeking to get back on track when they meet on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
And more than just winning, both teams must get their quarterback situation right.
A 27-17 loss to the Packers last week punctuated a 1-3 start for Pittsburgh that is due to Ben Roethlisberger's ineffectiveness. The Steelers are barely throwing downfield and have not solved the offensive line issues that plagued them last season.
After a shocking season-opening win in Buffalo, the Steelers have lost three straight by a combined 33 points, during which Roethlisberger has three touchdowns to four interceptions.
The Broncos appeared to have an answer at quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, but the former Panther has been limited in practice this week due to a concussion he suffered in last week's 23-7 loss to the Ravens. Should he miss Sunday's game, Drew Lock would fill in again.
These teams met in September 2020, and it also featured questionable quarterback play. Although Roethlisberger's arm wasn't quite cooked yet, Pittsburgh knocked Lock out of the game with a right shoulder injury and came back to beat the Jeff Driskel-led Broncos.
Denver at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 10 at 1 p.m. ET
Three Things to Watch
1. The banged-up Broncos offense
Missing Bridgewater would be a big blow to Denver. The 29-year-old ranks sixth in the NFL with a 72.1 percent completion rate and 8.9 adjusted yards per attempt to go with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Lock filled in last week in the second half but was just 12-of-21 for 113 yards and an interception. The team failed to score on all five of his possessions.
The problem is he's far from the only key injury on offense.
The Broncos lost Jerry Jeudy in the season opener to a high ankle sprain, and fellow second-year receiver KJ Hamler joined him on the IR with a torn ACL two weeks later. Even backups Diontae Spencer (chest) and Albert Okwuegbunam (hamstring) have been limited or out at practice this week.
Whoever is at quarterback for the Broncos will have limited weapons and may have to lean even more on their biggest stars. The Steelers have been more vulnerable through the air than on the ground this season, so watch out for Courtland Sutton and tight end Noah Fant to attract a lot of targets.
2. Can Najee Harris finally get going?
The Steelers ranked last in the NFL in rushing last season and tried to fix that by drafting Harris, the Alabama All-American and Doak Walker Award-winning running back, 24th overall. That hasn't worked — yet.
With the offensive line only worse and less experienced than in 2020, Harris is averaging just 3.4 yards per attempt and had his career-best game last week: 62 yards and a score on 15 carries.
The Steelers will need more than that from him to win, in part because Roethlisberger doesn't seem capable of carrying the offense anymore. Especially against a Broncos defense that ranks sixth in the league against the pass and has more interceptions (4) than touchdown passes allowed (3).
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio is known for playing two high safeties more than almost any other team, and his relatively empty boxes dare teams to run. However, the Ravens (102 yds.) — who rank third in the league in rushing despite that poor showing — are the only team to crack triple digits against Denver, so this will be quite the challenge for Harris.
3. Is this the end for the Steelers?
Things can change quickly in the NFL, and Pittsburgh's window of contention appears to be closing fast. After starting last season 11-0, the team has lost eight of its last 10 games. The Steelers haven't lost four in a row since 2016, and they seem unlikely to make the AFC title game now as they did that season.
That's hard when Roethlisberger is throwing just 49 of his 170 passes this season 10 or more yards downfield, with a 7.0 intended air yards per attempt that rank 27th among QBs with at least two starts. He's just 5-for-19 with two picks and a touchdown on passes that travel at least 20 yards.
Mike Tomlin has never had a losing record in his 15 seasons as the Steelers head coach, but that's in danger, especially considering their division has three teams with 3-1 records.
A home loss on Sunday doesn't mean the Steelers are officially out — and Tomlin already said he's starting Roethlisberger the rest of the season — but it's a dark omen for a franchise that has done nothing but win for decades.
The Broncos finally got a wake-up call last week when they played their first challenging game of the season. They didn't look like a playoff team at all.
But if Bridgewater can clear concussion protocols and play, they should have a good chance at getting back on track against a Steelers team that is probably closer to their first three opponents (Giants, Jaguars, and Jets) than the Ravens. Even with all the injuries to the offense, Denver's defense should be able to slow this inadequate Pittsburgh offense.