Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger unloads a pass against the Cleveland… (Tony Dejak / Associated…)
Reporting from Denver -- Champ Bailey, All-Pro cornerback for the Denver Broncos, has faced Pittsburgh enough to know he has to trust his eyes and not his ears when it comes to reports about Ben Roethlisberger's health.
So does Bailey buy the argument that Roethlisberger will be compromised by a bum ankle Sunday when the Steelers play at Denver in a first-round playoff game?
"No, not at all," he said. "Because I know how tough he is. I was watching the Cleveland game and there's no way he should have went back in there, but he did. They pretty much were already in the playoffs, so to have him go back out there, that shows his toughness right there."
The Steelers are 2-2 in games against Denver with Roethlisberger starting. In three of those games, he had a triple-digit passer rating: 116.0 in 2009, 108.0 in 2007, and 124.9 in 2005 — Denver's most recent playoff game. He had nine touchdown passes and three interceptions in those three games, compared to one touchdown and three interceptions in a 31-20 Broncos win at Pittsburgh in 2006.
Maybe the most difficult aspect for a defender facing Roethlisberger is that he is so big for a quarterback that the first hit often doesn't bring him down. He therefore can extend the pass play, putting that much more pressure on defensive backs and linebackers to cover for longer.
"Now you've got guys who are fast running fast routes, and now they're running a second route because they're getting open for him," Bailey said. "It presents a problem. Hopefully my guys get him down — one time, one shot.
"It's tough. When you've got a guy that's as accurate as he is, when he gets out of the pocket with nobody in his face, there's no distraction for him. So it's easy for him."
Denver's most potent threat could be the pass-rushing tandem of Elvis Dumervil and rookie Von Miller, who both made the Pro Bowl and have combined for 21 sacks this season.
Dumervil has had at least a half-sack in eight consecutive games. In three games against Pittsburgh, he has sacked Roethlisberger 31/2 times and forced a fumble.
"It's all about leverage and wrapping him up," Dumervil said. "I look forward to playing against a guy who keeps the ball alive and tries to extend the play. He's a big playmaker, and that gives a guy like me a chance."
The Broncos, meanwhile, are doing everything they can to extend their season. They are coming off three consecutive losses and people all over the country are wondering if the clock has struck midnight on Tebow Time.
There were reports last week that the Broncos allotted more practice time than usual for backup quarterback Brady Quinn, indicating the team is prepared to make a change if Tim Tebow continues to struggle. But the Denver Post, citing multiple team sources, reported Saturday that there's nothing to those rumors. Broncos Coach John Fox refused to speculate this week about at what would need to happen for him to bench Tebow, who has completed 40% of his passes during the losing streak.
Regardless, there's little debate that Denver's defense is going to have to play well for the Broncos to have a good chance of upsetting the Steelers, who are favored by nine.
"Our job as a defense is to get a short field for [the offense], make turnovers and give them an opportunity to score," Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers said. "I've got confidence in them. I know the Steeler defense is ranked good [No. 1 overall], and the tradition. But I believe in my team."
The Broncos will be without 38-year-old safety Brian Dawkins, sidelined by a neck injury. The eight-time Pro Bowl selection was officially ruled out Friday and might have played his last game. He restructured his contract to stay with Denver this season, from $8 million to $2 million, and his deal expires in March.