Pittsburgh’s offense has struggled with Maddox at the helm in losses the last two weeks, including Sunday’s 33-13 defeat to the rival Cleveland Browns.
Maddox was 11-of-24 for 136 yards with two interceptions, one week after throwing for 332 yards with two crucial picks in a 30-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans. He failed to throw a touchdown pass in either defeat.
The 32-year-old quarterback, in his second season as Pittsburgh’s starter, is second in the NFL with 1,304 passing yards but has only five touchdowns to go with eight interceptions—four of which have led to opposing TDs.
“Tommy Maddox is going through some growing pains right now,” Cowher said. “He is only coming off a full season right now. A lot of these things he is going through, he is experiencing for the first time. He is growing in many respects as a first-year quarterback would.”
“We’re losing games by mistakes. We’re not losing because we’re getting outmanned,” Ward said. “We have to help Tommy out, take some of the pressure off him and not just let it be on his shoulders.”
Pittsburgh fell to 2-3 for the fourth time in five seasons. The Steelers recovered to go on to the playoffs last season, but didn’t in 1999 or 2000.
Help may be on the way for Maddox as tight end Jay Riemersma, who has seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown, is expected to play against Denver after sitting out Sunday’s loss with a sore shoulder.
However, left tackle Marvel Smith—Maddox’s main protector on his blind side—will miss his third straight game with a pinched nerve in his neck. Without Smith, the Steelers have allowed six sacks in two games.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I’m not frustrated,” Maddox said. “It probably wouldn’t be as frustrating if I didn’t feel as strongly as I feel about this team and what we can do.”
Now Maddox must face a Denver defense which is allowing just 14.6 points per game—tied for third-best in the NFL—and is giving up 267.6 yards per contest to rank fourth in the AFC.
The Broncos, however, are coming off their first loss of the season, a heartbreaking 24-23 defeat at Kansas City on Sunday.
Denver led the entire way against the Chiefs until Kansas City’s Dante Hall returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown with just over eight minutes remaining.
The Broncos could not put together anything offensively after failing to reach the end zone on a first-and-goal early in the fourth quarter, settling for Jason Elam’s third field goal and a 23-17 lead.
Before those late struggles, Denver’s offense seemed to be clicking as usual, with Jake Plummer completing 20 of 38 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown while Clinton Portis rushed for 141 yards and a score.
Plummer, however, is questionable this week due to a lingering right-shoulder injury. He tested the injury with some short passes Thursday, but the Broncos won’t know if their quarterback will be able to play Sunday until he throws deep.
Plummer was too sore to practice Wednesday, but he made it through Thursday without any problem.
“Jake is feeling a lot better, so that’s a good sign,” Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. “Unless there’s a setback, he’ll be ready to go.”
Steve Beuerlein will start if Plummer is unable to play.
Either Plummer or Beuerlein will be taking on a Pittsburgh defense that leads the NFL in total defense, allowing 234.4 yards per game.