Steelers' Keisel has fond memories of Denver

October 19, 2007

Given that chop blocking has become a signature of the Broncos, opposing defensive lineman generally don't look at Denver's INVESCO Field at Mile High as fondly as they might the place where they had their first kiss or where they experienced their first all-you-can-eat buffet. Brett Keisel, however, has special feelings about the stadium where the Steelers play Sunday night, and it's easy to see why.

The defensive end firmly believes it is where he became an NFL starter.

Keisel had two sacks the last time he played in Denver, and the second one ended any chances of a Broncos rally in the AFC Championship game. The Steelers' 34-17 propelled them to the Super Bowl and eventually the franchise's fifth World Championship

After the season, the Steelers let Kimo von Oelhoffen leave as a free agent, and Keisel has since been the starting defensive end opposite Aaron Smith. "I think that game was the deciding factor," Keisel said of the Steelers' decision not to re-sign von Oelhoffen. "I'm excited to go back."

The Broncos, who had lost three games in a row, won't be nearly as excited to see Keisel as he is to see them. The 6-5, 285-pounder has proven to be more than just a capable replacement for von Oelhoffen. He has emerged as the Steelers' most versatile defensive player this side of Troy Polamalu.

His size and athleticism allow the Steelers to move Keisel around, and while he hasn't done a whole lot of that to date, the sixth-year veteran has been, as coach Mike Tomlin said, "a force."

The Steelers' 17 sacks are tied for first in the NFL, and Keisel has been vital to the pass rush.

About the only thing he hasn't done is actually take down the quarterback. He has been credited with 13 pressures but is still looking for his first sack this season. "He's a great player, and he deserves to get sacks but he's not getting them right now," said nose tackle Chris Hoke, who was also a teammate of Keisel's at Brigham Young University. "It's still early. He can get 10 to 15 sacks the rest of the season."

Not that Tomlin is judging Keisel on how many sacks he gets. "People worry too much about stats," Tomlin said. "He's a disruptive guy. Ask people that play us."

Like, say the Broncos. In the championship game two seasons ago, Denver had pulled to within 27-17 in the fourth quarter and had a chance to make it a one-score game.

But Keisel, playing as a situational pass rusher, sacked then-Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, forcing a fumble that the Steelers recovered.

The Steelers parlayed the turnover into the game-clinching touchdown as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger scored on a 4-yard run.

What made the sack so special to Keisel: he is from Wyoming and had plenty of supporters in the stands that day.

"I'll never, ever forget that game," said Keisel, who had to get 20 tickets for family and friends for Sunday's 8:15 p.m. game. "I can just remember the ball coming out and thinking that was it and looking up and seeing my family sitting up there and being overwhelmed."

That's kind of how quarterbacks feel these days when they see Keisel.