The game last night was pretty hard for me to get my thoughts together for. First of all it was a late game and although I live in the central time zone that is still a pretty late night for me so after the game was over I just went to bed. I got up today and didn't even really think about the game and then started to listen to some sports talk radio today. Of course there are always those nut jobs that think the Steelers should release Ben Roethlisberger and people that think the season is over even though the Steelers started last season with a loss and then proceeded to go 12-3 in the next 15 games.
As I sit here and think about how I want to assess this game I really can't come up with the right way to talk about it. Sure, the defense did a really shitty job in the second half and had Peyton Manning pick them apart with little to no pressure at all but in light of all of that the Steelers had the football in the offense's hands with three minutes to go in the game and only down six. Sure, the Steelers didn't win the game as Roethlisberger threw a pick-six but the fact remains that the Steelers went on the road against a team that many consider a Super Bowl contender that just acquired future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and slugged it out for 60 minutes. Not everything went the Steelers way but if you think that this is a crushing loss then you don't really have the right perspective.
Last night was the first time that we truly got to see the Todd Haley offense. Basically we really didn't see a ton different in the offense. The Steelers actually opened up the game by doing a lot of run-run-pass on first second and third down and while last season people wanted to see less passing this season people seem to want to see more passing after a couple of series.
Things weren't ideal as the Steelers had to settle for two field goals and a touchdown in three trips to the red zone. The most interesting part of the first half was that the Steelers really seemed to be forcing the run and then when they got a first and goal from inside the five they passed three separate times and had to settle for a field goal. It was the story of the first half and in the end could have cost the Steelers the game that was much closer than the final score indicates.
The offense wasn't really all bad for the Steelers. Actually it was pretty good for the most part. The Steelers held a decisive advantage in time of possession and they were even in the turnover department so this really should have been much more of a Steelers win than it was but you can't dispute a 35:05-24:55 time of possession win but in the end they didn't get it done. The Steelers ran 71 total plays as to opposed to only 55 for the Broncos and the Steelers went on four separate drives of ten or more plays. Each of those lengthy possessions resulted in points and it is unfortunate that the Steelers weren't able to make the plays on defense when it counted.
The defense wasn't good at all but in the same breath it wasn't terrible. They were able to get to Manning early but couldn't get any kind of pressure after Manning went into the no huddle halfway through the second quarter and stuck with it the rest of the game. The no huddle left the Steelers defense vulnerable and confused and without an answer despite the fact that the Broncos only possessed the ball for 36 seconds in the entire third quarter yet outscored the Steelers 7-3. Not ideal guys, not ideal.
As I said before this isn't like the Steelers lost to the Browns or Rams, this was a very good team with an outstanding quarterback and a pretty great secondary. The Steelers hung and I said it last night that I feel better about the Steelers after the game than I did before the game.
Here are a few points about the game:
-Before I go any farther I think it needs to be said (although it shouldn't) that this was an outstanding game to watch as a fan and that the Broncos more than deserved to win this game. I know as a Steelers fan I typically always get into what the Steelers did wrong and what they need to improve on after losses and while I will do that here it also needs to be stated that the Broncos played a pretty damn good game. Manning was a lot better than I thought he would be after not playing in over a year and while the Broncos defense wasn't great they made the plays in crunch time. You gotta respect that. Manning is going to get a ton of the credit for this game, and he deserves a lot, but Tracy Porter might have been the player of the game for Denver. He was all over the field in that defensive backfield and did an outstanding job all game long. Props to the Broncos.
-Roethlisberger was good but not great. He was pretty much the same Ben that we have seen before where he was extending plays and converting a ridiculous number of third downs. The Steelers were consistently getting into second and third and long situations and Roethlisberger continued to make big plays down the field to Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. What was different about Ben was a testament to Haley and the new offense but there were many three step drops and quick hitting plays to gain yardage without Ben getting hit. You can see that by the fact that he finished the game with a YPA of 6.1 when that is normally around 8.0 or better so we will see if that trend continues. Roethlisberger has been known for his late game heroics but he was shut down again by Tracy Porter with a pick-6. Ben will be more than OK this year.
-The offensive line is just a mess. It always has been but in the first game the Steelers lost two of their offensive lineman and I hope the injuries aren't too bad. Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster were both out of the game early and forced the Steelers to use every member of the active roster on the first night including second round pick Mike Adams. Adams struggled in a pretty big way and while the Steelers had little or no depth before they have even less now. The running game suffered because of it as the Steelers only gained 75 yards on 26 carries and it just wasn't pretty.
-While the running game wasn't great I don't really think it was from a lack of talent from the Steelers running backs. The guy that really had people up in arms last night was Jonathan Dwyer. Dude just ran hard and ran angry and if he got tackled on first contact last night I would be shocked. A lot of second and third effort out there and he earned himself more than the nine carries that he got last night. Isaac Redman got 11 carries and looked pretty good running inside. There was a lot of things that went into the run game last night but I think the backs themselves are one of the last things to worry about.
-The defense just didn't do the job last night. The Steelers got after Manning early with a pair of sacks but only managed three QB hits and really where nowhere to be found later in the game. Larry Foote was easily the best defensive player on the field for the defense and if there was a weak link it was the pass rush. I might have said it 100 times already but the Steelers defense is predicated on getting pressure and when the defense can't get to the quarterback then it will be a long day. The secondary didn't help much at all as they really missed Ryan Clark but it just wasn't good at all. Troy wasn't himself and James Harrison was out so it wasn't ideal. I am not using those as excuses because you have to deal with the cards you are dealt but, man, it was tough to watch.
-Demaryius Thomas might be the new Steelers killer. After the Steelers scored to extend the lead in the third quarter it took the Broncos only two plays to score thanks to a Thomas 71 yard touchdown catch coming off a screen. I know a lot of people are going to be ragging on Ike Taylor because he was the corner on the play but it was an outstanding play call and pretty much perfect execution to make it happen.
-I talked about the injury bug with the offensive line earlier but for the most part I thought those guys did a really nice job in pass protection. When you look at the box score you are going to see that Roethlisberger was sacked five times but three of those came in the final drive where the Steelers were trying to pick up huge chunks of yards and Mike Adams decided he didn't want to play against Von Miller. But during the big chunk of the game the line gave Ben plenty of time and gave him "lanes" to scramble through to get the ball downfield. We have seen worse from the offensive line, much worse, so I take this as a positive.
All in all this wasn't the end of the season and overall I am not all that worried going forward. The Broncos are a really good team with Manning and this game came down to the final minutes. When you play a good team on the road all you want is a chance to win the game. The Steelers got that chance and just couldn't come through. Should be an exciting season.