Steelers vs. Broncos Post Game Wrap
*Offensive Penalties Kill Good Offenses: The Steelers committed 4 offensive penalties in 1st half alone. Holding on Wallace and Miller, a false start on Starks, and Adams lined up illegally. Just too many dumb penalties are committed by this offense, game after game, year after year, which continue to kill drives. They opened the second half with a false start on Willie Colon on 3rd and 8 play, which was followed up by another Willie Colon false start on the same drive on a 1st down from Broncos 36. Just one play later Antionio Brown false started. It's hard for any offense to overcome 5 pre-snap penalties in a game. Crowd noise may have been an issue, but it's not an excuse.
*Defensive Issues Linger: Aside from the flukey backhanded forced fumble by Larry Foote and a few early sacks, the defense made zero splash plays. Nobody actually beat a block to record a sack or force a throw away. Nobody broke on a ball to make an interception or bat a pass away. Nobody laid a big hit to force a fumble or a dropped catch. Hopefully the return of James Harrison and Ryan Clark return the defense to form, but Lamarr Woodley's disappearing act and the failures of Worilds and Carter to develop into a potential impact starter are glaring issues for this defense moving forward a concerns for the long term prospects for this defense.
*Paging Trai Essex: With Marcus Gilbert hyper-extending his knee and Ramon Foster busting up his eye, the Steelers are thin again on the line. How many times have we seen the Steelers down to their final healthy lineman in a game over the past few years? If you're weren't already convinced that Sean Kugler is jinxed, you should be by now. Once is an accident, twice is a trend, four seasons in a row is a verified goocher.
*The Refs were fine: There were no more blown or missed calls in this game than any other Steelers game we've seen over the past handful of years. Aside from the flag happy crew in the Green Bay game and the extra timeout awarded to Seattle, the replacement officials were up to the standard of the regular officials on the opening weekend.
OC: Todd Haley: The much anticipated debut of Todd Haley was met with mixed results. Much of the game plan on offense mirrored what they did in preseason. Haley attempted to force the run on 1st and 2nd downs on each of their first 5 opportunities on said downs. This forced Ben to bail out the offense repeatedly on 3rd and long against a fierce pass rush. That is not exactly a recipe for success in the NFL. The first time they actually threw the ball on 1st or 2nd down ironically came on a 1st and goal play from the Broncos 3 yard line. By this point, it became apparent they had no chance to gain 3 yards on the ground as they were averaging 1.9 YPC in open field, they couldn't expect to fare better in tight quarters. With the ridiculous commitment to the run on early downs, you would have expected a play action pass deep down the field on a subsequent early down, however, that never happened. Perhaps Haley was just trying to slow the pass rush, but the over-commitment to the run on early downs without building a play action passing game off of it was troubling. Maybe mind numbing is a better description. Haley's offense did some things extremely well. I really liked the quick passing game. The designed 3-step drop and throw forces Ben to do the right thing and get the ball out of his hands quickly. It also hides the O-line deficiencies. The outlet dump off passes to RBs, although with limited success, were a breath of fresh air. Chris Rainey was a fingertip tackle away from hitting the open field behind a bevy of blockers. The best thing I saw all night was the wrap around draw play up the gut as an audible to counteract the pass rush when Ben read one coming. That was a smart addition to the offense and it was used liberally by both QBs in this game. The use of Miller and the TEs in the redzone and on 3rd and medium was well designed. Overall it was a ball control offense that successfully moved and possessed the ball, but again failed to score enough TDs. Settling for a FG after starting 1st and goal at the 3 yard line is a loss. Poor line play and a complete lack of a running game were the main culprits there, just as they often were in the Bruce Arians era. (Grade B-)
DC Dick Lebeau: Lebeau dialed up some creative pass rushes early on got some heat on Manning. The defensive unit seemed to fall asleep on the sidelines with Steelers long offensive drives. Lebeau apparently still has no answer for a no huddle offense. A note to opposing coordinators: When facing the Dick Lebeau defense, just spread it and shred it. He has no answer. Never has, never will. Once Manning went to the no huddle he delivered 3 straight drives for TDs followed by one for a FG. Manning basically just waited to see if Lebeau was running cover 2 or single high safety, then picked his man and shredded Lebeau's defense. No adjustments were made, coverages weren't disguised, Lebeau just did the same thing over and over with poor results. Dick's 75th birthday present from Peyton Manning was a 75% TD rate when the Broncos offense went to the no huddle. Don't spend it all in one place Dick. (Grade: D-)
HC Mike Tomlin: There were a few questionable calls by Mike Tomlin. Going for 2 when up by 5 points with over 14 minutes to play makes little sense. You don't chase points that early in a game. Two Peyton Manning drives for FGs gets you beat if you don't convert. One TD drive by Manning ties it up if you do. Too much risk, too little reward. Tomlin also should have challenged the 3rd down run where Ben bounced on the ground after a run for an apparent 1st down. He got a bad spot as he was untouched that would/should have been ruled a 1st down upon review. Tomlin also probably shouldn't have challenged the non-fumble by Denver at the goal-line, but I'm nitpicking a bit here. Zero adjustments were made by Tomlin at the half to adjust to Denver's no huddle. For the second consecutive game Denver made appropriate halftime adjustments to out-Fox Tomlin and the Steelers. (Grade: C-)
QB: Ben was throwing the ball as quick and accurately as we've ever seen in this game. He effectively used audibles from pass to run and vice versa with more comfort and confidence than he's shown in the past. Roethlisberger was deadly accurate on 3rd down most of the night. At one point he was completing 90% of his 3rd down passes including his 2 TD passes. There were very few bad plays made by the Steelers QB before the final two drives. He did throw a ball too low to a wide open Heath Miller in the endzone which was batted down, and also missed a blown coverage by the Denver secondary where Mike Wallace was wide open for an easy score. After the game Ben admitted he should have called timeout before the play that ended in the pick-6 as the offense was out of position, confused as to the play call, and in general disarray. He ended up telegraphing a pass that was intercepted, effectively ending the game. Overall Ben threw the ball well, showed a strong grasp for the new offense, and was forced to carry the load all night. Much of his work was done on 3rd and long completions due to a total lack of a running game, penalties, and poor early down play calls. (Grade: B)
OL: The line was very ineffective blocking in the run game all night. Legursky was credited for two easy sacks in a half as he replace an eye-injured Ramon Foster. Mike Adams looked solid to start in relief of Marcus Gilbert early, but he got abused by the speed of Von Miller late as he allowed a sack, blew a down block on 2nd and 1 run play from the 2, and allowed a few other pressures. Pouncey was his typical self. He made some nice pulls and blocks in the run game, but also got pushed into Ben's lap in pass protection a time or two. Max Starks looks to be pushing 380 pounds, but regardless, he was a bright spot with very solid pass protection against Elvis Dumervil. In the end 2.9 YPC and 6 sacks allowed doesn't earn you a passing grade. Somebody needs to sacrifice a chicken to Joboo to help lift the curse on Sean Kugler. (Grade: D)
RB: Mostly a bad showing by this group. Jon Dywer was passable with a few nice runs and catches as he totaled 54 yards and a 4.8 YPC average. Redman ran like a fat back with a bad hip and ankle, which is a nicer way of saying he ran like a piece of shit. FB Johnson had a nice 12-yard catch and run and made a few nice blocks. Rainey was a non-factor with 3 touches for 4 yards. (Grade: D+)
WR/TE: The workload was spread around equally as Wallace, Sanders, Brown, and Miller all had 4 catches and 6-8 targets apiece. Sanders dropped easy catch on the 3rd and 10 ball where he took the helmet to helmet hit. He also ran a weak route on the pick 6 play as he never sold the inside move, made a weak cut to the outside, and let Porter beat him to the ball.
It was scary seeing Sanders and Brown take big hits to the head. You have to wonder if those hits effected their play late in the game. Wallace never got a deep ball thrown his way until the 4th quarter and fell down on a quick slant where he could have taken for a big gain had he kept his feet. Miller was a key contributor in the passing game, but he and Pope both struggled at run blocking. (Grade: B)
DL: Got blown off the ball against the run in nickel D. No impact rushing passer against the no huddle, and the whole unit was generally invisible. It was basically just a bunch of indistinguishable bodies on the field. Casey Hampton probably had the best night of the crew in very limited snaps. He clogged the running lanes early on, but the move to the no-huddle by Manning effectively ended Hampton's night. McClendon, Hood, Keisel, Heyward, and Woods all rotated in the game with little success. (Grade D)
LB: Timmons whiffed on a handful of tackles on runs up the gut, including the TD run early on by Moreno. Chris Carter was easily blocked out of that play, and was run at effectively by Denver. He added nothing as a pass rusher. Disappointing debut for Carter. Carter, Worilds, and Woodley created zero pressure all night. Worilds got a freebie sack when he came through unblocked in the first half, and Woodley recovered a fumble, otherwise not a single play was made by the OLB position all night. Adrian Robinson needed to get some snaps on passing downs. Larry Foote was the only Steelers 'backer that even showed up as he forced a fumble with a backhanded pimp-slap, recorded a sack, and 8 solo stops. He did struggle in coverage a bit however. The Steelers have an awful lot of salary cap room tied up in Timmons and Woodley, and if they continue with their mediocre play, this defense is in for a fall over the coming years. (Grade D)
DB: Ryan Mundy sucks. He has shown no redeeming qualities whatsoever. They had to drop Polamalu deep because Mundy can't cover which put Mundy in the box where he couldn't tackle.
Perhaps Ryan Clark's contributions to the defense have been underestimated. Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, and Cortez Allen all had mediocre games in coverage. None were awful, none were difference makers. Lewis committed a tick-tac pass interference penalty, Allen gave up several key 3rd down catches that moved the chains and he badly whiffed a tackle, and Ike Taylor got blocked out of the play on the long Demaryius Thomas catch and run. Polamalu was solid near the line, but did little in coverage. (Grade C-)
STs: It was interesting to see Antonio Brown being used on punt returns. I endorsed this idea in the preseason. He's shown to be explosive and sure handed. Rainey scares me a bit. Sanders and Rainey split kick return duties with little action in the thin Denver air. DVD made a nice downed punt at the 1 yard line. Suisham made all of his kicks as well as booming balls out of the endzone on KOs. Drew Butler had a solid night punting. Coverage units were fine. (Grade: B)
Game Balls: Ben Roethlisberger had as close to what would classify as a good game as anyone on the Steelers roster. Despite being put in many precarious down and distances, he fired laser after laser on 3rd down, and effectively controlled the game. When it mattered most however, Ben came up small telegraphing an out route for a game ending pick-6. With the utter lack of a run game or competent O-line, Ben made lemonade out of lemon shit much of the night. His defensive counterpart would have to be Larry Foote, who made several impactful plays early on including a sack, a pressure, and a forced fumble. Congrats to Ben and Larry for being semi-competent.
Goat Balls: So many to go around here. Dick Lebeau has proven time and time again that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. 1-7 in his career vs. Peyton Manning, equally as bad against Tom Brady, Lebeau has proven he has no answer for the no huddle offense led by a savvy QB. Willie Colon returned from a 2 year layoff dead set on making up for all of the false starts he's missed over that span by committing two such offenses in this game. Mind you, he now is elbow to elbow with the Center making his boners that much worse. Doug Legursky tried his best to steal the attention away from his good buddy Willie by allowing 2 sacks and multiple pressures in half of a game. The Worids/Carter back-up OLB duo showed how mediocre they truly are, but at least they aren't bogging down the salary cap with their indifference the way Lamarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are stealing pay checks at this point. Oh, and how is Ryan Mundy still in the NFL? What a complete waste of a body out there on the field.
Final Word: It is easy to forget how much the Steelers offense controlled the majority of this game. Ultimately, the poor pass defense and lack of a pass rush ended up stealing the show, but a lot of promise came out of the offense. If the O-line starts to come together as a unit and can open some holes for the run game, it could be a pretty effective and balanced unit. Going to Denver on a Sunday Night game and losing to Peyton Manning on the road is not the end of the world. AFC losses always hurt, but playing without Harrison, Clark, Mendenhall, and losing two starting linemen in the game really stacked the odds against the Steelers. The Jets are on their way to town next as the Steelers get yet another reminder of their playoff disaster from a year ago as Tim Tebow will be making an appearance. Let's hope for better results.