Steelers vs Broncos: 10 Things We Learned from Pittsburgh's 31-19 Loss
The bad news is, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost again to the Denver Broncos. This time, the Broncos didn't even need overtime, defeating the Steelers 31-19.
The good news is, this loss doesn't end the Steelers' season like it did the last time they went to Denver. The Steelers are guaranteed 15 more games. They just have to hope most of them turn out better than Sunday night's season opener.
At least this is a more forgivable loss than last year's 35-7 shellacking in Baltimore to start the season. After all, Peyton Manning does to a lot of teams what he did to the Steelers Sunday night. He just wasn't supposed to be able to shake off the rust so soon against the Steelers' supposedly stout defense.
It's tough to tell if what we learned about the Steelers Sunday night will be the case for the rest of the season. It's just one game. But here's what we know so far.
Demaryius Thomas Really Does Own Ike Taylor
What happened in last year's AFC Wild Card game was no fluke.
Ike Taylor just can't cover Demaryius Thomas.
It wasn't quite the laser light show that Thomas displayed in the playoff game when he had more than 200 yards receiving, but he caught five passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown really wasn't Taylor's fault because it was a screen pass and Taylor wasn't on him. However, Thomas beat Taylor for two receptions that keyed a second-quarter scoring drive that culminated in a seven-yard Knowshon Moreno touchdown run and a 7-3 Broncos lead.
On consecutive plays during drive, Manning found Thomas for six yards and 20 yards to get the Broncos into Steelers territory. After the second completion, Thomas and Taylor did a little nose-to-nose trash talking.
It's hard to imagine what Taylor had to say in that conversation. He's got nothing to brag about when it comes to covering Thomas.
Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen Need to Learn How to Tackle
One of the reasons the Steelers have been an elite defense in the NFL through the years is their ability to tackle.
Even when Steelers' defensive backs allow a reception, they usually wrap up the receiver right away and minimize yards after the catch.
Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen seem to be having a little trouble with that.
Both Lewis, the Steelers' staring cornerback opposite Ike Taylor, and Allen missed tackles after receptions Sunday night.
That can't continue to happen.
Lewis is entering his fourth year and Allen is entering his second year. The Steelers better hope they both have some upside, and that tackling is one of the areas in which they improve.
Still Not Enough Takeaways
LaMarr Woodley recovered a fumble for the Steelers' only takeaway Sunday night, and the Steelers failed to convert it into any points.
One takeaway in one game puts the Steelers on a pace for 16 takeaways in 16 games, one more than their league-low 15 takeaways last season.
That's not going to get it done.
The Steelers' defense sure could have used a turnover in the fourth quarter when Peyton Manning marched the Broncos' offense up and down the field and took control of the game.
The Steelers' Defense Is Vulnerable
We could give the Steelers' defense a mulligan because it faced Peyton Manning Sunday night.
However, there's cause for concern.
After slipping from first in the NFL in run defense two years ago to eighth last season, the Steelers still seem vulnerable to the run.
On the surface, it looks like the Steelers stopped the run fairly well Sunday night, allowing 94 yards on 27 carries, which is less than four yards a carry.
However, the Broncos broke off big chunks of yardage on the ground in the fourth quarter.
Willis McGahee began a drive with runs of nine and 12 yards, eventually leading to Peyton Manning's one-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Tamme and a 22-19 Broncos lead.
Later in the fourth quarter, McGahee had a five-yard run and Lance Ball gained 11 yards on a drive that resulted in a Matt Prater field goal that increased the Broncos' lead to 25-19.
This was after the Steelers defense was on the field for just two plays in the third quarter. One of those plays was Demaryius Thomas' 71-yard touchdown pass on a screen, which the Steelers defense allowed despite sitting for the first nine minutes after halftime.
Larry Foote Is a Bright Spot on Defense
We should throw one bouquet to the Steelers' defense.
Larry Foote has a way of flying under the radar while flashier Steelers defenders like James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel get all the attention.
For now, however, Foote is the heart and soul of a struggling unit.
In the game's first series, Foote broke up a pass and sacked Manning. While he didn't officially get credit for a forced fumble, he seemed to knock the ball loose on Willis McGahee's fumble.
Foote led the Steelers with seven tackles in the game. The 32-year-old might need to provide leadership in the locker room and on the practice field for the Steelers' defense to improve.
This Is the Same Old Offensive Line
We saw more of the same from the Steelers' offensive line in the season opener.
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times, but that's misleading because three of those sacks came on the Steelers' last desperate drive after their deficit fell to 31-19.
What was frustrating was seeing three false-start penalties called on Steelers' offensive linemen. Also, it didn't take long for injuries to begin ripping through this unit like they seem to do every year.
It makes the Steelers' offensive linemen seem like a bunch of Sunday-morning church leaguers.
Right guard Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert went down. Doug Legursky, who can play multiple positions but none of them well, came in at right guard. Overwhelmed rookie Mike Adams came in at right tackle.
So much for starting the same five guys every week on the offensive line.
The Steelers' Running Backs Can't Catch
The Steelers' running backs gained just 75 yards on 26 carries, but we'll wait another week before we start asking when Rashard Mendenhall is coming back.
What we do know at this point is that Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer should stick to running. They have a long way to go before they can be trusted catching passes out of the backfield.
Dwyer dropped two passes. Redman caught two passes but he bobbled the ball on his second reception, which came on 2nd-and-5 from the Broncos' 42 in the third quarter. Redman picked up two yards on the play but could have had a lot more if he caught the ball cleanly.
The Steelers eventually settled for a field goal and a 13-7 lead on the 16-play drive.
Todd Haley's Honeymoon Is over
Todd Haley is about to get the Bruce Arians treatment in Pittsburgh.
In other words, let the second-guessing begin.
After the Broncos took a 22-19 lead in the fourth quarter, the Steelers had the ball with 9:23 left.
There was a chance the Steelers could put together a long possession, run the clock down, be in position for the winning touchdown and keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands for the rest of the night.
Chris Rainey started the drive with a seven-yard run to set up 2nd-and-3. Then, for some reason, Ben Roethlisberger attempted a deep pass to Mike Wallace that fell incomplete. The Steelers went three-and-out, the Broncos got the ball back and added to their lead.
Not only was the play call on 2nd-and-3 questionable, but it's hard to figure out why Rainey got just two carries when Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer combined for just 63 yards on 20 carries.
Mike Wallace Is No Longer a One-Trick Pony
Who needs training camp?
Not Mike Wallace, it seems.
Wallace caught four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. His longest reception was 14 yards, so it seems like Wallace now can understand commands other than "go long" in the huddle.
On his first reception, Wallace gained 14 yards on 3rd-and-15 and tried to stretch for the first down. He didn't make it, but he made the kind of extra effort that he better make after his holdout.
In third quarter, Wallace caught consecutive passes of 13 and seven yards that got the Steelers into field-goal range. Shaun Suisham's 35-yarder increased the Steelers' lead to 13-7.
Wallace's three-yard touchdown catch came in traffic and gave the Steelers a 19-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps Wallace is becoming a more complete receiver. It's amazing what a player can do in a contract year.
Ben Roethlisberger's Playground Style Is Part of the Steelers' Offense
Despite the concerns about Ben Roethlisberger's safety, there's just not much Todd Haley can do about his playground style.
Roethlisberger escaped sacks and extended plays on the Steelers' last possession of the first half. The 14-play, 79-yard drive was capped by Roethlisberger's four-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller, giving the Steelers a 10-7 halftime lead.
It would be nice if Roethlisberger took fewer sacks, but he needs to keep plays alive to be successful. He didn't win two championship rings by being a surgical, pocket passer.