After Sunday night, that tally game to 1-7, when the Steelers fell to Denver, 31-19.
It wasn't just Manning, however, that contributed to the Steelers woes. A lot of the blame has to be directed elsewhere, namely to Pittsburgh's troubled offensive line.
Already without David DeCastro at right guard, the Steelers also lost their fill-in, Ramon Foster, to an eye injury and right tackle Marcus Gilbert to a knee injury. This necessitated Doug Legursky to come in at guard and rookie Mike Adams at tackle, and, predictably, chaos ensued.
The injuries were like blood in the water to hungry sharks; the Broncos defensive front quickly took advantage of the situation, sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times, including three consecutive times to close out the game.
Then there was the Broncos offense. Manning is one thing—you know what he can do—but the Steelers defense was worn down further and further thanks to the run game. Pittsburgh's defense allowed 96 rushing yards, but it felt like more, simply because it allowed the Broncos to keep drives going and allowed Manning to do, well, you know.
That was the Steelers plan, too, but it didn't work out as well. While a bit of running did indeed set up some effective passing in the first half, the Steelers progressively abandoned that approach as the game wore on and they kept finding themselves behind. The result was 40 Roethlisberger pass attempts behind the aforementioned overwhelmed offensive line.
The Steelers attempt to mirror the Broncos had a vastly different payoff: Roethlisberger averaged just 5.2 yards per attempt to Manning's 9.2, and Pittsburgh's run game had an average of 2.9 yards per carry to the Broncos' 3.5.
It wasn't all a negative showing of course. Roethlisberger was incredibly effective on third down, converting 11 of 19 attempts; 15 of the Steelers' 19 total first downs also came via the pass. And there's no denying the dominance of the Steelers' run-punctuated clock-eating attack that resulted in nearly an hour of real time passing between Manning's last first-half appearance and his first in the second.
While Troy Polamalu continued to alter the way offenses approach the Steelers defense, Ryan Mundy was again a liability in place of Ryan Clark. Keenan Lewis looked worthy of winning William Gay's old starting cornerback job. Larry Foote forced a fumble, which LaMarr Woodley recovered.
On offense, Heath Miller was reliable as ever, Mike Wallace caught a touchdown pass and Antonio Brown had a solid 74 yards on four receptions. Jonathan Dwyer? He wasn't bad at all, with nine carries for 43 yards.
But which team won? It wasn't Pittsburgh, though they had ample opportunities to run away with the game. Again, Manning showed that he can pick apart even the best defenses in the league, and yet again, the Steelers offensive line suffered injuries that cost them a significant degree of effectiveness.
Football teams are constant works in progress, and the Steelers have nothing but time to turn these issues around. But there are issues, and they are unsettling. The defense wasn't able to stay strong even with ample time to regroup and catch its collective breath, and the offensive line problems have returned with yet more injuries.
The Steelers were hoping to move forward this season, but this game looked like a step back. Is it simply a repeat of the random embarrassment they suffered to start the 2011 season, with a 35-7 loss to Baltimore before ending the year 12-4?
For the Steelers sake, let's hope so.
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