Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos: Denver's Biggest Winners and Losers
The Denver Broncos came away with a huge victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, defeating them 31-19 in a game that was close throughout. Broncos newcomer Tracy Porter picked off a Ben Roethlisberger pass to put the Broncos up for good, 31-19, with about two minutes remaining in the game.
All across the board, the Broncos played sound and disciplined football. The offense played efficiently, with Manning not turning the ball over a single time. When the Broncos operated in the no-huddle, they were unstoppable, scoring on every single one of their drives. The defense held the Steelers to under three yards a carry and shut down the Rashard Mendenhall-less running game of the Steelers.
Manning took hits, still completed passes and responded every time Pittsburgh scored to take the lead.
As a Broncos fan, there was a lot to feel good about in this game.
Here are Denver's biggest winners and losers from Week 1.
There was no bigger winner on Denver's side of the ball than Peyton Manning.
In Manning's first real-game action since January of 2011, I can't criticize his performance a single bit; he did everything right in his return from four neck surgeries.
He went 19-of-26 for 253 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers. He passed the ball with precision, remained calm in the pocket even when there was pressure and ran the no-huddle offense as well as he ever has.
In fact, the no-huddle offense was ran on four drives, and on all four drives, the Broncos at least scored.
Manning spread the ball around the field, completing passes to six different receivers, and completing passes in the short and intermediate game.
This was as well of a game that Manning could have played in his first career game as a Denver Bronco.
If there is one concern I have as a fan, it is the absence of the deep passing skill that Manning previously put on display in Indianapolis. Having said that, it's not much of a concern in my mind. If this game was an indication of what to expect from Manning for the rest of his playing career as a Bronco, I wouldn't feel the least bit worried.
Even if Manning no longer possesses as strong of an arm as he once did pre-neck surgery, he has more than compensated for it with his ability to make accurate passes, and his ability to make pre-snap reads that benefit his offense.
Winner: Peyton Manning
Demaryius Thomas started out the game on a rough note, dropping two passes, including one on a deep sideline route where Manning was trying to draw a penalty call for too many men on the field for the Steelers.
However, Thomas quickly rebounded from the rough start and gave Steelers fans bad flashbacks of when Thomas had over 200 yards receiving in Denver's playoff upset last January over Pittsburgh.
Demaryius led the team in receiving with five receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown. His play was highlighted by a 71-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
This game reminded Denver fans just how big of a playmaker Demaryius is, whether that's with Tim Tebow or Peyton Manning throwing him the football.
Winner: Demaryius Thomas
There aren't going to be many losers in this article, because there simply aren't many losers to choose from.
Having said that, there are so few Broncos to choose from when picking "losers," that McGahee will take the fall.
McGahee had 16 carries for 64 yards, with one fumble recovered by the Steelers.
The four yards a carry look decent, but if you watched this game, you would see how sluggish the running game was for most of the night.
Before the fourth quarter when McGahee helped clinch the Denver victory with a couple of nice first-down runs, McGahee's longest run on the night was for five yards. In fact, entering the fourth quarter, his yards per carry hovered around three yards.
Because the Broncos won this game, with Peyton Manning playing well and the defense looking much improved from last year, McGahee's weak game will be forgotten.
However, it was a concern heading into this season with McGahee approaching 31 years of age, and Tim Tebow being traded to the Jets, that Denver's rushing game would suffer.
If this game was any indication, it has suffered.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Broncos had this fear of McGahee slipping up, hence the reason why they made the decision to keep Knowshon Moreno.
Loser: Willis McGahee
Quite simply put, it is nice to see somebody other than Andre Goodman line up across from Champ Bailey.
After years of witnessing mediocre cornerbacks line up across from Bailey, and end up being one of the weak links of the defense, Porter has managed to silence those worries at least for the time being.
Porter was repeatedly thrown at while covering Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh's best receiver, and he came out on the winning end. He may have given up six receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown on receivers he was covering, but keep in mind, he was thrown at 11 total times.
He covered Wallace for most of the game, and Wallace only finished with four receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown.
To top things off, Porter sealed the game for Denver with a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown at the two-minute warning.
If Porter plays like he did versus Pittsburgh for the rest of the season, it's hard to envision many teams having an easy time moving the football against the Broncos defense in 2012.
Winner: Tracy Porter
Justin Bannan/Kevin Vickerson/Ty Warren
I had to put all three guys on this list, because they did an amazing job up front in holding and maintaining their gaps and aiding in the shutdown of Pittsburgh's running game.
Yes, the Steelers were missing Rashard Mendenhall, but the Broncos came into this game with questions about their interior defensive line, and they couldn't have done a better job of answering those questions.
The Steelers' leading rusher was Jonathan Dwyer with nine carries for 43 yards.
Pittsburgh ran the ball 26 times for 75 yards.
Amongst these three defensive tackles, they only amassed four total tackles.
But the job of a defensive tackle isn't to necessarily tackle the ball-carrier, it's to cover gap assignments and occupy linemen while allowing the linebackers to make plays.
The nose tackles did their jobs, and for that, they deserve credit.
Winners: Justin Bannan/Ty Warren/Kevin Vickerson
Von Miller was actually quiet for most of the game, until sacking Ben Roethlisberger twice on two of Pittsburgh's three final offensive plays to end the game.
Even though he was quiet for most of the night, his presence was still felt.
The Steelers designed their offensive game plan to limit Miller from making big plays, and that not only aided in Denver's defensive effort, but it aided in Denver's defense shutting down the run and forcing pressure on Roethlisberger.
Miller's impact on the stat line may have been limited until late in the fourth quarter, but his presence certainly wasn't.
Winner: Von Miller
Jack Del Rio
This defense, for as many highlights as they had in aiding this team in their victories during the "Tebow-Mania" era, was still a below-average defense with Dennis Allen running the show.
Well, Allen left to go coach the Raiders, and Jack Del Rio took his place.
And boy, did it look like it paid dividends Sunday night.
For as mediocre as a head coach as Del Rio was in Jacksonville, he has always had a propensity for coaching great defenses.
Tonight showed that. The Broncos shut down Pittsburgh's rushing attack, did not give up any big plays and looked as sound and disciplined as they have ever looked on the defensive side of the ball.
In the process of this defensive effort, they also racked up five sacks on Ben Roethlisberger, while forcing pressure on him for the entire game.
Jack Del Rio had a great first game as defensive coordinator of the Broncos, and if performances from the defense like this are to be expected, it's hard to envision the Broncos not being a Super Bowl contender this year.
Winner: Jack Del Rio