Peyton Manning Triumphantly Returns, Leads Denver to 31-19 Win

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystSeptember 10, 2012

September 9 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

The Denver Broncos took the training wheels off Peyton Manning in the second quarter, and he orchestrated an offense that led the team to a 31-19 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.

The 36-year-old Manning returned after an injury-forced layoff of 610 days and looked like the same guy that won four MVP awards with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. The touchdowns passes were the 400th and 401st of Manning’s career.

Manning had a great performance, but the defense did its part to keep the Broncos in the game. Ben Roethlisberger was beaten and battered all night but kept buying enough time to complete passes.

With the game on the line, cornerback Tracy Porter returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory.


The Good

Once the Broncos went to the no-huddle in the second quarter, the offense closely resembled the high-powered offense Manning ran in Indianapolis. Manning was calm and comfortable, and the Steelers had no answer for Denver’s passing game.

The Steelers couldn’t focus their attention on a single receiver, as Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme and Demaryius Thomas each had five receptions.

Thomas did most of his damage on a 71-yard touchdown catch and run, set up by a hot read from Manning. Manning changed the play at the line of scrimmage and did an excellent job getting the ball into the hands of Thomas and letting him make a play.

In total, Manning completed 73 percent of his passes and compiled a passer rating of 129.2, which should calm any remaining fears about his health and ability to build chemistry with his new receivers.

The Denver defense held Roethlisberger to 55 percent passing and kept the Steelers out of the end zone on two of their four trips to the red zone. The pass rush and coverage were good all night, but Roethlisberger routinely extended plays with his legs and bought his receivers time to find cracks in Denver’s coverage.

When Roethlisberger was forced to pass, trailing by six points in the fourth quarter, the Broncos were able to dial up the pressure, and the secondary (thanks to Porter) helped the Broncos secure the victory.

The defensive front seven also held the Pittsburgh ground game to 75 yards and 2.9 yards per carry. The Broncos had issues stopping the running game last season, and the solid defensive performance is a welcome sign for a team that will play run-heavy teams like Oakland, Kansas City and Houston this season.


The Bad

No game is perfect, and the Broncos will go back and see plenty of missed opportunities. Particularly disappointing was how poorly the Broncos ran the ball. Willis McGahee, Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno combined for just 91 yards on 23 carries.

When the offense shifted to the no-huddle, the Broncos departed from the power offense and began passing to set up the run much the way Manning did in Indianapolis.

It wasn’t a problem against the Steelers, but teams could figure out a way to slow down Manning in future weeks, and the Broncos might need to lean more on the running game.

Moreno was particularly bad in blitz pickup and had a direct hand in both of the sacks on Manning. If Moreno wants to stay on the field and get more opportunities, he’s going to have to protect the golden goose.

Denver should be slightly concerned about its ability to stop the outside run.

While the run defense held up overall, Jonathan Dwyer was able to slip to the outside and gain 43 yards on nine carries, a whopping 4.8 yards per carry. Dwyer is hardly a burner, so it’s slightly concerning the Broncos could let him gain so much yardage to the outside.

Much of stopping the run to the outside is about setting the edge and forcing the run back to the inside where a linebacker can make the tackle. The Broncos had to rely on safeties Mike Adams and Rahim Moore to make plays against the run, which isn't a good sign.

The Broncos will need to tighten up their run defense to the outside to limit running backs in their division like Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles and Ryan Mathews.


Christopher Hansen is the AFC West lead writer for Bleacher Report. Be sure to Follow @ChrisHansenNFL on Twitter and "like" the AFC West blog on Facebook. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.