Biggest Takeaways from Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 15 Win

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVDecember 22, 2015

Biggest Takeaways from Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 15 Win

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    Ben Roethlisberger came up big in the Steelers' win over Denver in Week 15.
    Ben Roethlisberger came up big in the Steelers' win over Denver in Week 15.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers stared down their last major challenge of the 2015 season in Week 15 when they hosted the Denver Broncos and their league-leading defense. No team had scored 30 points against the Broncos this season, but that didn't stop the Steelers from doing what they do best—scoring touchdowns, almost at will.

    The Steelers improved to 9-5 on the season with the 34-27 win and broke records while they were at it. Here are the biggest takeaways from the Steelers' victory over Denver.

Second-Half Adjustments

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    At halftime, the Steelers trailed the Broncos 27-13. But something happened during the intermission, because in the final two quarters of the game, Pittsburgh stepped up to the plate on both offense and defense.

    The Broncos, who had converted eight of eight third downs in the first half and had four consecutive touchdown drives, converted only one third down in the second half and scored no additional points. Meanwhile, the Steelers continued to rack up yards and points of their own, eventually scoring 21 unanswered to win the game.

    The Steelers had 192 yards of second-half offense, compared to 90 for Denver. Though it was not the best start for Pittsburgh, it didn't matter: The Steelers finished strong and won a game they needed to, against one of the strongest opponents they've faced all year.

Antonio Brown Breaks Records

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    A big part of the Steelers' win Sunday had to do with the performance of Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown. His skills are no secret, but given the challenge posed by the Denver defense, what he pulled off in Week 15 is doubly impressive.

    Brown finished the day with 16 catches on 18 targets for 189 yards and two touchdowns. He is the first player in league history to have two games with at least 15 catches on his career. His 355 catches (to date) are the most ever recorded by a receiver in a three-year span in league history.

    And about those two touchdowns? He scored them against Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, who previously hadn't given up a single score in two years. Harris remarked after the game that Brown "is the best receiver in the game," and with numbers like these, it's hard to argue with that.

Ben Roethlisberger Sets Records, Too

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    For Antonio Brown to have such a big day against Denver's defense, then it must logically follow that it was also a good day for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And good may be an understatement.

    Roethlisberger completed 40 of his 55 pass attempts for 380 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions while being sacked three times. His 40 completions tie his single-game Steelers' record. His 380 passing yards marks the first time this year a quarterback has thrown for 300 or more yards against Denver's defense. He has now thrown for more than 300 yards in four consecutive home games this year, a main reason why Pittsburgh has put up 30 or more points seven times in 2015.

    A red-hot quarterback with a red-hot supporting cast is all it takes to get the better of Denver's defense. And with those few and far between in the NFL this year, Roethlisberger's passing game stands alone. His impressive performance Sunday merely adds the punctuation on what has been a stellar season, even with his earlier injuries factored in.

No Run Game, No Problem

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Broncos were—and remain—the NFL's top defense against the run. And that stout run defense certainly showed up Sunday. But that didn't matter to the Steelers—their game plan was to attack via the air, and the fact that they netted few rushing yards didn't affect the outcome much.

    The Steelers earned just eight rushing yards on five attempts in the first half, with DeAngelo Williams accounting for two of those yards on a touchdown. On the game, they had 17 rushes for 23 yards, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger accounting for a loss of three yards and Williams rushing 14 times for 26 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.

    Typically, a team would not be so comfortable being willingly one-dimensional, but it suited the Steelers just fine. They opted to stretch Denver's defensive resources thin by using their explosive passing game, and it worked. Sometimes, not running the ball is the best approach to the run game.

Playoff Hopes Very Much Alive

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Though it will take one more win—and a little help around the league—for the Steelers to clinch a playoff spot in Week 16, the Week 15 win boosted their odds. 

    With the win over Denver, the Steelers moved from the AFC's seventh seed to the six, leapfrogging the New York Jets, thanks to the Steelers having the common opponent tiebreak advantage over the Jets.

    Given that the Cincinnati Bengals must face the Broncos without quarterback Andy Dalton in Week 16, while the Steelers take on the struggling Baltimore Ravens, there is a clear path for Pittsburgh to not only take hold of a wild-card berth but even the AFC North crown.

    None of this would have been possible, though, had the Steelers fallen to Denver. This was must-win business, and the Steelers took care of it.