The Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19 in the opening NFL weekend of the 2012 season. It was a back and forth chess match until the Broncos opened a late lead.
There was an extended feeling out period as the game began. That feeling was erased as both offenses found their stride and put up yards and points, beginning in the second quarter.
Pittsburgh struck first with 10:10 remaining in the second quarter on a Shaun Suisham chip shot 21-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
The Steelers’ lead was quickly erased by the first glimpse at Manning’s no huddle offense. Steelers fans and coaches likely wish it was only a glimpse, but it proved to be the engine that made the Denver offense go. In very workman-life fashion, the Broncos used a great mix of pass/run to march the length of the field to take a 7-3 lead on a Knowshon Moreno 5-yard rushing touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, the Steelers played some “backyard football” to move the ball 79 yards with several unscripted pass routes after protection broke down and Big Ben was forced to improvise. With 28 seconds left in the first half, Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller on a short pass over the middle for a TD strike to take a 10-7 lead.
The Steelers possessed the ball for nearly nine minutes to begin the third quarter and notched another Shaun Suisham FG to up the lead to 13-7. Nine minutes and three points is not as good as 36 seconds and seven points. Manning threw his 400th TD pass to Demaryius Thomas on a wide receiver screen where he went untouched for 71 yards to give the Broncos a 14-13 edge.
Pittsburgh showcased an amazing series of third down conversions, including two long pass plays to Heath Miller to methodically move into scoring range. Jonathan Dwyer nearly scored Pittsburgh’s first rushing TD of the year, but his knee touched down briefly before crossing the plane. That set up yet another high drama third down conversion when Roethlisberger threw a dart of a pass to Mike Wallace on a back shoulder slant to re-take the lead. Pittsburgh curiously went for the two-point conversion and failed, so the score remained 19-14.
Another Peyton Manning sighting, another no huddle TD drive, ending with a one-yard TD out pattern to Jacob Tamme. The Broncos took a 22-19 lead after a two-point conversion was successful on a pass to Willis McGahee.
Following a Matt Prater field goal with three minutes remaining, the Steelers had one last chance to open the 2012 campaign with a victory. Down 25-19, Roethlisberger delivered the death blow…unfortunately, it was an out pattern to Emmanuel Sanders that was undercut by defensive back Tracy Porter. Porter returned the interception 43 yards and clinched the victory for Denver.
Of course the game had to conclude with three of Pittsburgh’s final four offensive snaps being sacks of #7.
I’m going to introduce a segment for each game recap called “You Win Some, You Lose Some.”
The pumpfake by Ben Roethlisberger and stop/start route by Heath Miller was a perfectly timed thing of beauty that resulted in a TD pass. If you want to see a clinic on what a “classic” tight end is, Miller is a mix of bullying blocker and pass-catching threat who runs accurate routes and can lose opposing linebackers.
Jonathan Dwyer and, to a lesser extent, Isaac Redman showed great elusiveness. There weren’t many holes out there, but they made several guys miss in the open field.
The ball control of the Steelers was impressive despite its inability to have a meaningful running game all night.
Larry Foote looks several steps younger than his predecessor at inside linebacker, James Farrior. Foote’s forced fumble may have been inadvertent, but he was always in position to make plays.
Antonio Brown surprisingly was back to receive punts. While he is pure electricity when he touches the ball, rookie Chris Rainey appeared to have a secure handle on the punt return job in the preseason. So, it came as a surprise to see #84 returning punts.
The offensive line looks…offensive. Maurkice Pouncey may be the most overrated center in the NFL. I get the impression that Pouncey is so interested in making blocks “at the next level” that he occasionally does not block the first guy. Doug Legursky and Mike Adams filled in at right guard and right tackle respectively due to injuries to Ramon Foster (eye) and Marcus Gilbert (knee). They both had their troubles, but their performance was not entirely “below the line,” to steal a phrase from coach Mike Tomlin.
The Steelers missed some early opportunities against the Broncos. Following Woodley’s fumble recovery in Denver territory, Pittsburgh got one first down before the drive stalled and were forced to punt. Also, Ben Roethlisberger needed a little more elevation on a pass to a WIDE OPEN Heath Miller in the end zone in the 2nd quarter, but instead it was deflected and Pittsburgh had to settle for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
The pass rush was largely ineffective, although there wasn’t much disguise.
Cortez Allen as a nickel back was a mismatch against Brandon Stokley. Allen got beat twice early for first downs. Despite a year away from NFL football, Stokley still has chemistry with his former teammate in Indianapolis, Mr. Manning.
But, he was not the worst offender when it came to coverage. Ike Taylor once again had his difficulties with Demaryius Thomas, although not nearly as dreadful as this past January. Keenan Lewis also had some issues with face-guarding opponents. He needs to look back for the ball while it is in flight.
In the early part of the game, the conservative playcalling on early downs put the offense in third and long. As the game progressed, the absence of a Pittsburgh running game allowed Bronco pass rushers to bombard and wear down the O-line.
The outside running game was even worse than runs attempted between the tackles. Denver possesses too much speed at the linebacker position, which was no match for Pittsburgh’s woeful offensive linemen.
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.