Steelers Nation should be clear that the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-10 defeat of the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football 28-10 was a big win where the Steelers accomplished something with important implications for the rest of the season.
Conventional Wisdom in the NFL holds that the Raven’s demolition of Denver unmasked the Broncos previous 6-0 record as a façade. If Baltimore did expose some real weaknesses, NFL teams do not get to 6-0 on smoke and mirrors alone.
Denver entered the game with the league’s leading defense, and a quarterback who’d thrown one pick in seven games. That does not happen by accident.
Steelers: Down on Their Luck in Denver
On top of that, the Steelers were playing in Denver, where they had not won in the regular season since 1990. The Mile High City is a locale where the Steelers luck has included:
- Rod Woodson and Brian Hinkle intercepting back-to-back John Elway passes (including one leading to a quick Steelers TD), only to see Elway score 24 unanswered points
- A dropped Mark Stock pass and failed center-QB exchange that abruptly ended the 1989 Steelers story book season
- A 37-13 shellacking following the Steelers monumental 23-0 1993 Monday Night Football thumping of the Bills
- A scene of an injury ravaged offensive line in 2003 that featured Alan Fanaca rotating between tackle and guard depending on the down
- Ryan Clark’s life threatening injury in 2007 and the Steelers subsequent squandering of a 4th quarter lead.
Heck, even the Steelers 1990 regular season win in Denver carries Dwight Stone's distinction of blowing a shot at getting the club's longest all time reception in history by stepping out of bounds, untouched, 90 yards into what would have been an easy 100 yard TD catch.
Half of Denver Dominates for a Half
For 30 minutes, one half of the Denver Broncos lived up to their reputation. The Denver defense stymied and frustrated the Steelers offense, which was unable to put any points on the board, had trouble controlling the ball, and gave the Broncos a generous lead in the time of possession.
This latter stat is all the more impressive, as the defense hung in there while the Broncos offense utterly failed to take advantage.
“The standard of expectation does not change.”
Three starters on the Steelers defense missed the game, one on the defensive line, one in the linebacking corps, and one in the secondary.
But the defense’s performance harkened back to the 2008 Jacksonville game, when the Steelers offense breathed life into Mike Tomlin’s credo, “Injuries are no excuse, the standard of expectation does not change.”
- Give Kyle Orton credit for his early field goal drive where he and Eddie Royal made life miserable for William Gay.
Then credit the Steelers for the rest of the evening.
Back up safety Tyrone Carter, the unit's supposed weak link, struck first with his pick six, giving him more points in the first half than both offenses combined. After that, it was all Steelers. The Broncos had no where to run, and Kyle Orton had no where to hide.
Brett Keisel registered one sack in all of 2008. Last week he got his first of 2009. As if to put an exclamation point on the “injuries are no excuse” mantra, Keisel sacked Kyle Orton, twice last night. The Steelers defense had a great night, although they're not the story.
Nonetheless, the Broncos had to feel good going into the half at 7-3, as Ben Roethlisberger had thrown for all of 54 yards, and Rashard Mendenhall had been held to 25.
Things, however, were about to change.
Ben Bounces Back
Ben Roethlisberger was all business to start the second half, marching straight down to Denver’s 33.
Then Denver’s defense made its last stab at destiny for the evening, and they made a good one, as a Bronco defender sack-stripped Big Ben and returned the ball 46 yards for a touchdown.
Advice to future defensive coordinators:
- Do not back Ben into a corner, because he answered burn you with a quick touchdown in response
He did just that last, scoring in just four plays covering 80 yards for a quick touchdown, in a drive that featured precision passes to both Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward.
But Ben and his receivers were not the only heroes on that drive, as Rashard Mendenhall ripped off a 24 yard run.
And therein lies the lesson for the Steelers offense to sustain over the next 8 games.
Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers have been justly recognized for their excellence this year, and just as Rashard Mendenhall has quickly turned a lot of heads with his 5 plus yards per carry average. (There is the matter of his obligatory late-game goal line fumbles, but that’s for another time.)
But something has been missing, until now.
Bruce Arians Finds Balance on Offense
Bruce Arians accomplished something special with his unit. The 180 degree 2nd half turn around was nice, but you expect that from defending Super Bowl Champions.
- It was the way Arians turned things around – by finding balance.
It has been a long, long time since the Steelers have been able to combine precision, vertical passing in the air, with persistent, punishing power rushing on the ground.
They did that in the second half against Denver last night. They did it against the NFL’s number one defense.
- And they made it look easy.
Repeating that feat over the next eight weeks won’t be easy. Finding balance never is.
But if they can consistently achieve that balance on offense, the Steelers will give themselves a serious shot at making 2009 just as special as 2008.
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