After a bit of a slow start, the Broncos were able to win their week 1 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in convincing fashion, 31-19. Here are the “Peaks and Valleys” of Sunday night’s game:
Peyton Manning looked every bit like the 4-time MVP of old, completing 19 of 26 passes (73%) for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions. But the stats (and his 129.2 quarterback rating, 5th-highest in the league) are only part of the story. Manning took charge of the offense and showed why he is considered to be one of the NFL’s great field generals. Using the hurry-up offense, he picked apart the vaunted Steelers defense with apparent ease, often changing the play at the line of scrimmage as he’s done his entire career. The chess match between Manning and Steelers safety Troy Polomalu was fascinating to watch. By all accounts, Peyton Manning is back.
Tracy Porter had the play of the game with an interception and return for a touchdown to seal the win for the Broncos. The newly-acquired cornerback also had 8 tackles and several excellent pass defenses, reminding Broncos fans just how much better the team is without Andre Goodman. The signing of Porter, formerly of the Saints, could prove to be the biggest offseason addition on the defensive side of the ball.
The Defense on 1st & 2nd Downs was dominant, forcing the Steelers into many 3rd-and-long situations that we assumed would allow the pass rush to flourish. The Steelers were held to just 75 net rushing yards on 26 attempts, averaging less than 3 yards per carry. The rushing defense was a big question mark heading into the season as opposing teams will likely try to control the clock to keep Manning and the offense off the field. With a brutal schedule this season, the defense will tested every week, continuing again on Monday in Atlanta. The Falcons have an explosive offense with running back Michael Turner, receivers Roddy White & Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Demariyus Thomas had a spectacular 71-yard catch & run for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter to put the Broncos ahead 14-13. While many expected fellow reciever Eric to be Manning’s go-to guy, Thomas finished the night with 5 receptions (on 7 targets) for 110 yards while showcasing his speed and power.
Wesley Woodyard was all over the field, making 12 solo tackles and 1 quarterback sack as the replacement linebacker for suspended starter D.J. Williams.
Derek Wolfe showed why the Broncos made him their first selection in the 2012 Draft with a sack on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, 3 tackles and being a disruptive force on the defensive line. His play will be even more important now with starting tackle Ty Warren out for the season with a torn triceps.
The Defense on 3rd Downs was horrendous. Even while holding the Steelers to short gains on 1st and 2nd down, 3-and-long proved to be anything but the dream scenario we thought it would be. Roethlisberger was able to convert nearly 60% of 3rd downs, including several of 15-yards or more. Hopefully, this had more to do with Roethlisberger being one of the best in the league at extending plays and less to do with the Broncos nickle coverage. We were under the assumption that 3-and-long would allow the pass rush of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to thrive, however, the duo didn’t get to the quarterback until late in the 4th quarter (though they did sack him on 3 out of four plays to end the game).
Replacement Referees again showed their inexperience by missing numerous calls, including a delay-of-game penalty on the Steelers in the Red Zone that could have stopped a touchdown and a too-many-men-on-the-field call when Manning and the offense caught the Steelers in a defensive personnel change. Fans of all teams can probably agree on one thing: the NFL needs to resolve the contract situation with the normal officials.