The Pittsburgh Steelers escaped with a 26-21 win over the Denver Broncos in their home opener at Heinz Field this afternoon. TWSN analysts and beat writers Will Locklin and Michael Seitz break down today’s game.
Denver Broncos beat writer Michael Seitz gives three takeaways about today’s game.
- Drew Lock’s injury is not the end of the world.
Starting quarterback Drew Lock left today’s game with a shoulder injury forcing backup Jeff Driskel into the game. The quarterback looked good for being thrust into the game against one of the NFL’s best defenses. Driskel would complete 18 of 34 passes for 256 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception which went off the hands of receiver Courtland Sutton. This was all while getting no help from his offensive line as he was sacked six times.
Driskel is now in his third season and is expected to make his ninth career start this Sunday vs Tampa Bay. This Denver team is by far the best team Driskel has played for, so his 1-7 record should be thrown out when evaluating his previous starts. The third-year quarterback can have success if his offensive line actually blocks for him and if he utilizes his tight ends.
- The Broncos wideouts need to be more reliable.
Rookie Jerry Jeudy had two more drops today. Both drops would have gone for first downs in long yardage situations. This is now the second week in a row that Jeudy has had multiple big-time drops. Before his departure due to an injury, Courtland Sutton had been playing well other than the ball that deflected off his hands and right to Joe Haden for the easy interception.
A bright spot today for the Broncos offense was wide receiver KJ Hamler. The rookie shagged three balls for 48 yards and it seemed like he was all over the place this afternoon. Tight end Noah Fant also needs to be more involved in the offensive game plan. It seems like every time Fant gets the ball there is a positive play that follows.
- Denver’s secondary played better than expected.
There were questions of how Denver’s secondary would play today missing their best corner in AJ Bouye. I would say that the answer is better than expected. Other than the 84 yard touchdown reception by Chase Claypool, the Broncos secondary did not give up any passing plays over 30 yards. This, accompanied by a Justin Simmons interception, leads me to believe that Denver’s secondary can survive until AJ Bouye is back and healthy.
The Broncos host Tom Brady and the Buccaneers next Sunday.
Pittsburgh Steelers beat writer Will Locklin gives three takeaways about today’s game.
- Roethlisberger must be the focal point of the offense.
Ben Roethlisberger put up a stellar passing performance as he threw for over 300 yards and a couple touchdowns. The game plan early was to attack Denver’s young corners and isolate them on the outside which led to lots of success on early downs for Pittsburgh. Not only did this help establish chemistry between Ben and a young receiver group but it also allowed the Steelers to have success in the ground game off HB counters to Conner.
Due to the success in the quick passing game, Ben was able to target rookie Chase Claypool with a deep touchdown pass on the sideline. From there, the Steelers struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the third quarter as they relied on Conner and the ground game on early downs.
This conservative play calling put Ben in third and long and resulted in drives being stalled and a bad pick by Roethlisberger. Getting the talented weapons the ball in space on the outside was most effective today for the Steelers and moving forward they must let the run game compliment Ben and the passing game.
- Pass coverage needs some work.
In the first quarter of the game, Denver QB Drew Lock left the game after a legal hit from Bud Dupree. Perennial backup Jeff Driskel entered the game and weathered the Steelers pass rush quite nicely with all things considered. The Steelers allowed the Broncos to claw back with unnecessary penalties in the secondary and played in too much soft coverage man to man on the outside.
Denver took advantage by burning the Steelers late in the intermediate passing game. Devin Bush in particular struggled to cover Fant when he was isolated on him as the game went on. Bush allowed Fant to have a touchdown catch and a two-point conversion late in the game.
In addition, Haden struggled at times allowing Sutton or Jeudy to move the ball downfield for the Broncos. Defensively the Steelers bread and butter was enough to finish the job as they totaled 7 sacks and played opportunistic defense in the red zone.
A couple standouts include Mike Hilton and Tyson Alulu. Hilton’s big day included 8 solo tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, and a pass deflection on a deep pass from Driskel late in the game. Alulu applied relentless pressure up the middle which helped Watt and Dupree close in for the sack. Watt was also amazing but you already know that. Moving forward the Steelers will have to tighten up coverage against an elite QB in Deshaun Watson next week.
- Offensive weapons are as electric as they are erratic.
The Steelers weapons core showed their promise but also their youth in this game. In terms of the run game, Conner had a nice bounce back game with over 100 yards in under 20 carries. He highlighted it with a great 59-yard run to seal the game but the other options in the run game faltered. Snell wasn’t featured much but when he did get the ball, he fumbled which sparked the Broncos comeback that was nonexistent beforehand.
Dionte Johnson might be the perfect representation of the Steelers offense so far this season. He’s shown the tools of being a dynamic receiver but his reliability has been shaky so far. He had several nice catches and showcased his pristine route running on his first touchdown grab of the season but also had a drop pass and a fumble early in the game. The key is for him to get through a game without a costly mistake and so his confidence won’t become an issue.
Other weapons for the Steelers played well as Claypool made an impact on his big house call and in the return coverage game on special teams. Steelers receivers finished the day with five dropped passes and two fumbles for the offense but showed enough consistency to put together several scoring drives. The key in the next few weeks is how reliable will the weapons be for Ben and will the fumbles and drops go down.
The Steelers host the 0-2 Houston Texans next week.