STEELERS 34, BRONCOS 27**
Steelers' record: 9-5
One year ago: 9-5
Series record (including playoffs): Broncos lead, 18-11-1
Series record in Pittsburgh (including playoffs): Broncos lead, 7-6
Game action as the Steelers hosted the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field.
There was a plan, and then there was the way the game unfolded. Things really didn't go according to the plan for the Steelers in their game against the Denver Broncos today at Heinz Field, at least not based on what Coach Mike Tomlin was saying he was looking for in the run-up to the visit of the NFL's No. 1 defense.
"To minimize the scoring when they get in scoring position, much like the Raiders did to them last week. Make them settle for field goals," said Tomlin. "We have to minimize negativity on offense. Their defense is a great defense, but they also thrive on the negativity that being great on defense presents to them. It's OK to punt for us. We have to have that mentality. We can't give them short field and opportunities to score by being negligent with ball security."
HOW THE STORYLINE PLAYED OUT
The Broncos were a perfect 3-for-3 in the red zone, and the Steelers defense didn't force Denver to settle for a field goal at any point in the game. And on their two takeaways, the Broncos scored a touchdown after the first interception and turned the ball over on downs after the second.
The Steelers offense was 3-for-4 in the red zone to mitigate some of the damage there, and they did even better than the Broncos with the two takeaways the defense managed. The Steelers recovered one fumble and had an interception to finish the game even in turnover ratio, and they took advantage of those opportunities by scoring two touchdowns.
DEALING WITH THE NFL'S BEST PASS RUSH
The Broncos came into the game leading the NFL with 44 sacks through 13 games, and the Steelers knew they couldn't expose Ben Roethlisberger to the kind of physical punishment that pass rush can dish out.
"We have to change the pace on them. We have to do some things schematically to respect what they're capable of," said Tomlin about trying to slow down Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. "To think (Alejandro) Villanueva and (Marcus) Gilbert are going to stand up and minimize those guys by themselves all day would be unrealistic. We're going to use some tight ends. We're going to use some backs. We're going to change the pace. We're going to get the ball out quick. We're going to do all the things we normally do to minimize a great rush."
The Broncos sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times, but both Ware and Miller were shut out. Defensive end Malik Jackson had two sacks, and rookie Shane Ray had the third. Miller was credited with one hit on the quarterback, and Ware did not appear on the postgame statistics in any of the defensive categories.
FIRST HALF STAT THAT STANDS OUT
The Broncos were 8-for-8 on third downs in the first half, and their offense possessions ended: lost fumble, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, end of the half.
As poorly as the Steelers defense played in the first half, it authored quite the turnaround in the second half. The Broncos held a 27-13 halftime lead that was narrowed to 27-20 midway through the third quarter. But with 87 seconds left in the third quarter, the Steelers caught a break when Denver made a critical mistake on a play that at first seemed to be a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jordan Norwood.
Jordan Berry's punt traveled 36 yards, and it was bouncing around very close to the sideline around the 29-yard line, and there were a couple of Steelers players hovering in the area. The ball appeared to be touched by one of the Steelers, which then created an opportunity for Norwood to make a play on the ball without it being ruled a fumble. Norwood scooped it up and embarked on a meandering course that didn't end until he apparently had completed a 71-yard touchdown return that would have given the Broncos a 34-20 lead.
But in the course of the play, some of the Broncos offensive linemen thought the ball had been blown dead, and they ran onto the field for the ensuing series. That turned into a penalty for illegal substitution, and the touchdown was taken off the board, with possession awarded to Denver at its own 28-yard line. On that possession, the Broncos went three-and-out, and after the punt the Steelers answered with a five-play, 60-yard drive for the tying touchdown.
"We have to be better than that," said Tomlin about the punt return that ended up being called back. "We have to be better than that. We have to down that football and hand it to the official. That was just complete negligence on our part."
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
Talk about a turnaround. The Broncos had nine offensive possessions in the second half, and those ended: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, downs, downs.