For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 1 of the 2012 season began exactly the way the 2011 season ended: with a disappointing loss to the Denver Broncos. The only difference is that this time around it wasn’t Tim Tebow shredding the Steelers’ secondary, but Peyton Manning instead.
Despite the loss, there were a few bright spots for the Steelers along the way.
Here’s a look at my weekly report card following the loss to the Broncos.
Quarterback: Despite the late interception, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played very well, especially on third down where he was outstanding, picking up 15 of the Steelers 19 first down on the night with his arm. Roethlisberger wasn’t perfect and missed a couple of throws, but he was the only reason the Steelers were even in this game.
Todd Haley put Big Ben in a bad spot early and often by running on first and second down, but Roethlisberger prevailed and put up solid numbers, going 22-of-40 for 245 yards, a pair of scores and a pick. I would have liked to see Roethlisberger take a few more chances down the field, but as usual, he didn’t have much time to do so. Grade: B
Running Backs: The loss of Rashard Mendenhall was felt right off the bat as the Steelers’ running back by committee – Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey – got next to nothing going on the ground all night. In the first half, while Haley was trying to be balanced they averaged 2.1 yards per rush on 15 carries. That number didn’t get much better as they finished with only a 2.9 yards-per-carry average.
Redman gained only 20 yards on 11 carries, but Jonathan Dwyer was a bit of a bright spot, gaining 43 yards on nine attempts. Overall though it didn’t do very much to help a bad night on the ground. Grade: C-
Wide Receivers: Eight different Steelers caught a pass with Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller all catching four balls apiece. However the biggest play of the night was a 27-yard catch by Brown. That wasn’t necessarily the fault as the receivers as the Steelers wasted first and second down for an entire half, not giving their playmakers enough opportunities to make plays down the field. Grade: B-
Offensive Line: The Steelers used their first two picks of the draft to beef up the offensive line, but due to David DeCastro’s injury and the struggles of Mike Adams, neither rookie was in the starting lineup, which meant the same old struggling Pittsburgh front five. Injuries to Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster didn’t help matters much either.
They allowed five sacks and Roethlisberger was under pressure all night long. Make no mistake about it; those sacks were on the line, not on Roethlisberger. Add to that countless false starts and the inability to run block and the offensive line has a long ways to go. Grade: F
Defensive Line: The Steelers front was pretty quiet all night long. Looking at the defense as a whole, they had a good first quarter, but couldn’t make a play after that. Denver running backs averaged 3.95 yards per carry, which is too high of a number against a Steelers defense. The front three didn’t do much to impress. Grade: C
Linebackers: They got off to a real good start but also faded in the second half. Larry Foote had a sack and a forced fumble, LaMarr Woodley recovered a fumble and Jason Worilds had a sack. But the Broncos adjusted and the Steelers did not. Woodley and Lawrence Timmons had very quiet evenings, while Foote probably had the best game of any Steelers defender, recording eight tackles as well. The big play was missing in the second half though. Grade: C+
Secondary: It was the same old story as Manning was able to pick apart the Steelers’ secondary in the second half. Some of that had to do with the lack of pressure being put on him, but a lot of it was the fact that were wide open receivers running around all night. When they have to go nickel and dime, the Steelers are in trouble. Grade: D
Special Teams: Shaun Suisham made both of his field goal attempts and rookie punter Drew Butler had a good debut with a 40.0-yard net average. Butler also nicely pinned the Broncos down at the one-yard line once. In addition, neither coverage units proved to be a problem. Grade: A
Coaching: Haley’s debut was a bust, not taking advantage of the Steelers’ strengths as an offense. Putting the game in Roethlisberger’s hands early and often makes sense, but Haley put his quarterback in awful spots most of the night. For a second consecutive game against the Broncos, Dick LeBeau couldn’t make adjustments for his defense and essentially made it easy for Manning most off the night. Even head coach Mike Tomlin looked lost for answers at times and made an ill-advised challenge that could have backfired. Not a good night for the coaching staff. Grade: D