The Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19 on Sunday in their season opener at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won, Peyton Manning not only escaped the game without injury, but had a near-perfect performance, the defense looked a lot better than they were last season and Demaryius Thomas embarrassed the Steelers defense for the second time in a mere eight months.
Denver had a fine performance in Week 1, and it only added to the expectations for this team. A week before the season started, it was revealed that the Broncos were favored by Vegas as the third-most likely team to win the Super Bowl this year. After defeating the Steelers in a tight battle, but convincing fashion, at least until Monday night when the Broncos travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons, you'll be hearing a lot of talk of Peyton Manning potentially leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship in 2012.
Here were the positives and negatives from the Broncos' victory over the Steelers.
- Peyton Manning – Manning was everything and more in his debut game as a Denver Bronco. 19/26 for 252 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers. Manning dissected Pittsburgh's defense, and despite Pittsburgh's penchant for blitzes, Manning was able to get rid of the ball quickly and for the majority of the night – especially in the second half – was able to avoid sacks and complete passes to move the Broncos down the field.
Manning used quick passes – such as the 71 yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter – and three step drops to negate Dick Lebeau's blitz packages.
There is really nothing that I can criticize about Peyton's performance. My one concern heading forward would be his arm strength, as we have yet to truly see Manning throw the football down the field to test his arm since returning from neck surgery.
Even with that said, if Manning is able to throw the ball with precision and ease as he did vs. the Steelers as the season progresses onwards, his arm strength and whether or not he can still throw the ball down the field, should not even be a concern.
- Tracy Porter – Porter was tested constantly at right cornerback opposite of Champ Bailey in his first game as a Bronco. I believe he was targeted about 12 times, and gave up six receptions for 54 yards against the receiver he was matched up with. Mike Wallace matched up with Porter for most of the night, and for the most part, Porter played him as well as any corner could possibly play Wallace.
Wallace finished the game with four receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown. Wallace led the NFL in yards per reception in 2009, and finished second in the same category in 2010. In this game, he wasn't even a factor as a big play-threat because Porter never allowed him to become one.
Porter was named Defensive Player of the Week in Week 1, as he also cemented the game for the Broncos with two minutes remaining when he returned a Ben Roethlisberger interception for a touchdown to seal the game 31-19 for the Broncos.
Porter has the opportunity to prove himself as Denver's best cornerback opposite of Bailey since Champ joined the team in 2004.
And that can only mean good things for the Broncos.
- The Defense as a whole – The defense had 5 1/2 sacks on Ben, they limited the Steelers to under 3.0 yards a carry, and the defense did not give up big plays that changed the tempo of the game.
If this was the difference between a Jack Del Rio-coached defense and a Dennis Allen-coached defense, I'll take that change any day of the year.
The Broncos' defensive tackle trio of Ty Warren, Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson held up well. Entering the season, this was the biggest question mark of the defense – Could the interior of the defensive line hold up against the rushing attack of opposing teams?
They did better than anyone ever expected.
Porter held up strong against Wallace, Bailey did his job as usual, Von Miller had two sacks towards the end of the game, and the Broncos held the Steelers to 19 points.
A great job by the defense in their first showing under Jack Del Rio
- The Running Game – The running game was fine towards the end of the game – Willis McGahee sealed the game for the Broncos with two first down runs on the last offensive drive that led to a field goal. Outside of that though, McGahee's longest run on the day was for five yards. He had 3.0 yards a carry entering the second half.
I was reading some of the feedback I got on Bleacher Report for the column that I wrote following the game, and the consensus on my criticism of the running game led by McGahee tended to be, "The Broncos and McGahee ran the ball well. It wasn't spectacular, but it was solid, and they got the job done."
Well, winning does change a lot of people's perceptions, and this topic is no different from that saying. It's OK now because the Broncos won the game, Peyton Manning played well, and everything is fine in Bronco land. But when push comes to shove, and Manning and the Broncos struggle, the Broncos will need their running game to lean upon. The running game wasn't necessarily bad in this game, but it wasn't great either. It was stagnant.
All in all, outside of the running game, the McGahee fumble and a few missed tackles from Joe Mays and company, I can't really say many bad things about the Broncos' victory over the Steelers.
The Broncos won the game, and they did it in convincing fashion over a legitimate playoff contender in the Steelers. The Broncos' schedule doesn't get any easier in the upcoming weeks as they travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons in Week 2, the Texans at home in Week 3, the Raiders at home in Week 4 and then games in New England and San Diego before entering their bye week.
The Broncos will endure a death row schedule in 2012, but there is no doubt that it will determine whether or not this team is truly capable of winning a Super Bowl this season.
Be sure to check out other great articles at Broncos 101.
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