Ups and Downs

It's too easy to do a hit on the Steelers for losing their opener in Denver, says Jim Wexell, who has found plenty of good to go along with the bad.

Handing out medals just doesn't seem like the thing to do after a tough loss in the regular season. But ripping the Steelers after they had a chance to win a difficult game against a red-hot Hall of Fame quarterback doesn't seem quite right, either.

So, I'll compromise. For every Up, I'm coming back with a corresponding Down. That way I might strike a chord with both the angry fans wondering when hockey season starts and the fans who considered the circumstances in this tough loss.

Up: Jonathan Dwyer. Didn't start but rushed for a team-high 43 yards at a game-high 4.8 average. Also had a 21-yard run called back because a wide receiver was holding. He did give up a big sack in the third quarter when he read the blitz wrong, but an illegal procedure penalty saved that mistake. I'll remember best the 11-yard catch and broken-tackle run, his ram-tough collision with a safety, and his field reversal and second effort that for a few seconds was an 11-yard touchdown run.

Down: Isaac Redman. He hasn't looked anything like the leg-churning power back with the great second and third efforts all summer. Has to be the injuries. He did convert a tough third-and-3 run and showed again he's the better pass-blocker than Dwyer by saving a sack in the second half.

Up: Larry Foote. He owned the first quarter with a sack, a pass break-up, a handful of tackles and a forced fumble. Later he just missed a tackle-for-loss as a rare edge rusher and forced Peyton Manning into an incompletion on what could've been called an in-the-grasp sack. Foote led the Steelers with 8 tackles, one of which was the seemingly un-tackle-able Demaryius Thomas. Give Foote a medal for that.

Down: Lawrence Timmons. He's being savaged by critics but he wasn't all that bad. He does show some stiffness in the hips while rushing the passer (5 blitzes and came close only once), and his instincts aren't Foote-like. But he shouldn't be blamed for the up-the-middle gashing by the Broncos while the Steelers played without a nose tackle on that late field-goal drive that made the score 25-19.

Up: Heath Miller. He was the Steelers' Player of the Game. From the first snap (driving No. 52 into the dirt) to one of the last (handled Von Miller one-on-one a play before the pick six), Heath was a beast as both a blocker and receiver. The mild-mannered Clark Kent was even spotted arguing with an official after he was called for holding Von Miller on the second snap when he was merely pushing him into the dirt. Heath caught 4 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown, but also had 2 catches for 10 yards nullified by defensive penalties the Steelers accepted. He also made a great catch in the end zone but couldn't get both feet down. On the next play he was wide open in the end zone, but Roethlisberger underthrew him. Miller converted a third-and-18 and a third-and-7 in the third quarter. He's off and running for the Pro Bowl, if not the All-Pro, team.

Down: Leonard Pope. Don't understand this pickup, particularly when Todd Haley knew him from Arizona and actually blamed him for the Cardinals' problems against the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Pope's whiff of Von Miller cost Redman a five-yard loss. He didn't play much, if at all, in the second half.

Up: Casey Hampton. First of all, Casey MUST lose some weight, if that's at all possible at this point in the season and his career. But he did play better than I expected. Witness the Broncos' first down play coming out of their own end zone when they triple-teamed Hampton and didn't budge him. Later, on a second-and-one play, he was blown off the ball by only the center. Casey didn't play much in the second half (no defenders played much in the third quarter) because the Steelers went primarily with their nickel.

Down: Steve McLendon. I'm only using him here for proper symmetry. On second viewing he actually didn't play that badly. J.D. Walton had the better of him in some important leverage situations, but McLendon got those long arms out a couple of times and did control the Denver center at key moments.

Up: Ben Roethlisberger. After Manning drove the Broncos to their first touchdown with a no-huddle offense, Roethlisberger countered with the same and became red hot. He was particularly hot on third downs (148.6 passer rating, 2 touchdowns). He read the blitz, threw quickly (only 2 sacks before final hopeless series), checked down, and reverted to playground style when necessary, as evidenced by his 28-yard throwback across the field to Antonio Brown and his 17-yard throwback to Emmanuel Sanders. Ben was ripped off by officials on his third-down run-and-bounce, but the officials returned the favor with a generous spot on his failed fourth-down sneak. The extreme crowd noise after the Broncos took the lead in the fourth quarter forced Roethlisberger back into the huddle and he lost his exquisite rhythm at that point.

Down: Ben Roethlisberger. You could say Ben imitated Peyton in this game all the way down to the Tracy Porter pick-6. That play cost the Steelers the game, but such is the life of a QB. There wasn't any pressure on the play and Ben stared down Sanders to direct Porter to the ball. Roethlisberger has led 23 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime, but had only one last year (60-yard field goal drive to break tie vs. Curtis Painter's Colts) and squandered an opportunity Sunday night.

Up: Jason Worilds. This "win" over the other James Harrison backup is probably due to the fact he had a sack in 7 pass-rushes.

Down: Chris Carter. Yes, love the improvement he's made, and he can hold the point in the run game, but Carter didn't pressure the QB in 11 rushes. He was also sealed by a WR crackback to open up Knowshon Moreno's touchdown run.

Up: Wide Receivers. You didn't need to read the stat sheet or watch the tape a second time to know the Steelers' three top receivers played extremely well. Just to run it down: Mike Wallace converted a key third down and made a great back-shoulder catch on a slant for a touchdown; Sanders converted third-and-9, third-and-13, and third-and-12 situations; Brown had a 23-yard punt return and converted a key third-and-11 to fuel the late first-half touchdown drive.

Down: Defensive Backs. Same preface as above, and here's the rundown: Two missed tackles by Keenan Lewis (and an Eric Decker bulldozing near the goal line), a missed tackle by Cortez Allen, and a missed tackle by Ike Taylor for starters. Those aren't counting the 71-yard catch-and-run by Thomas that I believe Ryan Clark would've stopped. A pass interference by Lewis converted a third down late in the game and Jacob Tamme beat Allen for 19 yards at a key moment. The off zone coverage allowed Manning to pick them apart, but the Broncos' use of pick plays in press man probably forced that soft coverage.

Up: Mike Adams. He replaced Marcus Gilbert at right tackle late in the second quarter and had to block Von Miller one-on-one a handful of times without any help, and locked Miller up. Miller did beat Adams once in the final series when the game was out of reach and Miller lined up wider than normal. Adams' worst play was at the goal line, but it didn't cost the Steelers any points.

Down: Doug Legursky. As with McLendon and Carter, Legursky's play wasn't nearly as bad on the second watch-through. But, perception is the reality here after Legursky replaced Ramon Foster with 5:11 left in the second quarter. He allowed Von Miller to pressure the QB on third-and-3 that ended a third-quarter drive, and then allowed sacks to a blitzing Joe Mays and then to Miller on that final series.


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