Steelers-Broncos report card. The skill players came up big
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger had his best game of the year, completing 15 of 25 passes (60.0%) for 253 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and had a quarterback rating of 120.9. Roethlisberger's previous highest quarterback rating this year was 87.0, which was in Week 2. It was also the first game this year that Roethlisberger didn't throw an interception. Roethlisberger was actually efficient in throwing the ball down the field as well, as he averaged 10.1 yards per attempt. It wasn't a perfect day for Roethlisberger, as he had some off-target passes and should have been picked off on at least two passes. However, he had two completions of 50-plus yards, one of which was a 50-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson on the opening drive and the other being a completion to Chase Claypool that was a catch-and-run for 59 yards. It wasn't an earth-shattering performance, but Roethlisberger was solid and got the win. And after a three-game losing streak, that's all that matters.
Running Backs: Najee Harris had a standout performance, rushing for 122 yards on 23 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per carry. He also had two receptions for 20 yards. It was Harris' first 100-yard rushing game of his career. Harris looked like the bell-cow running back that the Steelers were looking for when they drafted him in the first round. Harris was the Steelers' first 100-yard rusher since Week 6 last year and it was the first time that the Steelers rushed over 100 yards as a team since Week 11 last year. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Najee Harris is the second Steelers player in the Super Bowl era to have 100 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in one of his first five games of his career. The other was Franco Harris in 1972.
Wide Receivers: Chase Claypool was the Steelers leading receiver with five receptions for 130 yards (26.0 average) and a touchdown. As mentioned, 59 of those yards came on a nice catch-and-run on a slant route over the middle. The Steelers ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive to improve their lead to 17-6 in the second quarter. Claypool had a touchdown of his own on the first drive of the second half, as he capped off a 14-play, 86-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown reception to give the Steelers a commanding 24-6 lead. Diontae Johnson had two receptions for 72 yards, but 50 of those yards came on a deep shot down the right sidelines for a touchdown on the opening drive. It's the second consecutive game where Johnson burned a cornerback on a go route down the right sidelines for a touchdown, which both coming on the opening drive.
Offensive Line: Like Roethlisberger, the Steelers' offensive line played their best game of the year. I said before the game that this contest would be won in the trenches, and the Steelers imposed their will on the Broncos defense, who came into today's game with the No. 5 ranked run defense, allowing just 70.0 yards per game. The O-line showed some improvement last week against the Packers in regards to the run game, and it was just all put together today, as Harris went over 100 yards rushing. The O-line allowed Roethlisberger to be strip-sacked, which resulted in a turnover, but other than that, Roethlisberger absorbed just two quarterback hits. Right tackle Chuks Okorafor also had a great performance against Von Miller, as the future Hall of Famer had just two tackles and no sacks. It appears that this young O-line is finally starting to get some chemistry.
Defensive Line: The Steelers let Javonte Williams break for a 49-yard run on a third-and-1 in the second quarter, but other than that, the run defense was pretty stout. Cam Heyward had two batted passes at the line of scrimmage and was impressive in run defense and rushing the quarterback. Heyward is truly a special player. Backup defensive lineman, Henry Mondeaux, even came up with a big sack on Teddy Bridgewater in late in the third quarter. Mondeaux displayed a nifty spin move on right guard Graham Glasgow on the play.
Linebackers: Devin Bush had a key sack in the second quarter that netted a 12-yard loss and backed the Broncos' offense to the 17-yard line and set up third-and-goal. Denver ended up kicking a field goal on the drive. That was really the only splash play from the linebackers, as T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram didn't record a single sack. However, Watt did have a tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits. The Steelers need more from Highsmith and Ingram.
Secondary: The secondary looked shaky late in the game and almost blew the lead if it wasn't for an interception by James Pierre on fourth-and-goal. Pierre bounced back after getting burned by Cortland Sutton for a 39-yard touchdown on the previous drive. It was the third touchdown reception allowed by the defense this year that traveled 34-plus yards. Joe Haden also struggled late in the game. The pass defense was great for most of the game, but they just fell apart in the fourth quarter.
Special Teams: Chris Boswell was 2 of 2 on field-goal attempts -- making kicks from 48 and 43 yards out. Boswell also made a 51 yarder, but it didn't count on the scoreboard as the Broncos were called for a "leveraging" penalty. The Steelers ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive. Pressley Harvin III also had a booming 63-yard punt in the fourth quarter. The Steelers need to clean up the penalties on special teams, however, as Benny Snell Jr. was called for a hold and Justin Layne was penalized for a block in the back.
Coaching: As I've mentioned with Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line, Matt Canada called his best game of the year. He stayed committed to the run game and designed some nice pass plays for Roethlisberger to execute. It seemed like Roethlisberger and Canada were on the same page today. I also have to give credit to Adrian Klemm, as the offensive line has shown much improvement in the last two games. Keith Butler could have made some better defensive calls in the fourth quarter, as Bridgewater was starting to pick the defense apart. However, overall it was a pretty solid outing for Mike Tomlin and his staff.