DENVER (CBS4)- Peyton Manning is the talk of the NFL, and rightfully so after that profound performance Sunday night in his Denver debut. But what can’t be missed was the effort and determination of the defense.
The Broncos battered and bruised the Steelers all night long. They brought blitzes in a timely fashion and swarmed to the ball-carrier on run plays. It was a flashback to the old “Orange Crush,” especially with the team wearing predominantly orange as its primary jersey for the first time since 1996.
Rookie defensive lineman Derek Wolfe started the party with his first career sack in the first quarter, while four other Broncos recorded sacks of their own. Wolfe became the sixth Broncos player to earn a sack in the first game of his career, and that particular tackle moved the Steelers out of field goal range.
Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice in a row on the team’s last drive and finished with four total tackles.
Wesley Woodyard was the Broncos’ best tackler, with 12 total, two for a loss including one sack of his own. Woodyard certainly brought the wood and was all over the field all night. He was the best linebacker on the field for Denver.
Of course, cornerback Champ Bailey made an appearance, knocking away a would-be touchdown from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown on a slant from the Denver three-yard line.
The player of the game was undoubtedly cornerback Tracy Porter though, whose eight tackles and five passes defended were each career-highs. Early in the second quarter, Porter saved a touchdown when he jumped sky-high and tipped a Roethlisberger pass away from an open and waiting Heath Miller in the back of the end zone. His best play was the interception of Roethlisberger to cap off the win for the Broncos, jumping in front of Emanuel Sanders and taking the ball 43 yards to the house. It was Porter’s third career interception return for a touchdown, and each one essentially sealed the game.
In all, the Denver D shut down the usual ground-and-pound Steelers run game, allowing them only 75 total yards on the day and a very short 2.9 yards per carry average. Likewise, Roethlisberger’s 209 yards through the air were very manageable, and his completion percentage of 55 means defenders were all over his receivers.
Much of the credit for the Broncos play on Sunday night should go to new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who obviously had his team prepared to play in Week 1. His mix of blitzes kept constant pressure on the quarterback, and Roethlisberger was hit nine total times in the contest.
Still, the defense wasn’t perfect, as they allowed Pittsburgh to convert on 11-19 (58 percent) third downs, which the Steelers turned into incredibly long scoring drives. They also enjoyed a 10-minute time of possession advantage on the Broncos, but twice the Denver defense bent and didn’t break, holding Pittsburgh to field goals instead of touchdowns. It would behoove the Broncos to work on getting off the field on third downs, otherwise they will likely wear down and eventually allow many more points as the season drags on.
This same defensive unit will have their hands full this Monday, when they travel to Atlanta to face the high flying Falcons, who put up 41 against Kansas City Sunday. It will be a tougher test and possibly better tell of how well they will play this season. But at least for one week, Denver can be proud their team dominated on both sides of the ball Sunday night, against one of the top teams in the NFL.
Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.