GERRY DULAC grades the Steelers' effort in the 31-28 loss to the Broncos last night. The report is broken down into defensive and offensive positions and coaching.
Throwing the ball 21 times in the first half against the league's worst rushing defense is an unpardonable sin, especially when it resulted in two touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions in the first half, leading to one touchdown, and his fumble on a sack resulted in a 50-yard scoring return. But he threw four touchdowns and rallied the team from a 21-7 halftime deficit to nearly force overtime. And he did a remarkable job escaping pressure to make plays.
Running backs: C
The Steelers waited too long to run Willie Parker, who had only 10 carries in the first half and finished with 93 yards rushing. Parker had runs of 27 yards in the first half and 24 yards in the second half, both times getting to the outside. But, for a team that ranked second in the league in rushing, the Steelers didn't do enough of that.
Santonio Holmes made a great catch to split double coverage on a 13-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter and Nate Washington caught a 40-yard pass on third down to set up the first touchdown. Holmes finished with six catches. Hines Ward dropped two passes in the first half, but finished with a team-high seven catches. Heath Miller caught two touchdowns.
Offensive line: F
Roethlisberger was under a lot of pressure and it's amazing he wasn't sacked more than three times in the first half. LT Marvel Smith gave up two sacks to DE Elvis Dumervil in the first half, the first resulting in a fumble and 50-yard touchdown return. Also, against a team that was allowing a league-worst 187.6 yards per game -- 75 yards above the league average -- the line created no running room in the first half.
Defensive line: C-
It didn't seem to matter the Broncos had a juggled offensive line and were playing without Pro Bowl C Tom Nalen for the first time. The Steelers generated little pressure on QB Jay Cutler and even allowed him to escape for a 31-yard scramble to set up the second touchdown. The loss of DE Aaron Smith in the first quarter (knee) only served to point up how valuable he is to the defense.
Cutler had little pressure from OLBs James Harrison and Clark Haggans and the only sack was registered by rookie Lamar Woodley. ILB Larry Foote had an interception to start the second half that led to a touchdown and also made a nice stop on Travis Henry on second-down play at the goal line. But he was late getting over on a 1-yard touchdown pass to RB Cecil Sapp and was victimized on another 1-yard touchdown pass.
Too many lapses from a unit that had been surprisingly effective and consistent, especially on third down. CB Ike Taylor played too soft on a 15-yard touchdown to Brandon Stokley on the first possession and made a poor effort to let Cutler run past him on a 31-yard scramble that set up the second touchdown. S Anthony Smith had the only interception, picking off Cutler on a deep pass in the end zone. Troy Polamalu had a senseless 15-yard roughing penalty making a tackle on Cutler
Special teams: C
Jeff Reed finally missed a field goal on the road -- a 65-yarder to end the first half -- his first since Nov. 28, 2005 in Indianapolis. KRs Allen Rossum and Najeh Davenport watched a kickoff drop between them, resulting in possession at their own 6 to start the fourth quarter.
The decision to throw the ball early and often against the league's worst run defense was as surprising as it was costly and led to a 21-7 halftime deficit from which the team never recovered. The offense waited too long to get their running game going, throwing 10 times and running just three in the first quarter. Coach Mike Tomlin was quick to challenge a call in the second quarter he had little chance of reversing, costing the team a timeout.