- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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As these teams felt each other out early, it was apparent the Pittsburgh Steelers wanted to bludgeon the soft interior of the Denver Broncos defense with the power running game. But as the game went on, Pittsburgh went more no-huddle and put the game on Ben Roethlisberger, who played a great game despite taking a beating -- right up until the pick-six he threw to Tracy Porter seal the game in Denver’s favor.
The Steelers lost Marcus Gilbert in the second quarter, forcing rookie Mike Adams into an unfamiliar role at right tackle -- often facing Von Miller on passing downs. Adams got help on most of these instances, but that left Max Starks alone against Elvis Dumervil. Later in the game, Ramon Foster was sidelined with an eye injury, leaving the Steelers without any reserve offensive linemen. False starts were a huge problem for this line. But the Steelers offense was effective enough to keep the Denver offense off the field through the middle of the game.
Roethlisberger made quite a few vintage Roethlisberger plays by shrugging off pass-rushers and making impromptu plays with his legs and big arm. He really had to work hard for everything the Steelers offense got. But Pittsburgh took very few shots deep downfield -- probably because of protection concerns -- even with Mike Wallace now on board. The Steelers did incorporate Heath Miller more than in recent memory, and Miller could be their best red zone weapon. He came up big, time and time again. But that wasn’t enough on this night.
Peyton Manning's anticipation as a passer is as fantastic as ever. It took Denver too long to go to its no-huddle attack, where Manning thrives and controls the pace of the game, but in the end it didn’t matter. Dick LeBeau dialed up a wide variety of blitzes and got noticeable pressure on Manning early, which is extremely difficult to do. But Manning also appeared to adeptly read where Troy Polamalu lined up and based his play call accordingly, often effectively audibling to a run play when the Steelers’ star safety was aligned deep.
In the third quarter when Manning finally did see the field after nearly an hour of real time rest, he quickly hit Demaryius Thomas on a quick-hitting route, which Thomas took 71yards to the house. An easy throw, but Manning did recognize that the defense was prone to such a play call and acted accordingly. That was the single biggest play of the game.
This was a masterful performance from Manning with his ability to consistently have his team in the right call for the given defense and situation. As the game went on, the future Hall of Famer grew stronger. Manning won this game with his mind.