PIT-DEN grades: Peyton provides just enough in Broncos' win
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Broncos’ 23-16 divisional-round win over the Steelers:
–Quarterback Peyton Manning (-0.9 PFF game grade) had an unspectacular performance in this one, but it was a big step in the right direction compared to the last start he had (Week 10 versus Kansas City). Outside of one poor pass on which wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders prevented an interception, Manning was able to avoid potential mistakes and allow his receivers to make plays. While Manning only completed 57 percent of his passes, he was actually accurate on 74 percent of them — the disparity was a result of his pass-catchers’ five combined drops.
–The Broncos won this game on the back of their defensive front seven. Only one of the starting front-seven players graded negatively, while the other six all graded above +2.3 — which is a very good number. The star of the game was newly re-signed defensive end Derek Wolfe (+3.3), who recorded seven total pressures (two sacks, five hurries). The other dominant pass-rusher for the Broncos was edge rusher Von Miller (+3.1 pass-rush grade). Like Wolfe, Miller also recorded seven total pressures.
–WR Emmanuel Sanders was unable to get going in the first half versus the Steelers, but in the second half he was able to give the Broncos enough of a threat on the outside to get them over the edge on offense. He finished the game with five catches on eight targets for 85 yards. The most important play from Sanders, however, was in the fourth quarter when Manning threw a pass that had the look of an easy interception for William Gay (-1.8), but Sanders was able to knock the ball out of Gay’s hands. That ended up being the game-winning touchdown drive.
OL Evan Mathis (+6.3)
DL Derek Wolfe (+3.3)
LB DeMarcus Ware (+2.9)
LB Von Miller (+2.7)
OL Michael Schofield (+2.7)
–With QB Ben Roethlisberger (+1.1) coming into the game with a shoulder injury, it was uncertain as to how limited he would be. As it turned out, Roethlisberger seemed to be at close to full strength in terms of his throwing ability, but Denver did a much better job of defending him than during the teams’ regular-season meeting. After Roethlisberger torched the Broncos earlier in the season, they decided to play a lot more zone and not give up the big play — a strategy to largely proved effective. They were also limited in how often they blitzed him, but were effective when they did. Roethlisberger completed 76 percent of his passes for 326 yards when he wasn’t blitzed, but managed just 13 total yards on the 10 plays when the Broncos did blitz him.
–Over the course of the season, the Steelers offensive line was a strength, grading out as one of the better pass-protecting groups in the league. However, the line really struggled against the Broncos. The only player to grade above -1.0 was guard Ramon Foster (-0.1). In particular, Marcus Gilbert (-5.3) had major difficulties in dealing with the duo of Von Miller and Derek Wolfe.
–The Steelers defense had some issues playing the Broncos’ outside-zone running attack, but one player who made a major impact was Stephon Tuitt (+4.1). He was consistently able to blow up the point of attack with his combination of strength and quickness, both rocking the Broncos’ offensive linemen back and causing them to whiff as he ran passed them.
DL Stephon Tuitt (+4.1)
LB James Harrison (+1.9)
WR Martavis Bryant (+1.5)
DB Will Allen (+1.2)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (+1.1)
WR Sammie Coates (+1.1)