Despite missing an entire season with a neck injury, Peyton Manning looked like the Peyton Manning of old as he led the Denver Broncos to an opening season 31-19 upset over the Steelers Sunday.
The new Steelers offense looked a whole lot like the old. They controlled the game through ball control, keeping Manning on the bench most of the second half, but they still had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns which, combined with a key interception at the end of the game, cost them the game.
When Manning was on the field he was very effective, connecting on 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards. However, the Steelers still had a chance to win the game trailing 25-19 but a critical interception thrown by Ben Roethlisberger ended the game. It was obvious that Mike Wallace, 4-47, needed training camp because he was seldom open. However, Heath Miller, 4-50, saved them time after time but for some reason Ben stopped going to him. Injuries to offensive linemen Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster didn’t help, as Mark Legursky and rookie Mike Adams did a fair job in replacing them, but Adams did have problems keeping his man off Ben.
The running game was very ineffective with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer combining for 63 yards on 20 carries.
The defense missing its best player James Harrison, plus Pro Bowler Ryan Clark was not as dominant as they were last year when they were the best in the NFL, but no defense is against Manning. With Harrison and Clark returning this week, look for the defense to be much more effective against the New York Jets.
The Jets had huge question marks on offense and a big debate as to who the starting quarterback was going to be going into training camp. Their starter last season was Mike Sanchez, but they acquired Tim Tebow doing the off season from Denver, thus opening the door for Manning to go to the Broncos. Well, Sanchez responded in the season opener by putting up the most points by any NFL team in the opener, 48 against the Buffalo Bills, in the best game of his career.
Sanchez was 19 of 27 for 266 yards and a quarterback rating of 123, as he distributed the ball to a variety of receivers. Led by Stephen Hill, 5-59, and Santonio Holmes, 4-68, with Shonn Greene leading the ground game with 94 yards on 27 carries.
Sanchez will be determined to show that this wasn’t by chance, that he is an elite quarterback, which means the Steelers defense will be thoroughly tested this week. But when it’s all said and done the Steelers defense should be even stronger this year than the number one rated unit of last season.
Despite the retirement of key line reserve Chris Hoke, the Steelers line is stronger this year than last. Joining Pro Bowler Casey Hampton is fellow Pro Bowler Brett Kesiel who was also named defensive captain, and young upcoming star Ziggy Hood. But what really makes this line tough is the young backups Cameron Heyward, Steve McClendon, Al Wood and Aloameda Ta’ Amu. There’s no better overall line in the NFL.
The Steelers are noted for their linebackers and this year they have one of the best groups ever. Harrison, a five time Pro Bowler, is as good as any in the league. He’s joined by LaMarr Woodley who is challenging Harrison and Ray Lewis for the title of the best in the game. And inside they don’t miss a beat in Lawrence Timmons and veteran Barry Foote. But again the depth is the key with youngsters Chris Carter, Jason Worilds, Adrian Robinson, Brandon Johnson and third round draft pick Sean Spence, who may miss the season with an injury, filling in when a starter is hurt or during downs where extra linebackers are needed.
The secondary used to be the Steelers Achilles hill, but not anymore. In Troy Palumalu and Clark there’s not a better pair of safeties in the league. At the corners Ike Taylor has become a top flight defender and second year player Keenan Lewis is expected to have an outstanding season, with Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen, Myron Rolle and Ryan Mundy giving them solid backups.
The game against the Jets is a must win because in the strong AFC North Conference they can’t afford to start off at 0-2. Even though the Jets have a good team and should make the playoffs this season, they are not as good as the Steelers who should once again be a Super Bowl contender.