Three observations from the Broncos loss to the Steelers in Week 5

Oct 11, 2021, 6:36 AM
Teddy Bridgewater...
(Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos have now dropped two games in a row. They lost their second game of the year by losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5 by a score of 27-19. It was a frustrating loss because the Broncos fought back in the fourth quarter and were within one score of tying things up with time running out. Instead, they now have a 3-2 record with a much tougher schedule coming up in the near future.

After the game, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was succinct when talking about the way he felt about the team’s performance.

“Disappointing. We didn’t play well enough on defense. You go on the road and give up 27 points you’re not going to win many games,” Fangio said.

Here are the top-three observations from the Broncos-Steelers game.


Third-Down Problems

The Broncos were 1-of-6 on third down in the first half against the Steelers. Because of this ineptitude when the chains needed to be moved, the Broncos were well behind in the time of possession battle with Pittsburgh. Over 30 minutes of football in the first half, the Broncos had the ball for just 10 minutes, 17 seconds.

The second half things didn’t get much better. The Broncos finished the game going 2-of-12 on third down and had 26 minutes, 58 seconds of possession in a 60-minute game. Sure, the Broncos were 3-of-4 on fourth down, but you don’t want to be put in that position.

The Broncos have had red zone problems all season long. They’ll move the ball at times, but when they get close to pay dirt, things fall apart. That trend continued Sunday against the Steelers and coupled with the third down problems it was too much to overcome.

After the game, Fangio said the problem was with the offense not getting into a rhythm.

“I mean, our whole offense was in no rhythm. Only had a couple first downs the first half. (Teddy Bridgewater) practiced Thursday and Friday, so I don’t see (that) as an excuse,” Fangio said.


Run Down

The time of possession battle was won by the Steelers because they ran the ball effectively against the Broncos. Things were trending in the right direction with rookie first-round pick Najee Harris even though the Steelers ranked No. 32 in the league in terms of rushing yards per game (55.0 yards) entering Week 5.

Against the Broncos, the Steelers decided to give Harris the largest workload he had all season. Harris beat the Broncos with moves, power and speed on his way to 23 carries for 122 yards and one rushing touchdown. He did all this against the Broncos, and his longest run of the day was just 20 yards. That emphasizes how much dedication the Steelers finally had to their rushing attack.

With Harris running the ball effectively, the Steelers were able to limit the number of opportunities the Broncos defense had to get after Roethlisberger. This limited the pass-rushers and it wore down the Denver defense.
After the game, Fangio was downtrodden when talking about his rush defense.

“Yeah, he’s a good runner. They’ve been committed to the run. They just haven’t had it as much. They blocked us good, he ran it good, he’s a good runner. We didn’t play it well enough,” Fangio said.


Dropping Picks

In this type of game, every play counts. The Broncos were up against a team fighting to prove they were a good unit despite their 1-3 record. They needed to come down with turnovers when the opportunity arose.

That opportunity was there – twice – for inside linebacker Alexander Johnson and he dropped the ball – literally. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is not the player he used to be, but he put together a decent performance on Sunday. That box score would have looked much different had he thrown the two interceptions to Johnson.

Instead of snaring the ball and flipping the field to give the team momentum, Johnson dropped two interceptions thrown right to him. These would have been huge plays for multiple reasons. First, it would have given the offense more chances to move the ball. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it would have given the defense a rest since they were on the field so much.

Johnson is a strong player against the run. However, his coverage ability is poor and dropping these interceptions don’t help.

Fangio did bring up the dropped interceptions after the game.

“Yeah, we had a couple chances at some interceptions that we didn’t pull in that obviously a game like this would’ve been very helpful. There were some missed opportunities. But overall we just didn’t play well enough,” Fangio said.


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