To suggest the Steelers' defense struggled to stop Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is an understatement.
Without the benefit of a pass completion on a ball thrown more than 25 yards in the air, Manning peppered his way down the field, negating the nearly five minutes of time of possession advantage the Steelers ended the game having.
The Steelers' offensive game plan was obvious early. It was to establish the run, protect the ball and keep Manning off the field. They established the desire to run the ball, that much was clear. With their one turnover coming late in the game, they protected it by and large. Manning was on the field far less than Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was. The only issue was Manning did much more than Roethlisberger did.
It wasn't so much accurate throws - although he had plenty of them - it was his presnap reads, adjustments, protection slides and blitz recognition that made his game truly special. The mental battle he played with the Steelers' defense was won soundly, often utilizing Denver's hurry-up offense to get the Steelers to expose their intentions.
Like he was brushing him back with a fastball, Manning moved his players around, forcing Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu to reveal his plans. Manning patiently would down the play clock until he had what he wanted, leading the Broncos to run very few negative plays all game.
Manning was 15-for-19 over the last three quarters of the game, throwing two touchdowns, no interceptions and helped the Broncos carve out 334 total yards on just 55 plays.
It was precise, intricate and extremely difficult to defend. While Manning clearly beat the Steelers' defense, there's only so much any defense is going to be able to do for a quarterback who was as mentally prepared as Manning was.