The Steelers lost their second consecutive season-opening game Sunday, dropping a 31-19 decision to the host Denver Broncos.
That all sounds a bit less-than-positive to the ears of Steelers fans. The positives in this game come in a few performances of a few players - and it may not have been as bad as you might think.
There were negatives, too, but let's start with the positives.
(We'll preface this by saying these opinions are subject to change upon an additional viewing of the game)
RB Jonathan Dwyer
In a game plan clearly geared toward establishing the run - which had been the buzz throughout the offseason - Dwyer was the running back who clearly outrushed the others. Isaac Redman averaged an appalling 1.8 yards per carry (11 rushes, 20 yards), while Dwyer banged out 43 yards on nine carries.
Dwyer's best run was called off on a holding penalty on wide receiver Mike Wallace, but even with that, he would have still gained 10 yards or so. His lower body strength was impressive, often being very close to the ground but still managing to plow ahead for additional yardage. It was an outstanding season debut for Dwyer, and clearly, he'll be in the running for at least another nine carries next week.
RT Mike Adams
Adams has been savaged in this space in the past, and we're here to own up to that. Adams was easily the most consistent pass protector Sunday night, being called on to replace injured starter Marcus Gilbert. He looked light years ahead of where he was at the start of the preseason, and despite calling him everything but a bust after his first two preseason games, Adams played well enough to make his coaches feel the potential they see in him is coming out a bit faster than they may have expected.
One play in particular, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger scrambling to his right, Adams moved with him, out of the tackle box, turned around and saw a backside defender. Adams moved as quick as he ever has in a Steelers uniform (surprisingly quick, in fact) and was able to alter the defender, keeping Roethlisberger clean enough to deliver a completion down the field. An outstanding game for Adams, all things considered.
LB Larry Foote
Foote got off to a great start, picking up a sack and what appeared to be a forced fumble (recovered by LaMarr Woodley) on the first two Broncos' drives. He was solid in run support at least in the early going, but in a game where the three other Steelers starting linebackers (Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Chris Carter) made exactly zero splash plays and a combined nine tackles, Foote's eight tackles, sack and forced fumble clearly stood over his colleagues.
TE Heath Miller
The Steelers showed a vastly different offensive approach in Week 1 compared to last season, particularly in the red zone. They may not have lined up and went exclusively with a smashmouth approach, but they did try eagerly to get the ball to Miller in the end zone. They succeeded once, and Miller was a huge part of the reason the Steelers were an impressive 11-for-19 on third downs. Miller made plays down the seam, he made plays in tight and he showed he's poised for a career-best season.
LBs LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Chris Carter
It didn't appear Woodley or Timmons - with contract extensions signed last season totaling approximately $110 million over the next five years - were even on the field much of the game. The lack of Steelers pass rush enabled the Broncos to essentially pass at will, and they weren't too shabby rushing either.
CBs Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis
After an offseason and preseason where hope and excitement came out for the young talent of the Steelers cornerback position, Allen and Lewis were both flat last night, offering little resistance to Peyton Manning's assault. Many cornerbacks get beat by receivers when Manning is throwing the ball, but the reaction times of Allen and Lewis both seemed unusually slow, and the missed tackles leading to big yards after the catch were uncharacteristic of a Steelers defense.