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Broncos keep playoff hopes alive with win over Steelers

Henry Chisholm Avatar
November 26, 2018

The Broncos won again, but for the second-straight week, it took a big play in the waning minutes.

Denver beat the Steelers 24-17 Sunday afternoon in a back-and-forth game at Mile High Stadium. The win improves Denver’s record to 5-6, keeping their playoffs alive, but barely. The Steelers fell to 7-3-1 and retained their standing at the top of the AFC North.

Roethlisberger shredded the Broncos’ defense. Denver tried man coverage, zone coverage, blitzing and dropping back, but nothing worked. They couldn’t manufacture a pass rush until late in the game. The Steelers averaged 6.9 yards per play and Roethlisberger threw for 462 yards on 41 completions in 56 attempts.

His favorite target was JuJu Smith-Schuster, who caught 13 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. Schuster burned Bradley Roby for a 97-yard touchdown early in the third quarter with a nasty double-move in man coverage with little safety help.

Roby wasn’t the only defensive back embarrassed on Sunday, as Chris Harris Jr., Isaac Yiadom and Tramaine Brock—who left the game early due to a rib injury—all wound up on the wrong end of the highlight reel.

On the Steelers’ first drive they threw the ball nine times and only ran it once as they breezed down the field but their field goal attempt was blocked by Justin Simmons, who jumped the snapper.

The block was the first of several big plays that kept Denver in the contest. Will Parks forced a fumble on the goal line on the next series. Chris Harris Jr. picked off a pass near midfield as Pittsburgh tried to extend their lead to two scores. Bradley Roby forced a fumble at midfield, setting up the Broncos’ fourth-quarter touchdown to take the lead.

And when the Broncos needed a stop at the goal line to win the game, Shelby Harris delivered. Roethlisberger targeted Antonio Brown on a slant route and Harris disengaged from the man blocking him and jumped back, picking off the pass and falling into the end zone.

Offensively, the Broncos looked more like what was expected when the season began. They moved the ball efficiently, using a strong running game to set up a play action passes down the field. They didn’t put up earth-shattering numbers, but they moved the ball downfield efficiently and protected the ball while avoiding three-and-outs.

Phil Lindsay was dominant again on Sunday. He found running lanes virtually every time he carried the ball. Despite only touching the ball 14 times, Lindsay earned 110 yards and a touchdown. Fellow rookie running back Royce Freeman got the rest of the carries, earning 17 yards on six attempts.

Case Keenum built off the strong running game with an effective play-action attack. He completed 15 of 28 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Emmanuel Sanders caught seven of them for 86 yards and a touchdown.

It took everything the Broncos had to hang with the Steelers in a game that was always within one score. But Denver seems to have found the winning formula, by relying on running backs to open things up in the passing game and capitalizing on defensive opportunities. If they can carry their play through the end of the season, it may not be too late to make a run.

The Broncos’ schedule loosens up from here, with five contests remaining. They’ll take on the Bengals, 49ers, Browns and Raiders before hosting the Chargers in Week 17. A 4-1 record through this stretch could be enough to garner a return to the playoffs.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

It’s Shelby Harris. Of course, it’s Shelby Harris. Don’t overthink this one.

PLAY OF THE GAME

On the first play of the second quarter, the Steelers fake a sweep to the right and almost the entire Broncos’ defense bought it. Ben Roethlisberger pulled the ball back and threw it to tight end Xavier Grimble who faked blocking before sneaking out the flat away from the run.

Grimble was alone with 25 yards of green in front of him and the only defender with an angle was Will Parks. Parks ran across the goal line and met Grimble just short of the end zone. He laid a massive hit, knocking the ball out of Grimble’s arms and out of bounds through the end zone for a turnover.

Parks’ goal-line stand was the first of many big defensive plays that kept the Broncos in the game.

QUOTE OF THE GAME

“I got to prove to everyone I’ve got the best hands on the team. I’ve been saying it for a while.” — Shelby Harris on his interception

BY THE NUMBERS

-219 — The Broncos’ yardage differential on Sunday

+4 — The Broncos’ turnover differential on Sunday

25:00 — The Broncos’ time of possession

WHAT’S NEXT

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