ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After a fairly disciplined run when the Denver Broncos had limited their penalty yardage to 46, 18 and 27 yards in the previous three games, things unraveled a bit in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Broncos were penalized for a season-high 127 yards, a total that doesn’t include 30 yards worth of Broncos penalties that were declined by the Steelers. After after their early-season travails with defensive penalties, the Broncos were flagged five times for holding against Pittsburgh -- two on rookie guard Max Garcia, one on second-year tackle Michael Schofield, one on guard Louis Vasquez and one on tight end Vernon Davis.
Three of the holding penalties were in a seven-play span early in the third quarter and two of those three were on running plays. In all, the Broncos were flagged 10 times overall -- offense, defense and special teams combined -- in the second half of the loss. Four of those second-half penalties were declined by the Steelers, but it is worth noting the Broncos did not score after halftime while the Steelers scored 21 of their 34 points after halftime.
“The bottom line is that we have to execute better,’’ said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. “ ... I think we had six or seven offensive penalties in the second half of the game, you’re going to have a hard time executing. That’s what we need to correct.’’
The Broncos have had three games this season with more than 100 yards worth of assessed penalties and have been assessed 305 more penalty yards than their opponents this season.
It’s been a particular issue for the offense with eight holding penalties in the last four games.
Some other items off the game video:
It’s not often, as in ever, that cornerback Chris Harris Jr. loses his composure. But he said the pass-interference call with 7:54 remaining in the third quarter got to him a little bit more than he would have liked. With Harris, in good positon, running step-for-step with Antonio Brown up the right sideline, Brown put his left hand on Harris’ chest and then put his right arm over Harris’ helmet to give himself space to try to make a catch. Harris was flagged, resulting in a 26-yard gain for the Steelers on what had been an incomplete pass. Harris was furious following the play and still obviously angry when the Steelers snapped the ball for the next play. That was a 9-yard touchdown pass to Brown, over Harris, the first touchdown Harris had given up in man coverage in two years. “That was crazy, man, I don’t know,’’ Harris said of the play. “The NFL won’t let us, sometimes they don’t let us play football, that’s the way it is. It was a big momentum change. I’ve got to be able to let that go and just come back to the next play.’’ All in all, the play is a textbook example of why defenders are so frustrated in coverage in the current league-endorsed climate in the passing game.
The Steelers took advantage of the Broncos’ decision to match Harris on Brown in the game. Against an offense that isn’t so high-powered and against a quarterback who isn’t as dialed in as Ben Roethlisberger is right now, it’s Harris who would handle the opposition’s best slot receiver. But with Harris on Brown almost exclusively in the game, the Broncos often had Bradley Roby in the slot, on Markus Wheaton. Roethlisberger repeatedly went to that matchup, especially when the Broncos blitzed Roethlisberger, including the 9-yard touchdown throw to Wheaton early in the fourth quarter.
Malik Jackson, who is steadily building his case ahead of impending free agency and increasingly getting the attention of folks who have the checkbooks for other teams, is in such a groove at the moment that Jackson was held, and not just a little bit, on each of his two sacks against the Steelers. In a league that covets players who can generate pressure on quarterbacks from the inside Jackson has played on an upper-tier level this season.
Though the Broncos have been the league's sack leader much of the season, they haven't had to blitz all that much to do it, at least in terms of sending five or more rushers at opposing quarterbacks. But knowing they couldn’t let Roethlisberger, who is having his best career season as a passer, stand in and throw against routine pressures, the Broncos sent extra rushers at Roethlisberger more than any other quarterback they’ve faced this season. The Broncos sent more than four rushers at Roethlisberger on 31 snaps Sunday -- including penalty snaps. The Steelers were up to the challenge and held Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware without a sack and Roethlisberger finished with 380 yards passing. Before Sunday’s game, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck were the only opposing passers the Broncos had sent more than four rushers at on more than 20 snaps in a game.