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Broncos vs. Steelers: 5 things we learned

The Denver Broncos did exactly what they needed to do with a key 24-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here are five things we learned from today’s game.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos had a chance to make a statement today against the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of a hometown crowd. A win would keep their playoff hopes alive with an easier schedule in their remaining five games, but a loss would put them several games back of the last wildcard berth. After an amazing defensive performance and efficient offensive effort, the Broncos escaped with a 24-17 victory over the Steelers. With a key victory achieved — here are five things we learned from today’s game.

1. The Broncos playoffs hopes stay alive with crucial victory

The Broncos have had a tough schedule and lost a handful of close games to top-tier teams in the National Football League, but they have taken down two of them the past two weeks. With today’s victory over the Steelers, the Broncos are now 5-6 and just one game behind the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts (who are 6-5) for the sixth seen in the AFC playoff race. The Broncos’ next five games look to be quite favorable. If they play like they have the past two games, they most certainly could win out and clinch the final spot. Here is a playoff simulator to craft up hypothetical scenarios where Denver makes the postseason.

2. The Broncos’ offensive line had another strong performance

Last week the Broncos’ patchwork offensive line put up an incredible performance against the Los Angeles Chargers — perhaps their best effort to date. They continued that for the second week in a row and did a great job protecting Case Keenum from a Steelers’ defensive unit that leads the league in sacks. In addition to that, they did a great job winning in the trenches to help propel the Broncos’ ferocious running attack. The Steelers hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season long, but first-year phenom Phillip Lindsay amassed 110 yards and a touchdown on fourteen carries. Who would have thought that this revamped offensive line would be doing such a tremendous job? Color me happily surprised.

3. Forced turnovers in second half changed the tide of the game

Just when all hope seemed lost after two big scores by the Steelers at the end of the first half and beginning of the third quarter, the Broncos’ defense forced two third quarter turnovers of their own and capitalized on both of them with touchdown drives. In the final moments of the game, the Broncos’ defense registered their fourth turnover of the game when Shelby Harris picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the endzone. The Broncos may have given up over 500 yards defensively, but the big takeaway is the four turnovers and the fact that they didn’t turn the ball over. When you do that, more often than not, you win crucial football games.

4. Case Keenum had his most efficient outing of the season

Most of the season Case Keenum has had up and down performances marred by interceptions. Thankfully today’s game was different than usual and arguably his most efficient outing of the season. Only sacked twice, Keenum did a great job of maneuvering the pocket and buying time on play-action throws to make big conversions. He completed 15/28 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. If Keenum can show the poise he has the past two weeks, that bodes well for the Broncos’ playoff hopes.

5. The Broncos’ pass rush was absent most of the afternoon

Fans have come to expect the duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb making big plays week in and week out. In the first ten games they combined for 19 sacks, but weren’t able to get consistent pressure on Ben Roethlisberger this afternoon. Why? The Steelers’ penchant for using quick drops and short passes to get the ball out early and often.

Their offensive game plan was similar to what the Oakland Raiders did against the Broncos earlier on in the year. Quick passes early on, then a firm dose of ground and pound as the game went on to neutralize Denver’s top-tier edge rushers. Shaq Barrett was able to register a sack in the third quarter and second came when Von Miller and Shelby Harris took down Big Ben late in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a bad effort, but the Broncos’ defense will need to turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks down the stretch in order to have a shot at the postseason.

So Broncos Country, what were your five big observations from today’s game? Sound off in the comments section and make your voice heard!