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Week 12 Game Recap: Pittsburgh Steelers 17, Denver Broncos 24

What you need to know

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers gave this game away, were careless with the football, and played undisciplined throughout the entire game. They had every chance to win this game easily, but they kept getting in their own way. Starting in the first quarter the Steelers were in field goal range and their kick was blocked. The Steelers second possession of the game, as the offense was matriculating the ball down the field easily, Ben Roethlisberger delivered a perfect pass to Xavier Grimble to allow yards after the catch. At the goal line Xavier Grimble fumbles the ball into the endzone for a touchback. In the third quarter Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and threw a bad interception. Late in the third quarter things looked to be turning around for the Steelers as they were in scoring position and moving the ball in Broncos territory again and a simple screen pass to James Conner was punched out at the end of his run leading to another Steelers turnover. To cap the game off, late in the fourth quarter, the Steelers were in the red zone, at the Broncos three-yard line, and Ben Roethlisberger bobbles the snap, pulls the handoff from James Conner late, and Roethlisberger threw a pass which could have been intercepted by two defenders and wasnt near Antonio Brown. All these miscues and I havent even mentioned the two careless fumbles by Ryan Switzer on punt returns.

Denver Broncos

Justin Simmons blocked a Pittsburgh field goal attempt in the 1st quarter. Safety Will Parks made a huge play when he forced an Xavier Grimble fumble at the goal line, preventing a score and resulting in a touchback that went to Denver as the ball rolled out of bounds in the end zone. Pittsburgh duped Denver with a fake field goal at the end of the 2nd quarter, with kicker Boswell tossing a touchdown to tackle Villanueva for a touchdown. Chris Harris Jr intercepted Roethlisberger in the 3rd quarter. Defensive lineman Shelby Harris intercepted Roethlisberger in the end zone with a minute left in the 4th quarter to seal the victory for the Broncos.

Pittsburgh Steelers

QB Ben Roethlisberger, 78 offensive snaps, Pass: 41 - 56 - 462 - 1 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 2 - 18 - 0
This was the tale of two halves for Roethlisberger. In the first half, Roethlisberger was completing distributing the ball all over the field accurately and keeping all of his receivers involved. Roethlisberger had a play in the first half where his receivers were completely covered downfield. He moved well within the pocket and pump faked the ball three or four times which allowed JuJu Smith-Schuster to shake loose from his coverage for a completion. Roethlisberger finished the first half of the game with 25 completed pass attempts. Things were even great starting the second half. Even with turnovers by other players, Roethlisberger was keeping his team in the game with his mobility within the pocket. Things changed quickly for Roethlisberger after his 97-yard strike to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Roethlisberger was knocked down on the play and went back to the locker room for further evaluation. Roethlisberger came back before the next series started and proceeded to throw an interception, his second worst pass of the day. Roethlisberger overthrew his receiver, stood flatfooted, and did not put any velocity on the pass. Roethlisbergers worst pass attempt came on his last attempt of the game with the Steelers only down seven points. Roethlisberger led his team down to the two-yard line and were poised to send the game into overtime. Roethlisberger bobbled the snap, pulled the ball back on an RPO when it could have been punched in for a TD by Conner, and threw a ball in the middle of the field which was intercepted by a defensive lineman. Roethlisberger didnt see the lineman drop into coverage and the ball would have likely been intercepted by the defender covering Brown if it wasnt intercepted by the lineman. The entire last play was broken from the start.

RB James Conner, 67 offensive snaps, Rush: 13 - 53 - 0, Rec: 4 - 42 - 0 (4 targets)
Conner was relatively unused throughout the entire first half. Five total rush attempts in the first quarter and two in the second. During periods of the second half Conner started breaking long plays both in the running and receiving game. In fact, Conner had 4 rushes for 23-yards in the third quarter. When Conner finally looked to be taking over the game, he caught a ball from Roethlisberger on a wheel route and took the ball 23-yards before having the ball punched out by a Denver Broncos defender. This lead to a Broncos touchdown and Conner did not see another touch until there was under two minutes left in the game and the ball was on the three yard line. Similar to previous Steelers losses this season, they almost completed ignored the running game. In Steelers wins/tie, the team has rushed the ball almost 30 times per game. In losses, the Steelers have rushed the ball under 15 times per game.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, 66 offensive snaps, Rec: 13 - 189 - 1 (17 targets)
With Antonio Brown drawing shadow coverage, Smith-Schuster drew much easier coverage both in the slot and outside. The connection with Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster was string during the game and were almost playing sandlot football at times. Smith-Schuster ran one route where he broke inside, then went outside, and then turned the route back inside to find a soft spot of the zone defense and allow Roethlisberger to find him. Smith-Schusters biggest reception came in the third quarter with the Steelers backed up to the three-yard line. Ben Roethlisberger backpedaled and threw the ball right before taking a hit from an oncoming defender. Smith-Schuster ran an out breaking route which he turned upfield. When the route was turned upfield Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster in stride which allowed Smith-Schuster to outrun his coverage. At the end of the run it looked like the safety would catch Smith-Schuster right before the end zone when Smith-Schuster stiff-armed his man to the ground and walked into the end zone. On the last drive of the game for the Steelers, Smith-Schuster was targeted three times and caught two of them. Those two catches went for 19 and 20-yards respectively and were critical to the Steelers getting into scoring position.

WR Antonio Brown, 72 offensive snaps, Pass: 0 - 1 - 0 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rec: 9 - 67 - 0 (13 targets)
The season of shadow coverage continued in Week 12 with Antonio Brown being covered most of the game by Chris Harris. In the 2018 version of the match-up the Steelers were trying to find creative ways to scheme Brown open. Putting him in bunch formations to allow natural pick to occur and putting him in the slot where Harris did not often lineup. The Steelers even tried some trickeration by having Antonio Brown throw a pass to Jaylen Samuels. If Brown would have connected with Samuels, the pass would have been an easy touchdown. Instead, Brown sailed the pass over his receivers head. Outside of his pass play, Browns usage was close to the line of scrimmage on wide receiver screens or timing out routes.

WR Ryan Switzer, 52 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 4 - 0, Rec: 6 - 67 - 0 (8 targets)
Switzer was almost a large part of the problem in Week 12. Switzer, who has been a big addition to both the return game and slot wide receiver, fumbled two punt returns in Week 12. The first was innocently along the sideline and went directly out of bounds. The second went right through his hands and was nearly a turnover to give the Broncos excellent field position. Switzers role on offense is much more situational. His routes were limited to within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and yards after the catch were often held to minimum.

TE Jesse James, 50 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 35 - 0 (4 targets)
Unfortunately, Vance McDonald was injured, but fortunately the Steelers have another tight end to step right in and has good chemistry with Roethlisberger. The best skill of Jesse James, which he displayed in this game, is his ability to find the soft spot in zone coverage and provide a big target for Roethlisberger. James does not display a lot after the catch, but he is a reliable target.

TE Vance McDonald, 33 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 27 - 0 (5 targets)
McDonald, like so many others in this game, was so close to contributing to a Steelers victory. The Steelers were at the two-yard line and McDonald was targeted in the end zone for his easies touchdown reception of the season. No one was close, and he dropped the ball. So instead of scoring six points, the Steelers lined up for the field goal and ran a fake field goal for a touchdown. McDonald left Week 12s game with a hip injury and did not return.

Denver Broncos

QB Case Keenum, 57 offensive snaps, Pass: 15 - 28 - 197 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 3 - -3 - 0
Keenum had a slow but efficient performance in week 12. He passed for less than 200 yards, but found the end zone twice and did not turn the ball over at all. Keenum and the entire Denver offense were slow in the first half. He eventually led a scoring drive at the end of the 2nd quarter, setting the Broncos up in the red zone with a 17 yard connection to tight end LaCosse down the left sideline. Keenum and LaCosse connected again on the next play, with the tight end running a short curl from the left slot then barreling into the end zone for the score. Keenum loaded up a deep ball for Sanders down the right sideline in the 2nd quarter, but just barely overthrew the diving receiver. The two connected on a deep ball down the right sideline for a 38 yard gain in the 3rd quarter, setting the Broncos up on the Steelers 5 yard line. Keenum rolled out right and found Sanders open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown on the very next play. Keenum found Sanders for another big gain on the next drive, but the receiver was ruled out of bounds on the diving catch. Keenum hit Sanders again on a deep post route in the 4th quarter to set the Broncos up on the Steelers 5 yard line. He targeted Sanders again on the next play, but the receiver was pushed out at the 2 yard line. Phillip Lindsay scored a short touchdown run on the next play.

RB Phillip Lindsay, 36 offensive snaps, Rush: 14 - 110 - 1
Lindsay was incredibly efficient with his carries, averaging over 7 yards a tote. Lindsay dominated touches in the backfield, but Denver only called his name 14 times in the run game despite his success throughout the contest. Lindsay lined up in a single back set and found a hole off right tackle in the 2nd quarter, bouncing to the sideline at the 2nd level for a 32 yard gain. He ripped another 12 yard run off left tackle in the 3rd quarter, then a 13 yard run a couple plays later. Lindsay continued to pick up chunks of yards into the 4th, rushing around left tackle for 16 yards early in the quarter. Lindsay got the goal line carry in the 4th quarter, punching in a short touchdown from the 2 yard line after Emmanuel Sanders set the Broncos up inside the 5 yard line. Lindsay couldn't secure a short swing route on his only target of the day in the passing game.

RB Royce Freeman, 15 offensive snaps, Rush: 6 - 17 - 0
Freeman took a backseat as Lindsay dominated snaps and touches. Freeman didn't do much with his 6 carries, rushing for a long of 5 yards. Freeman watched Lindsay punch in a goal line touchdown from the 2 yard line in the 4th quarter. He had an 8 yard reception in the Steelers red zone that was negated by an illegal block in the back in the 1st half.

WR Emmanuel Sanders, 44 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 86 - 1 (12 targets)
Sanders dominated targets with 12, while no one else on the team drew more than 4 looks from Keenum. Sanders got his day started with an out route that converted 3rd and 10 in the 1st quarter. Keenum found him for another minimal gain on an out route later the same drive. Sanders danced up the sidelines for an 11 yard gain early in the 2nd quarter. Sanders had a step on his defender on a deep ball down the right sidelines, but couldn't quite secure the fingertip catch with a diving effort.

Keenum and Sanders connected on another deep ball later in the 3rd quarter, picking up 38 yards and setting Denver up on the Pittsburgh 5 yard line. Sanders caught a touchdown pass on the very next play, working his way open in the back of the end zone on a crossing route for the score. Sanders caught another deep ball with a diving effort later in the 3rd, but was ruled out of bounds on the play. Sanders caught a skinny post in the 4th quarter and picked up 17 yards before being tackled at the 5 yard line. Keenum targeted him on the next play, but Sanders was pushed out of bounds at the 2 yard line.

WR Courtland Sutton, 42 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 14 - 0 (4 targets)
Sutton ran with Sanders as the starting receivers, but saw only 4 targets on a slow day for the Denver passing game. He was only able to secure one catch, a diving effort on an out route in the 1st quarter.

WR DaeSean Hamilton, 29 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 13 - 0 (2 targets)
Hamilton did not see much work on offense, working sparingly behind Sanders and Sutton. He converted a 3rd down in the 4th quarter with a 13 yard gain on a deep curl route from the left slot.

TE Matt LaCosse, 27 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 34 - 1 (4 targets)
LaCosse had a "career day' of sorts, finding the end zone for the first time in his career. He started his day in the 2nd quarter, catching a short out route and turning upfield for an 8 yard gain. Keenum found him for a 17 yard gain up the left sideline late in the 2nd, then hit LaCosse for a short touchdown on the next play. LaCosse worked his way open on a short curl route and plowed through a couple of defenders as he crossed the goal line. LaCosse had another nice sideline reception that was ruled just barely out of bounds early in the 3rd quarter. LaCosse's 4 targets were tied with Sutton for second most on the team to Emmanuel Sanders' 12. Jeff Heuerman left the game late in the 4th and is done for the season with rib and lung injuries, so LaCosse could keep trending up.

TE Jeff Heuerman, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 44 - 0 (3 targets)
Heuerman and Keenum finally connected on a long ball when Keenum found him down the seam for a 29 yard gain in the 1st quarter. He was quiet in the middle of the game, but Heuerman got open up the seam on a play-action pass later in the 4th quarter for a 13 yard gain. Heuerman left the game late in the 4th quarter with what appeared to be a back injury. He has since been diagnosed with broken ribs and a bruised lung, and will miss the rest of the season. Fellow tight end LaCosse had more targets and found the end zone before Heuerman's exit.