Broncos receivers struggled versus Pittsburgh, but they weren’t alone

Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Bennie Fowler (16) stiff arms Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Robert Golden (21) during the second half in a AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Many critics wanted to put the blame on Peyton Manning for the offense’s lack of production throughout the first three quarters of Sunday’s AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Manning is, after all, the captain of the offense and the greatest passer in NFL history; just two years ago he did lead the Broncos offense to the greatest single season of offense in the history of the league. Blaming Manning is just part of the equation, though.

In his first start in two calendar months, Manning’s Broncos had posted just 12 points through three quarters against the Steelers on Sunday and had punted or turned the ball over on downs six times. Three of their scoring drives in that time started at the Denver 47-yard line or better. While Pittsburgh was turning in big plays on seemingly every drive, the Broncos did not have a single play of more than 20 yards until the 13:15 mark of the fourth quarter.

Denver’s struggles on offense are nothing new; they’ve failed to put up big numbers all season long. Sunday was the ninth time this season that Denver scored 23 points or less. As a team, including the seven starts with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, they’ve thrown four less touchdowns (19) than interceptions (23) and they failed to eclipse the 4,000-yard team passing mark for the first time in the Manning era.

On Sunday against Pittsburgh, it was much of the same problem that has plagued the Broncos passing game all year. Receivers were dropping passes and Manning wasn’t putting the ball in their hands with any pace. Adding to the problem was that Denver struggled to convert on third down. They ended the day just 3-for-15 as a team.

The running game couldn’t get a foothold early in the game either. Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson rushed for a combined 110 yards on the day, with only 17 coming in the first quarter.

No one on the offense had a great day – Manning, the running backs or the receivers – and Manning’s critics were quite vocal, but the receivers caught their fair share of heat for, well, not catching the ball. And to be fair, the running backs each accounted for crucial drops themselves.

Despite the struggles, there were some clutch catches by the Denver wideouts on Sunday. Emmanuel Sanders had a 34-yard catch that flipped the field before Pittsburgh fumbled on their ensuing possession. Bennie Fowler converted a huge third down on Denver’s touchdown drive. And Demaryius Thomas pulled in the two-point conversion that would put the Broncos up for good.

In a game that didn’t have great performances from either the offense or the defense (who gave up almost 400 yards of their own), the receivers did just enough to help pull out the win.

Here’s what some members of the MHS team and some of our favorite follows from the Denver media had to say about the pass catchers and their tough day…

There was a small pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for at least one Broncos receiver, though. Demaryius Thomas moved into the record books on Sunday…

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