PITTSBURGH — The Steelers had a lot of trouble keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright during the first four gams of the 2021 season.
Roethlisberger was sacked 10 times by Pittsburgh’s first four opponents, nearly as many has he had been in all of 2020.
And Week 5 opponent Denver brought one of the NFL’s most-feared pass rushers in outside linebacker Von Miller, providing an even bigger challenge than was the Steelers had dealt with previously.
Complicating matters even further, right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor missed the Steelers’ Week 4 trip to Green Bay while in the concussion protocol before returning to action against the Broncos.
In the matchup of Okorafor and Miller, there was a clear winner, as the Steelers lineman severely limited his All-Pro opposition in a 27-19 Pittsburgh victory.
Miller had no sacks, no quarterback hits, no tackles for loss, and was limited to just two assists on the afternoon. That’s the first game since Oct. 6, 2019 that an opponent held Miller without a sack, quarterback hit or tackle for loss.
The bulk of the work of protecting against Miller went to Okorafor, and while the Steelers did give him some help, it was mostly a solo mission.
“We weren’t going to sacrifice our whole offense by putting extra tight ends and extra guys over there,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We asked Chuks to do a job against one of the best pass rushers in the game and one of the better ones of all time, and I thought he did a great job.”
Not needing extra player to help block allowed the Steelers to put more players into routes, and at times, forced Miller into coverage, like he was on Chase Claypool’s 59-yard catch and run in the third quarter.
The Steelers also credited an improved rushing game for keeping the offense on schedule and Roethlisberger out of the crosshairs of the Denver pass rushers.
“You’re not going to eliminate this guy,” head coach Mike Tomlin. “But you minimize his impact on the game by staying out of negative circumstance. Largely we were able to do that because we were running the ball. At times we got a negative circumstance because of penalties, penalty here, false start, holding, things of that nature. That’s when we were really in danger to be honest you, when we were behind chains. We work really hard to just stay out of them circumstances first and foremost.”
Steelers rookie Najee Harris ran for over 100 yards for the first time in his career as the rushing offense had its most productive game of the 2021 season against the Broncos.