PITTSBURGH - Too many mistakes and not enough points.
That was the Pittsburgh Steelers' season opener in an incomplete sentence.
The 31-19 loss to the Denver Broncos had some good moments: Ben Roethlisberger ran the no-huddle offense efficiently in a loud environment, Jonathan Dwyer ran with purpose, the third-down conversion rate (11-of-19) was above average, and special teams play was good.
But there were problems, too. The offensive line quickly lost two starters to injuries, and Roethlisberger was forced to scramble. The defense couldn't sustain pressure on Peyton Manning. Despite dominating in time of possession, the Steelers didn't have many answers when the Broncos finally got the ball.
Any assessment of the defense has to be viewed in the context of two key absences. Linebacker James Harrison couldn't play, and safety Ryan Clark was held out because of a medical condition. Clark will be able to play at full speed this week against the New York Jets. Harrison's availability is less certain.
You should never draw conclusions after just one game, but it looks like the pressure is going to be on the offense. The offense needs to score a lot of points because it doesn't look like the defense is going to prevent a lot of scoring.
The Steelers have the ability to be explosive with Roethlisberger and a young corps of receivers. They're probably going to need it.
This is a team in transition on the defensive side of the ball. How well the Steelers adjust to those changes will determine how far they can go this year.
Are the Pirates falling apart, or are they just finding the level that matches their talent?
For a long time, they played over their heads and their record reflected that. Now they've fallen, but it's really just a correction.
If this season ends with a 10-game improvement over last season's 72-90, progress has been made.
There's still work to be done. The 162-game season is tough and cruel, and doesn't allow for a lot of flukes.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org