Redman, Dwyer revive Pittsburgh running game
PITTSBURGH—Ben Roethlisberger joked with running back Issac Redman before the Steelers faced Tennessee on Sunday that nobody knows where Bowie State -- Redman's alma mater -- is located.
Maybe they do now.
The third-year back from the small school in Maryland helped kickstart Pittsburgh's sagging running game in a 38-17 thrashing of the Titans. While Redman's numbers weren't particularly eye-popping -- he rushed for 49 yards on 15 carries -- it was the way he ran that left the biggest impression.
Sticking his 6-foot, 230-pound frame into tight spaces between the tackles, Redman's churning legs kept the Steelers (3-2) moving.
"I told (Redman) the numbers probably weren't indicative of how we played," Roethlisberger said. "He did such a good job running the ball and picking up blitzes. To me that's what I expect from him."
It was the kind of performance the Steelers needed after the running game was stuck in neutral for the first month of the season. The injury ravaged offensive line has struggled to open holes and starter Rashard Mendenhall has been unable to find the holes that let him top 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons.
Mendenhall tweaked his hamstring in a loss to Houston a week ago and veteran Mewelde Moore spent the week in a walking boot with a leg injury. It forced the Steelers to turn to Redman and second-year back Jonathan Dwyer against the Titans, who came in with the top scoring defense in the league.
Though Mendenhall was available, Redman and Dwyer made sure he could spend the afternoon on the sun-splashed sideline at Heinz Field.
"We didn't need him," coach Mike Tomlin said. "The thought there was if we can get out of here not utilizing him, it would benefit him in the long run and for us it would be better. Thankfully we were able to do that."
And the Steelers were able to get back to basics as Tomlin promised.
Redman lacks Mendenhall's variety of moves. That's not what the team needed from him on Sunday. He worked effectively while going straight up the middle, extending a couple of plays by rolling over tacklers and keeping his legs moving.
"It was put up or shut up," Redman said. "Last week was not a performance that we wanted to lay out there. And this week, we knew we had to bounce back."
Redman has thrived during the preseason since the Steelers signed up as a rookie free agent in 2009. Yet his touches during the regular season have been limited in part to Mendenhall's maturation and Redman's own battles with conditioning.
Tomlin has been on Redman repeatedly about staying in shape, and he looked fresh late while posting a career high in carries. Redman could have toted it more if not for the surprising play of Dwyer, who entered the game with a whopping 28 rushing yards on his career.
The former Georgia Tech star nearly tripled that number on a single play in the second quarter, taking a handoff from Roethlisberger and sprinting 76 yards down the sideline to set up on of Roethlisberger's five touchdown passes.
The run was the longest by a Steeler since Willie Parker dashed the same distance against the Saints five years ago.
Dwyer finished with 107 yards on 11 carries and opted to give credit to the offensive line that featured left tackle Max Starks -- who started five days after signing with his old team.
"They answered the bell," Dwyer said. "They answered the challenge that everybody gave them ... They showed the league what we're about."
And Dwyer and Redman showed they can be just as effective when the ball isn't in their hands, protecting Roethlisberger when the Titans blitzed and helping give him enough time to throw for five scores for the second time in his career while getting sacked just once.
The Steelers ran for 174 yards as a team, the most since racking up 206 yards against Buffalo last season. They controlled the ball over 32 minutes and played the kind of physical game they've lacked most of the season.
Mendenhall will likely be back on Sunday when the Steelers face Tennessee. If he can't go, however, the Steelers are hardly concerned. Their young backs showed they can handle the workload and the revamped line appears to be getting its sea legs just in time.
"What this does for us, I think, is set us up for the rest of the season," offensive lineman Ramon Foster said. "We've found out through five games who can play where on the O-line and what we can do if we're healthy, what we can do even if we're not completely healthy, for that matter."