ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The commitment to run the ball in for a touchdown was impressive. The Steelers took out their wide receivers and had a fullback and three tight ends in on a third-and-goal play at the Buffalo 2-yard line midway through the second quarter Saturday night. When does that happen in today's pass-happy NFL? The execution by the offense was even better. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger turned and handed the ball to running back Isaac Redman, who refused to be denied on a simple off-tackle call. Red Zone Redman, indeed.
"Man, that felt good," Redman would say later. "What it says is coach [Todd] Haley is committed to smash-mouth football and trying to bring it back."
There were other highlights, to be sure, by the first-team units in the Steelers' 38-7 exhibition win against the Bills.
There was the 98-yard touchdown drive that Roethlisberger led in the final two minutes of the first half, ending with a terrific 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown with 13 seconds left. Roethlisberger ran the two-minute offense perfectly -- "I just started calling my own plays," he said -- completing 7 of 8 passes for 92 yards, including a catch of 33 yards by running back Jonathan Dwyer on a third-and-9 play from the Steelers 3 and catches of 16 and 12 yards by wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. The drive was a wonderful way for the first offense to finish the exhibition season. Roethlisberger and the starters are expected to play little or not at all in the final exhibition game Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. The next time we'll see them in full force will be in the opener Sept. 9 at Denver.
There also were the two passes to tight end Heath Miller. Where have those been this summer? There were the turnovers forced by the Steelers defense on a hit by linebacker Lawrence Timmons and an interception by Troy Polamalu. And there were some standout plays by nickel back Cortez Allen, including a tackle of running back Fred Jackson for a 4-yard loss and a sideline pass breakup.
Unfortunately, there was one sickening lowlight. Right guard David DeCastro's right knee buckled hideously as he pass-blocked early in the game. If the No. 1 pick's rookie season is over before it really gets started, it won't be a surprise. "My heart sank when I saw that," left tackle Max Starks said. "I know how that feeling is."
But it's that one running play by Redman -- and what it signified -- that stood out on this beautiful August night at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The popular belief that Steelers management wants to run the ball more is erroneous. President Art Rooney II never said that. What he did say was that the team has to run the ball effectively when it wants to do it or when it has to do it late in games to protect a lead. Clearly, coach Mike Tomlin and Haley, the offensive coordinator, wanted to run it on that third-down play.
Fullback Will Johnson lined up with Redman in the backfield and shifted to the left wing next to Miller before the snap. Tight ends Leonard Pope and David Paulson lined up on the right flank. There wasn't a wide receiver in sight.
Redman took the ball and powered through the left side behind Johnson, Miller, Starks and guard Willie Colon. He bulled through defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to score the touchdown that pulled the Steelers into a 7-7 tie. Talk about a pretty play.
"[Redman] did a nice job getting it into the end zone," Tomlin said, matter-of-factly.
The players were much more effusive.
"For us, it's about establishing an identity," Starks said. "We are going to be a balanced team. You have to respect our run game as well as our pass game."
The touchdown brought back memories of Redman's training-camp performance during his rookie season in 2009. He was a raw kid, an undrafted free agent out of tiny Bowie State, which played the likes of Slippery Rock. Yet, he demanded the attention of Steelers coaches by scoring short-yardage touchdowns against the first-team defense in camp drills, thus becoming "Red Zone."
It was nice to see Redman do it against the Bills. He missed the exhibition game last week against Indianapolis because of a hip injury. Then, on the play before DeCastro's injury, Redman stayed down at the bottom of the pile after his first carry of the game. It was easy to think the man who has to be the Steelers' feature back this season was in some jeopardy. But Redman made it to the sideline with what the team called a stinger and was back in for the next series.
Redman moved the pile for a 6-yard gain in the first quarter. He ran for a 14-yard gain that was nullified by a holding call against center Maurkice Pouncey. And, of course, he scored that third-down touchdown.
Yes, the Redman touchdown came in a meaningless exhibition game. But it was a meaningful touchdown nonetheless.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.