On The Steelers: Two running backs could be ticket for success
November 8, 2012 10:00 AM
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley talks with head coach Mike Tomlin during practice at the team''s South Side Facility.
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall talk during practice at the team's South Side facility.
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Steelers' Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch go through drills during practice at the team's South Side Facility .
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
So the coach has decided to go with the hot running back most of the time, yet he has two hot running backs. What might he do?
Isaac Redman may have the answer. Put them both back there. The Steelers installed a counter play that involved Redman and fullback Will Johnson last week. Redman initially thought it was for two halfbacks.
"We had a split backfield with me and the fullback, Will Johnson, and we were running that cross, and he was cutting off the end," Redman said. "He would get the carry if it was called for him. I was thinking, maybe we could have two tailbacks back there at the same time."
Steelers Report: Next up, the Kansas City Chiefs
The PG's Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac preview the Steelers' next opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, who play in Pittsburgh Monday night at Heinz Field. (Video by Steve Mellon; 11/8/2012)
Radical idea, two tailbacks in the same backfield? What in the world of Franco and Rocky could he be thinking? Or, for that matter, Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. The Kansas City Chiefs use such a formation and, in fact, list it as their first-team offense.
It works for them, sort of. Charles is the fourth-leading rusher in the AFC with 634 yards, and the Chiefs have the No. 3 running attack in the NFL with an average of 149.9 yards per game. If they had not turned the ball over a league-high 29 times, Kansas City might have something there rather than a 1-7 record.
Having two running backs in the same backfield still has its place with some NFL teams, it just has not been a part of the Steelers offense in at least 15 years or since Jerome Bettis arrived in 1996. Before Bettis, the Steelers always had two backs who could run, although they still called one a fullback, such as John L. Williams or Merril Hoge.
"We did a lot of it" in training camp, Redman said. "I'm surprised we haven't done more, but everybody's been banged up. Maybe when we get everybody back and everybody rolling maybe we'll starting seeing two running backs."
It looks as though both Redman and Jonathan Dwyer will be healthy enough to play together this week. Rashard Mendenhall may need one more week before his return from an achilles injury.
Dwyer is OK with the back-by-committee approach, even though Mike Tomlin said he would like to abandon that. Dwyer also gives credit to Johnson for a resurgence in an offense that has averaged 155 yards rushing the past three games.
"I think it's good to rotate, let everybody get a feel for it," said Dwyer, who had the team's first consecutive 100-yard games in four years before he missed a win against the New York Giants Sunday because of a thigh injury. "Everybody has a role, and, whoever does get [hot], that guy gets the majority of the carries, and if he gets tired the next guy rolls in."
Redman agrees with tackle Max Starks, that one runner should get the brunt of the work, although he can see the dilemma that goes with that. The committee approach also was created because Mendenhall was out and Redman had an ankle injury to open the season, and the coaches did not want to put the load on him because of it.
"By doing that, it was kind of hard to get in a groove," Redman said. "You go in there, you get a carry, you get 2 yards and you might not get another carry for a whole quarter. Then you get 2 yards and then your stats might not look like they should because you're not getting many chances back-to-back to do what you do.
"But, when you have three running backs who are capable, it's a hard spot to be put in as a coach because this guy's getting most of the carries and you have two guys sitting on the side who are capable of playing. I don't know what you do."
Simpler proves to be better
Steelers coordinator Todd Haley has cut back on both the running and passing plays to keep things simpler, and those involved say it has worked.
"We did get to a point this year where we felt like we were getting a little bit out of control with not being simplified with whatever we thought our best personnel packages were," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We felt like we've got to the point where we felt like we know what our best personnel group is and we just design plays out of those groups."
The backs say reducing the plays they run has helped the ground game because they have gone with what works best.
"Instead of having -- this is just a number -- 50 runs, we said let's just do 25 that we know well and do them well," Roethlisberger said. "We did the same thing in the pass game with formations and motions and everything else."
By reducing the number of plays it runs, an offense must also guard against becoming predictable.
"Correct. That's the approach that you have to have," Roethlisberger said. "That's why I think we were OK doing it because we felt like we could still mix it up enough, still have combination routes and run plays at the same time so, if the run doesn't look good. We can get into a pass or vice versa."
Monday suits them fine
The Steelers have not played a Monday night game at Heinz Field since 2008. Perhaps the NFL saw Monday night games in Pittsburgh as an unfair advantage for the Steelers, who have not lost a Monday game at home in the past 21 years.
"We are excited about playing 'Monday Night Football' here at our place," Tomlin said. "We don't take that lightly."
They have never lost under Tomlin at home on Monday night, never lost at Heinz Field on Monday night, where they are a perfect 6-0, and never lost under Bill Cowher at home on Monday night.
The previous time they lost a Monday night home game, Chuck Noll was the Steelers coach. The New York Giants beat them, 23-20, Oct. 14, 1991. Since then, Cowher went 11-0 at home and Tomlin has gone 3-0, the most recent game a 23-20 overtime victory against Baltimore Sept. 29, 2008.
Overall, the Steelers have won six of their past seven Monday games played home and away, most recently a Dec. 19, 2011 loss in San Francisco.
• Cornerback Ike Taylor was named AFC defensive player of the week for the second time in his career. He became the team's first cornerback to intercept a pass this season when he picked off Giants quarterbacl Eli Manning to go with his five tackles and one pass knockdown.
• Former Penn State receiver Derek Moye was signed to the Steelers practice squad in light of the injury to Antonio Brown. The Steelers could add a receiver before the game to their roster. They have two others on the practice squad, rookie Toney Clemons, and David Gilreath, who also has return ability.