Steelers' Moore proving more and more valuable
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Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham telephoned yesterday on another matter. Eventually, the conversation turned to his old team. Who doesn't sit up and listen when one of the NFL's all-time greats talks about the Steelers? Without prompting, Ham brought up "that little No. 21." He gushed about third-down back Mewelde Moore.
"He's a guy who's really stood out for me because he's such a productive player," Ham said. "When they need plays made out of the backfield, he makes them. He just does all the right things out there."
Turns out Ham isn't the only member of the Moore fan club.
It's a sizable group inside the Steelers' locker room.
"This guy is a professional," coach Mike Tomlin said.
"A rare cat," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called Moore because of his "unique skill set" -- his ability to block blitzing linebackers and beat linebackers, safeties and even the occasional cornerback on pass routes.
"The Chain Mover, we call him," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
It's hard to say Moore is the most reliable player on a team that has tight end Heath Miller and defensive end Aaron Smith, whose performances always seem to be somewhere between terrific and extraordinary. But he would be in the top five. Earlier in the season, when some NFL scouts were knocking starting running back Willie Parker for losing a step and backup Rashard Mendenhall for being a No. 1 draft bust, they said Moore is too important on third downs and in the two-minute offense for the Steelers to use him in the featured role even if he might be their best runner.
Want a guy to pick up that blitzer looking to knock Roethlisberger into next week? Moore is your man. "He's so good at it that I don't ever have to worry about his guy because I know he's going to block him," Roethlisberger said.
Need a man to catch a 9-yard pass on third-and-8? Moore is the guy, at least when wide receiver Hines Ward and Miller are covered. Five of his 11 catches this season have gone for first downs, including the third-and-4 play he turned into a 19-yard touchdown against the San Diego Chargers Sunday night by bowling over safeties Eric Weddle and Steve Gregory. Seventeen of his 40 catches last season produced first downs. "He just understands the passing game so well," said Ham, who isn't too old to remember how difficult it was for him, as an outside linebacker, to cover that kind of back. "He doesn't just flare out to the side. He understands how to get open, and he's got good body control and good hands to go with it. A lot of running backs don't have all that."
Moore was more than serviceable last season when the Steelers needed him as their primary back because of injuries to Parker and Mendenhall. He rushed for 99, 120 and 84 yards in consecutive games against Jacksonville, Cincinnati and the New York Giants. The only concern with him is that he might be worn down if he has to do it week after week.
Against the Chargers, Moore showed still another talent. He took a handoff from Roethlisberger and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Miller to give the Steelers a 35-14 lead. "He might throw it better than me," Roethlisberger said, grinning.
Let's not get carried away.
When they need plays made out of the backfield, he makes them.
"Seems like he's either making a first down or scoring a touchdown," Arians said.
The Chain Mover.
Tomlin said he is not surprised. He pushed to bring Moore to Pittsburgh after the 2007 season. They were together with the Minnesota Vikings in '06, Tomlin as the defensive coordinator and Moore as an underused third-year back behind Chester Taylor on the depth chart.
"I saw him deal with the adversity of not playing as much as he would have liked," Tomlin said. "It didn't change his attitude or how he prepared. I gained so much respect for him during that time. He never was anything but a real pro."
Moore delivered when his opportunity came with the Steelers. It would be inaccurate to call him their most important veteran free-agent pick-up. That would be Pro Bowl linebacker James Farrior, their undisputed team leader. But Moore is right there in terms of significance with safety Ryan Clark and center Justin Hartwig.
"A guy at his position, maybe you think they're a dime a dozen," Arians said. "Then you get one like him and you realize, 'Man, this cat is pretty special.'"
First Published October 9, 2009 12:00 am