On the Steelers: Look for improved running game
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall was limited to 13 yards on 13 carries against the Bengals Sunday.
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Guard Chris Kemoeatu likes nothing better than to block for the run. It remains his forte, a big reason Sports Illustrated chose him to its midseason All-Pro team.
"Love it," professed Kemoeatu, who goes 6 feet 3, 344 pounds.
He and others who love the Steelers' running game did not have much to like in their 18-12 loss against Cincinnati Sunday at Heinz Field. They ran 18 times, and one of those was a quarterback scramble. It is the fewest times they have run this season and their second-fewest yards at 80, 15 of those on Ben Roethlisberger's scramble.
That no longer comes as much of a surprise on an offense where balance seems to equate to 60-40 (percentage of pass plays to runs). But it could change when they pull into Kansas City for their game Sunday against the Chiefs, who rank 27th in the NFL against the run.
"I would like to hope so," Kemoeatu said. "That's what our big emphasis is this week, to get some run plays in there. Hopefully, they call it, but we just do as we're told."
The 18 runs were the fewest since they ran 17 times in a 29-22 loss Dec. 16, 2007, at Jacksonville.
"I think we could have done some more things," said Rashard Mendenhall, who had 13 carries for 36 yards against the Bengals. "But they're a tough defense. I feel we'll get it going this week."
The Steelers' running plays account for only 41.3 percent of their offense, but they are about average when it comes to the entire NFL. The NFL averages 43.3 percent runs. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau remembers when those numbers were flip-flopped.
"It used to be the opposite of that," LeBeau said. "It used to be 65 percent run."
Those days are gone even in Pittsburgh, but that running game might resurface Sunday.
"We definitely have to get better, but, for whatever reason, it just didn't happen," Ward said of the team's running game against Cincinnati. "We're going to stay the course and not hit the panic button. There's still a lot of football left.
"But we need to be a balanced team. As I always preach, balanced teams -- it really makes us hard to beat when we're balanced."
Kicker Jeff Reed took issue with all those fans critical of his attempt to tackle Cincinnati rookie Bernard Scott on his way to a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Sunday.
"I just look at those people like they don't know what they're talking about," said Reed. "I'm coached to do certain things, and the No. 1 reason I'm here is to kick kickoffs the best I can and make field goals. When it comes to making a tackle, people like [punter] Dan [Sepulveda] kind of ruin it for me because he's so athletic."
Sepulveda was a YouTube star for a jarring tackle he made on a punt return in college. He has one tackle on a punt this season. Reed has gotten near the returnman on two of the three kickoff returns for touchdowns in the past four games without making a tackle.
He said he has made about eight tackles through the years and missed four, but he also said he actually did his job Sunday on that kickoff return.
"That was about a 50-yard sprint for me, and my job is to make him cut back inside and he went inside of me," Reed said. "Looking back at the play, if I'd have slowed down a little bit I maybe could have dove in his path a little better. For me, that was fast, and I was cutting him off. I thought we had a chance to get him, and we didn't get him down."
Santonio Holmes is off to his best start with 678 yards receiving, on pace for 1,205, yet he has just one touchdown catch.
After a dreadful passing performance against Cincinnati Sunday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was at a loss to explain what happened.
"There was something missing all day; I don't know what it was," Roethlisberger said. "I don't know if it was the weather in November or what it was. Seemed like even the crowd at the beginning, everyone was just kind of different."
Roethlisberger's view of the offense from Sunday was mentioned to Holmes, who said, "I mean, he's the quarterback. He has control over everything, you know -- who touches the ball, he dictates where the ball goes. And, if he felt that way, that's probably why we didn't win the ballgame."
The Steelers inserted Donovan Woods into their kick-coverage game to replace Arnold Harrison, but they have made no other noticeable change in personnel. The only two starters on offense or defense on the kickoff team are cornerbacks William Gay and Ike Taylor.
"They don't let me play special teams any more," cracked safety Ryan Clark. "There's a rule, you have to have a spleen and a gall bladder, at least one, to be a part of special teams."
Curtis Gatewood, a linebacker from Vanderbilt, was signed to take Woods' vacated spot on the practice squad.