Steelers Notebook: Running game remains just a bit out of step
Heath Miller pulls in a pass for a touchdown as he's defended by the Jets' David Harris in the second quarter at Heinz Field Sunday.
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The Steelers improved to 1-1 after their 27-10 victory against the New York Jets Sunday at Heinz Field, but after two games they're still searching for a running game.
After rushing for 75 yards on 26 carries in the opening-week loss at Denver, the Steelers rushed for just 66 yards on 28 carries against the Jets.
The Steelers are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry this season. The leading rusher Sunday was Jonathan Dwyer, who had 28 yards on 12 carries.
The Steelers had six negative run plays, including four on their first two drives when they settled for field goals.
"I take some responsibility for that," said Willie Colon, the starting left guard who is making the transition after playing right tackle for the past six years. "I wasn't clean on a lot of my pulls. We have to be a lot more efficient mechanically up front. Those are all things that will come."
The alarming aspect of those negative yardage plays was the amount of yardage lost. Isaac Redman was tackled for a 7-yard loss on the second play from scrimmage. Later in the drive on second-and-four, he was tackled for a 3-yard loss. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal.
In the third quarter, Dwyer was tackled for a 6-yard loss on second-and-10. That play did not hurt the Steelers because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace on third-and-16 to make the score 20-10.
The line did go out on a high note when the offense possessed the ball for a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ate up 10:13 in the fourth quarter. That drive culminated with a Redman 2-yard touchdown run that made the score 27-10.
On that drive the running backs accounted for 29 yards, nearly half of the game's total rushing yards.
"When it came down to it the offensive line played a good game," Dwyer said. "We had some big plays in the passing game that helped us have holes. At the end of the day, that's when it counts. You want to close the game out. We made it count. We stepped up to the challenge."
Roethlisberger became the second quarterback in franchise history to throw for 27,000 yards, joining Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, who finished his career with 27,989. With his 275 yards passing Sunday, Roethlisberger has thrown for 27,099 career yards. Roethlisberger went over the 27,000 threshold on the 37-yard touchdown pass to Wallace.
"It's an awesome honor with this franchise's storied history and tradition," Roethlisberger said. "It is humbling, and I have to thank all of the guys who caught balls for me. There are too many to name, but I thank them all along with the line. It's neat, but to me winning the game is the bigger deal."
An early-season trend in new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense has been Roethlisberger spreading the wealth among his receivers. He completed passes to 10 players Sunday. Antonio Brown led the team with seven catches for 79 yards and Wallace had five for 74.
Eight players caught passes from Roethlisberger against Denver.
"You have to get used to that," Wallace said. "Sometimes you're so used to getting all the targets. You just have to keep your head in the game. We have so many good players. It's hard for everyone to get the ball.
Cornerback Ike Taylor was flagged for two pass interference penalties and television replays showed little or no contact between Taylor on both plays.
The first penalty came early on the Jets' only touchdown drive. The second came in the second half.
"Those guys have a difficult job as is," Taylor said. "I can't worry about what they call. I just have to play football."
Taylor was matched up with friend and former teammate Santonio Holmes the entire game. Holmes finished with three receptions for 28 yards and a touchdown, but he was held to one catch for 3 yards in the second half.
The Jets had two reasons for their loss. They couldn't get off the field on third down, and they couldn't convert a third down when they needed.
"We couldn't get them off the field and ... we couldn't stay on it," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "When Ben Roethlisberger extends plays like he does that makes it tough. We couldn't bring him down. Every time you play Ben you appreciate him more and more."
The Steelers converted 8 of 15 third-down plays, and the Jets were just 4 of 12. But it was one particular play in the third quarter that was the backbreaker for the Jets.
With a third and 16 at the Jets 37, Roethlisberger scrambled away from pressure and threw a deep, jump-ball, pass to Wallace, who was closely covered along the right boundary. Wallace jumped, caught the pass in the end zone and just got both feet in bounds for the score.
"That third and 16 killed us," Ryan said. "And Wallace does a great job of getting his feet in bounds on that play."
Safety LaRon Landry, who was flagged for two personal foul penalties in the game, echoed his head coach.
"We just didn't execute on third down," he said. "We have to get off the field."
The Jets were shut out from the 9:38 mark of the second quarter on Sunday. After taking a 10-6 lead, they surrendered 21 consecutive points and the offense was quiet the rest of the way.
But according to former Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes, there's no frustration after the loss.
"Nothing is frustrating to us," he said to the reporters gathered around his locker. "We've just got to watch film and assess what we did."
Holmes, who caught three passes for 28 yards and scored the only Jets touchdown, said he pretty much got what he expected from the Steelers defense.
"They played physical, as I expected." he said. "You have to take your hats off to those guys."
Backup quarterback Tim Tebow was in for one series in the third quarter. He ran the first play out of the direct-snap wildcat formation for 22 yards to the Jets 49, then handed to running back Joe McKnight for 12 more.
The next play, a handoff to Shonn Greene, was blown up by Ryan Clark for a 6-yard loss. And with that play, Tebow was taken out.
Mark Sanchez came in and threw two incompletions from the Steelers 45, and the Jets punted. But Tebow said he had no problem with not getting another snap from center after the series.
"I try to help the team whenever I can," said the former Broncos quarterback, who shredded the defense in the Steelers' playoff loss in Denver in January. "I just want to be ready when my number is called, and I try to provide a spark."
Ryan said Clark's play on Greene forced his hand as far as having to go back to Sanchez in the series.
"We had a couple nice runs in that series," Ryan said. "Then we have a play where we lost 6 yards and had to throw the football."
• The Steelers won their 10th consecutive home opener, the longest active streak in the league.
• The Steelers are 16-4 all-time against the Jets in the regular season and 7-1 at home.
• Tight end Heath Miller already has as many touchdown catches this season as last season, two.
• Punter Drew Butler landed three of his five punts inside the Jets 20.
• A couple of former Steelers received warm receptions inside the locker room after the game. James Farrior and Jerome Bettis greeted former teammates with hugs and handshakes afterward.
The Steelers deactivated QB Charlie Batch, RB Rashard Mendenhall, S Troy Polamalu, LB Stevenson Sylvester, OL Kelvin Beachum, DL Alameda Ta'amu and LB James Harrison. The Jets deactivated QB Greg McElroy, DB Darrelle Revis, LB Bryan Thomas, DL Doman Harrison, OL Caleb Schlauderaff and Dennis Landolt and TE Dustin Keller.
First Published September 17, 2012 12:13 am