Steelers Notebook: Seldom-used Dwyer seizes chance with 100-yard day
Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 107 yards, including a 76-yard run that ranks among the longest in Steelers history.
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Of all the running backs on the Steelers roster, Jonathan Dwyer figured to be the last one to register a 100-yard game this season. Dwyer dressed for only one game as a rookie last season and did not suit up for any of the first four games this season.
But with starting running back Rashard Mendenhall ailing with a hamstring injury and versatile reserve Mewelde Moore out with an ankle injury, it was Dwyer who came off the bench to provide the first 100-yard rushing game of the season.
Dwyer carried 11 times for 107 yards in the 38-17 victory against the Titans at Heinz Field. His first carry went for 76 yards, tied for the seventh-longest run in franchise history.
"To me, I haven't done anything yet," said Dwyer, who rushed for 28 yards on nine carries in the regular-season finale last year against Cleveland, his only other game as a pro. "I still have stuff to prove. I'm satisfied with today, but I'm not where I want to be. I know I can improve."
Dwyer, the team's sixth-round draft choice in 2010, had to work himself into shape during training camp after showing up overweight. He eventually got back into the good graces of the coaching staff.
The Steelers rushed for 174 yards as a team. Isaac Redman got the start in place of Mendenhall and rushed for 49 yards on 15 carries.
"I told Isaac Redman the numbers probably weren't indicative of how we played," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He did such a good job of running the ball and picking up blitzes. To me, that's what I expect from him. And Jonathan Dwyer stepped up and did a great job. I don't think anyone was surprised at how great they did."
Dwyer said the offense had a new mindset after the Texans held them to 118 yards last week.
"We were just answering the call," he said. "We made the best of our opportunities. We came out with a different attitude. We came out with fire. We weren't going to stop until the end of the game."
Max Starks started at left tackle five days after being signed. It was his first game action in 11months after injuring his neck in a game against Cincinnati in November. The Steelers released Starks because he gained too much weight during the lockout, but they needed his services after the rash of injuries that hit the offensive line.
The coaching staff had planned to spell Starks throughout the course of the game because they were concerned about his level of conditioning, but that changed when starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert was injured in the first half. Reserve Jonathan Scott entered the game as Gilbert's replacement, and Starks played all but two plays.
"I think the first thing is that you have to give credit to him for coming back in the ridiculously good shape he's in," coach Mike Tomlin said.
Starks was part of an offensive line that paved the way for 174 yards rushing and allowed only one sack of Roethlisberger.
"It was a great start," Starks said. "It was good to get back into the game. I was kind of anxious. 'Was the game going to be too fast because I've been out for so long?' It ended up being exactly the same as I remember. That was a good feeling."
It was a day of highs and lows for the Steelers special teams.
For the second consecutive week, the Steelers had a kick blocked. The Titans' Tim Shaw burst through the line and blocked a punt in the fourth quarter, setting up Tennessee's second touchdown.
Last week, place-kicker Shaun Suisham had a field-goal attempt blocked on the final play of the first half against Houston. Coincidentally, both kicks were returned for touchdowns, but were nullified by penalties.
Cortland Finnegan scooped up the blocked punt and scored, but a block in the back negated the touchdown.
"Just a missed assignment, a missed communication," said Ryan Mundy, who calls the blocking signals for the punt team. "I have to look to see exactly what happened, but I think it was just an A-gap rush."
The Steelers also allowed the Titans to recover an onside kick after Tennessee's first touchdown with 2:02 left in the third quarter. The momentum generated from that play was short-lived, however. LaMarr Woodley intercepted Matt Hasselbeck on the next play.
The first half was much better for the special teams. Punter Daniel Sepulveda completed a pass on a fake to set up the second touchdown for a 14-3 lead. It was a 33-yard pass to Mundy, who ran to the Titans 17. Two plays later, Roethlisberger threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward.
Mundy made the call to execute the fake. It was his first catch since 2002 when he was a standout at Woodland Hills High school.
"It's something we worked on all week," Mundy said. "If they gave us a look we were going to run it. Coach Tomlin gives us the clearance to run the play. It's up to me if I like the look. If I don't we'll check out of it.
"They like to rush eight people in the box. My job was to get free, catch the ball, secure the ball and get a first down. I just had to make sure we had the right look."
Former Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington caught five passes for 69 yards, and almost made a nice grab for a touchdown on Tennessee's opening drive. Washington had the ball in his hands, but it got away from him when he hit the ground hard.
"I don't want anyone writing that was a dropped ball," Washington said after the game. "It would have been a tough catch."
It was a tough passing day for Tennessee. Hasselbeck was 29 of 49 for 262 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He had a passer rating of 72. Hasselbeck was asked about some timing issues with receivers.
"I think more than that what the Steelers did was they played us man outside with two safeties and kind of like a zone inside," he said. "[Troy Polamalu] made our reads a little slower because we were trying to figure out what he was doing. He's a great player that makes it hard on you.
"I wish I had more answers. I just have more questions than answers right now."
About the Titans passing game, Washington added: "It's a work in progress right now."
Tomlin challenged an official's call and won, keeping alive the Steelers' first scoring drive. On third-and-9, Roethlisberger threw a low pass to Mike Wallace. It was ruled incomplete on the field, but Wallace told Tomlin to throw the red challenge flag.
Replay review overturned the call on the field, and the Steelers went ahead for good a short while later when Roethlisberger threw an 8-yard scoring pass to Heath Miller
Roethlisberger's 1-yard touchdown pass to David Johnson was the 150th of his career. Only Terry Bradshaw has more touchdown passes (212) in franchise history.
Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes for the second time in his career. He also threw five against the Ravens in 2007.
Miller's 8-yard touchdown reception was the 30th of his career. He became the eighth Steeler to record 30 or more touchdown receptions. The others are Ward (74), John Stallworth (63), Lynn Swann (51), Buddy Dial (42), Louis Lipps (39), Elbie Nickel (34) and Ray Mathews (34).
Gilbert's shoulder injury was the only one Tomlin was concerned about after the game. Gilbert left in the first half and did not return.
"We'll keep an eye on him and see where he is," Tomlin said.
The other injuries that Tomlin described as "insignificant" were to James Farrior (shoulder), Miller (shoulder), Maurkice Pouncey (knee), Ward (chest) and Redman (cramps).
Correction/Clarification: (Published October 12, 2011) A story Monday incorrectly stated the round Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer was drafted. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft.
First Published October 10, 2011 12:00 am