On the Steelers: Dwyer straightens out running game
Steelers'' Ike Taylor breaks up a pass intended for Robert Griffin III in the second quarter Sunday at Heinz Field.
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The rankings show the Steelers defense in a familiar spot today -- No. 2 with a bullet in the NFL overall, No. 2 against the pass and No. 8 against the run.
More important, it has improved in the area of preventing points, where earlier in the season it ranked in the middle of the league, the Steelers now come in at No. 8, allowing 20.6 points per game.
After becoming the first to contain Washington rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris together, has the Steelers defense become dominant again? No, says one prominent member.
"Not right now," linebacker James Harrison said. "We're getting back to where we can play better than we have been. I don't think we're dominant yet. We still have a lot of room to go to improve.
"I think it's just time, getting out there and putting together 60 minutes and putting together a better 60 minutes than you did previously."
• Game: Steelers at New York Giants.
• When: 4:25 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
• TV, Radio: KDKA, WDVE-FM (102.5)/WBGG-AM (970).
Or how about 25 minutes and 25 seconds? That's the average time in a 60-minute game the Steelers defense has had to spend on the field. Maybe one reason the defense ranks so high in yards allowed is the Steelers offense, which is No. 2 in the NFL in average time of possession with 34:35.
That means the Steelers have the ball on offense more than nine minutes longer than its opponents, on average. That naturally should boost the defense's yards allowed average by keeping opposing offenses off the field longer, and the same should hold for points allowed.
Where the dominance has not occurred is in big plays. The defense has produced few of those. It came up empty again on Sunday with no turnovers and just one sack, from Larry Foote.
The Steelers have managed three interceptions in seven games, with only one of those by a defensive back, free safety Ryan Clark, who has been their best player on defense. Now, they may have to play the Giants without him and injured strong safety Troy Polamalu after Clark left Sunday's game with a concussion.
No one else has played at a Pro Bowl level on defense, as linebacker Larry Foote and backup linebacker Jason Worilds are tied for the team sack lead with three each. The 12 sacks as a team puts the defense on pace for 27, which would be the fewest since the 5-11 team of 1988 produced 19.
In 2012, the best defense has been a good offense for the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger accomplished a first in his career Sunday against the Redskins. It's the only time he has thrown three touchdown passes in a game while getting neither sacked nor intercepted.
It was the ninth game in his NFL career in which he was neither sacked nor intercepted, and the second time this season. The other game was a win against the Philadelphia Eagles. During the previous three seasons, it happened only once, at Cleveland in the 2010 finale.
Roethlisberger's 13 sacks put him on pace to have the fewest since he was sacked a career-low 23 times in '05 while playing in just 12 games. He has throw three interceptions. The only seasons he finished with fewer than 10 interceptions were 2010 (5) and '05 (9) when he played only 12 games in each.
A running back controversy? The only controversy would be if Mike Tomlin starts someone other than Jonathan Dwyer at halfback Sunday against the New York Giants.
Dwyer has emerged from a runner-by-committee situation as the clear starter after two consecutive 100-yard games, the first time a Steelers back has done that in four seasons.
Dwyer, who left Sunday's game with what Tomlin called a "tight quad," has 299 yards rushing and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Isaac Redman has 127 yards and a 2.5-yard average; Rashard Mendenhall has 74 yards and a 3.9-yard average.
Mendenhall and Redman have been hurt and both have had one good game this season. Mendenhall returned for the first time Oct. 7 after January ACL surgery. He ran for 68 yards on 13 carries against Philadelphia and caught three passes for 33 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown. Against Tennessee, Redman became the first Steelers back in 42 years to have more than 100 yards receiving in a game with 105 on four receptions before leaving that Oct. 11 game with a sprained ankle.
Dwyer has clearly been the best and most consistent runner. He's big, weighing 235 pounds, and he reminds at least one of his teammates of ... Jerome Bettis.
"He's just hitting it, man,'' guard Willie Colon said. "He understands where he needs to be, he's reading the blocks, he's doing a great job and when he gets outside, he's keeping his feet alive and making plays. It feels good to kind of see him step forward, it kind of reminds you of 'The Bus' a little bit. I'm proud of him."
It's way too early to compare Dwyer to a man who has been a Hall of Fame finalist the past two seasons. Perhaps if he continues what he did the past two games for several more years, then the comparisons could be made. Physically, Bettis was a little bigger than Dwyer, but not by much when he was young. The Bus also had famously quick feet. Colon, who called Bettis' quick feet "amazing," said Dwyer has those as well.
"I think he does, I really do. The thing about Dwyer, when you see him hit outside, he may get stuck, he keeps his feet alive and he takes it up and hits it north. A lot of backs don't have that ability, so it's good to see."
The Steelers reinstated rookie defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu from the reserve/suspended list Monday. The team suspended him for the past two games after he was arrested Oct. 14 and charged with 15 counts after a police chase on the South Side.
The team will have a roster exemption for Ta'amu until 4 p.m. Wednesday, when they will have to remove someone from their roster. Ta'amu was drafted in the fourth round by the Steelers but has not been active for a game.
Ta'amu is still subject to further discipline by the NFL.
First Published October 30, 2012 12:00 am