PITTSBURGH – The Steelers haven’t had three consecutive 100-yard rushing games since 2007, but that’s when Coach Mike Tomlin was in the midst of “running the wheels off” of Willie Parker.
Five years later the Steelers have repeated the feat, but they’ve done it with two different runners, and those runners were mere replacements for starter Rashard Mendenhall, who returned briefly from a knee injury to gain over 100 yards from scrimmage via rushing and receiving.
Mendenhall soon returned to the sidelines with a different knee injury, but appears close to returning to the practice field. Tomlin was asked Tuesday what he will do when all three backs are healthy, and he said he’ll go with the hot hand.
“I don’t really understand what he means by that,” said Isaac Redman, who’s coming off a career-high 147-yard rushing performance.
Redman was asked if that’s hot enough.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Dwyer will be back this week. I’m pretty sure we’ll both be carrying. I’m not sure about Rashard’s status. If he means the hot hand is 2 yards on your first carry and the next guy’s up? I don’t know. I’m just going to play hard.”
Jonathan Dwyer is coming off 122 and 107-yard rushing games before sitting out last week with a strained quadriceps muscle. He’s expected back this week, and he’s coming off two 100-yard games at 6.7 yards per carry.
Is that hot enough?
“I look at it like this,” Dwyer said. “The fact I had two good games and then Red had a phenomenal game last week shows how deep, how much depth we have at the running back position, and they have to prepare for all three of us, even Baron (Batch) and Will (Johnson) and (Chris) Rainey. They have to prepare for every single one of us.”
Dwyer believes the running game turned around three weeks ago against Cincinnati because offensive coordinator Todd Haley “found runs that best fit us, found runs the linemen like and we like as running backs. On top of that Will Johnson’s been playing lights-out football. Week after week after week he’s played phenomenally. He’s proving that he can be one of the best fullbacks in the league.”
Redman added what everyone else in Pittsburgh has been saying about the new and improved offensive line.
“These last couple of weeks have been the best I’ve seen it since I’ve been here,” Redman said. “They really came on. Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, the attitude that they’re bringing to each game is starting to trickle down toward the other guys. I love seeing them out there fighting.”
Redman likens the recent propensity of the line taking nasty post-play shots at defenders to a play a few years ago that propelled the Steelers to a playoff win on their way to Super Bowl 45.
“I don’t really mind maybe one flag here and there,” Redman said with a laugh. “As long as we’re taking it to them and the other team knows they’re in for a dog fight. I remember playing Baltimore and Hines (Ward) started the game off with a 15-yard flag just to let them know we came to play. He slammed Ed Reed on his head and mugged his face in the dirt. Sometimes you just need it. You need to come out and start bullying people.”
That’s what Colon did to a rookie linebacker in Cincinnati three weeks ago. It was a play that many on the field called inspiring. Did it start the great run of rushing the past three games?
“It turned before that,” said Dwyer, “but I think that play made it even bigger. It fired everybody up; not just the guys on the field, the guys on the sideline, the defense. It sent a message of that’s how we play and that’s what the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about.”
It’s just a matter of picking one. Any one.