Enough Time For Electricity To Return

Jim Wexell found some potential answers to problems that are occurring both on and off the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There's a good-natured cook working in the Steelers' cafeteria, but like everyone else this week he hasn't been in a very good-natured mood.

I'll call him Mo, because, well, that's his name. But I walked past Mo the other day and heard him complaining. So I thought I'd make a little joke.

"Oh, Mo is me," I said.

"Wha?" he said without his usual smile.

"Never mind. Stupid joke," I said. "I thought I heard you complaining about something."

"I was," he said. "Look back behind you, over where you were sitting, and tell me this: Where are the pretty women?"

I turned around and was immediately frightened by what I had been a part of. It seemed as if I'd just opened a Sulia page on Twitter as I gazed upon all of the pasty-faced, pot-bellied, middle-aged white men gasping and wheezing over their lunches.

They are Pittsburgh's sportswriting fraternity.

"This time two years ago," Mo said with a sweeping hand, "this place was full of beautiful news babes. Now, this."

I chuckled. "I guess that's as good a barometer as any for how well the club's doing," I told Mo.

"Ain't that the truth," Mo told me.

But even though the Steelers have no playmakers, and no running game, it's not too late to turn things around. So I went down the hall to see two guys who might be able to help those aforementioned problems: Antonio Brown and Isaac Redman.

They were in the locker room, and they were the two whom I would have predicted could make up for horrible seasons by Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall.

Brown, in fact, started off pretty well this season. But since injuring his ankle in the first quarter of the New York Giants game some six weeks ago, he's been of little use.

Since the kickoff of that Giants game, Brown has caught 11 passes for 112 yards, rushed 1 time for 4 yards, and returned 6 punts for 9 yards. It adds up to 125 yards of all-purpose yardage from a guy who last season became the first player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 return yards in the same season.

Brown set the Steelers' all-time record last season with 2,211 all-purpose yards, an average of 138 yards per game, or 13 more than he's had the last six combined.

Of course, Brown missed 3¾ of those 6 games with his injury, and he wasn't at full health his first game back. But last week was his second game back and he had only 35 all-purpose yards.

When does the electricity return?

"I'm definitely looking forward to getting back to that," said Brown. "I'm looking for opportunities to make that happen."

Brown explained that it's not so much his ankle that's bothering him, but indeed the lack of opportunity. And the tape bears that out.

Brown was targeted nine times last Sunday and was covered closely nine times. And of the seven punts he dropped back to field, only one, the first one, was a.) available for him to return and b.) came with a bit of running room. But he called for a fair catch on that first punt.

Later in the game, perhaps frustrated with the close attention the Chargers had been paying him, Brown grabbed a punt with a man breathing in his face and bolted 21 yards to the Pittsburgh 33. It was called back to the Pittsburgh 6 because of a questionable holding penalty and Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted a play later, which led to San Diego's final touchdown.

But, it was a good sign for Mr. Electricity, who showed more life in that return than his statistics would indicate. He also finished the game with a 1-yard touchdown catch.

"I'm good," Brown said of his ankle. "I'm able to put my foot in the ground and do what I've got to do. Just waiting for the opportunity for it to come, because I'm sure it's coming soon."

That's a good sign for the passing and return games, but what about Redman and the running game?

Reduced to the role of short-yardage back, not even his heralded second- effort skills could help Redman on one of the most critical plays of Sunday's game.

He was stopped on fourth-and-1, symbolically, it seemed, because linebacker Takeo Spikes blew up right tackle Kelvin Beachum and the center of the San Diego defense blew up the newly configured interior of Doug Legursky and Maurkice Pouncey.

Both Legursky and Pouncey were blown to the edges of the massive pile of humanity and had to pick themselves up off the ground, along with Redman, and Beachum, with failure written all over them.

For Redman, the entire season to date could be considered a failure. He's gained only 350 yards at a 3.6 clip and it seems the only time he sees the field is either in short-yardage or when Jonathan Dwyer taps out.

And it's not as if Dwyer's setting the world on fire with his 81 rushing yards since being named starter two games ago.

What's happened to the running game?

"I don't think it's been a problem all year long," Redman said.

"Everybody says, ‘What's going on?' But when we started running for 100 yards, everybody said, ‘What's gotten into the running backs? They're coming back to play.'

"We're still the same backs, me and Dwyer. Nothing's changed. It's a team effort when you try to run the ball. One guy can't go out there and try to rush for 100 yards on his own. It's a team effort."

By my calculations, the running game misses two key players from that "team effort," and neither is named Mendenhall.

When the Steelers had Willie Colon at left guard and Mike Adams at right tackle, for five games, they averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

The rest of the season – with either of the two not playing – the Steelers have averaged 3.1 yards per carry.

Colon and Adams are unquestionably the team's best run blockers. Adams expects to be back next week, but Colon probably won't return unless the Steelers play deep into the playoffs.

But, there is the potential for Redman and the running game to get over the hump, and that potential rests not only with the return of Adams, but with the debut Sunday of first-round draft pick David DeCastro.

Can DeCastro help?

"We'll see," Redman said. "It's been a while since he's played. He's coming off that knee injury. You just never know until you go out there and the whistle blows and you see guys start playing."

DeCastro says he's completely confident in a.) his ability and b.) his knee. And he just might be enough to get the running game back on the rails.

But will that be enough to make Mo happy?

Will a rejuvenated running game be enough to put the fannies in the seats, as they say, down in the cafeteria?

There's still enough time left in the season to find out.

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