Monday, December 05, 2011

Steelers runners get message and deliver

Mendenhall, Redman run hard over Bengals

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 5, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 04: Rashard Mendenhall(notes) #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers battles past the tackle of Rey Maualuga(notes) #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals during a first quarter run at Heinz Field on December 4, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 35-7. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Publicly, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall said last week that it's difficult to get the team's much-maligned running game going when the offensive coordinator calls so many pass plays.

Privately, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had a simple message for Mendenhall and backup Ike Redman.

" 'You want to run the ball more, run it better,' " Arians recalled telling the two.

So Mendenhall did in the 35-7 win Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.

Redman, as well.

"That was a lot better," Arians said. "I saw backs breaking tackles. I saw a much better surge ...

"It's so much easier to call run plays when they're gaining 4 yards instead of 2 1/2 or 3 yards. It's nice to be in second-and-6 situations. That's a nice down for us. We can do a lot of different things."

Statistically, this wasn't the Steelers' best game running the football. They rushed for 185 yards against Jacksonville and 174 yards against Tennessee, both wins. But Mendenhall and Redman ran hard. Mendenhall had 60 yards on 16 carries and Redman 51 on eight, accounting for the biggest chunks of the team's 136 rushing yards.

What was impressive was the way the Steelers ran the ball against a Bengals defense that was ranked fifth in the NFL against the rush. There was a feeling they were not going to be stopped.

After punting on their first two possessions, the Steelers moved to the Bengals 15. Redman carried three consecutive times for 12 yards before Mendenhall scored on a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.

On the Steelers' next possession, Mendenhall got the call on first down from the Cincinnati 20 and ripped off a 15-yard gain. A play later, he scored on a 5-yard touchdown run, making a terrific cutback. It stretched the lead to 14-0 and was Mendenhall's fourth touchdown in two games against the Bengals, his eighth of the season and the 28th regular-season rushing touchdown of his career, which moved him into fifth place on the franchise's all-time list.

That brings to mind something former Steelers great Jerome Bettis always said:

"They pay me to score touchdowns."

Mendenhall is very good at it. Counting postseason games, he has scored 16 touchdowns in his past 17 games.

The run game figured in the Steelers' third touchdown. On first-and-10 from the Bengals 12, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger faked a handoff to Redman, rolled to his right and found wide receiver Mike Wallace wide open for a 12-yard touchdown. "That was nice," Arians said. "You have to be able to run the ball for the play-action stuff to work."

The Steelers seemed determined to run the ball in for one final touchdown late in the third quarter. Mendenhall gained 5 yards on first-and-goal from the Cincinnati 9, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty against guard Trai Essex. It didn't matter. Roethlisberger threw a quick pass to Wallace on the right sideline and Wallace turned it into a 19-yard touchdown with a brilliant run after the catch. That made it four touchdowns in four trips inside the red zone.

"That was another point of emphasis last week," Arians said. "We wanted to run the ball better, but we really wanted to run it better down there."

The result was the Steelers' third blowout win of the season, one they needed to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North Division. Roethlisberger, who had a solid day with the two touchdown passes to Wallace, a 117.3 passer rating and the 2,026th completion of his career, putting him at the top of the franchise's all-time list ahead of Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, was thrilled with the way the team got it done with the run game.

"That is something I know that our offensive linemen take pride in and our running backs, as well," Roethlisberger said. "It was awesome to see it really get going. We didn't need a whole lot from the passing game."

Roethlisberger is right about the big linemen loving the way this game went. Check out guard Doug Legursky's take:

"You can't ask for a better day as an offensive lineman. Every one of us wants to run the ball. Me? I think I'm a better run blocker than pass blocker. I'd love to run it every play."

That won't happen, of course.

Not with the great Roethlisberger at quarterback.

But it probably wouldn't hurt the linemen -- not to mention Mendenhall and Redman -- to keep Arians' words in mind as they prepare for the Thursday night game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.

"You want to run the ball more, run it better."

Sunday was a nice start.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author

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