PITTSBURGH (AP) - The horn sounded to end practice Wednesday and as most of their Pittsburgh Steelers teammates trudged back to the locker room, running backs Isaac Redman, Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall jogged to an adjacent field.
For the next 15 minutes the trio pushed each other in a series of sprints designed to test their endurance, a routine they did regularly during training camp but abandoned once the season started.
After a pair of so-so weeks, they decided it was time to get back to basics.
“We’d gotten away from it a little bit,” Redman said.
Kind of like the Steelers and the running game.
Pittsburgh (1-1) is just 20th in the league in rushing through two weeks. Hardly time to panic heading into Sunday’s game against reeling Indianapolis (0-2), certainly, but Redman knows there’s room for improvement.
“We feel like we’re still trying to get it going a little bit,” he said.
The Steelers are quick to point out circumstances and a jumbled offensive line have forced them to adjust on the fly. They fell behind by three touchdowns 21 seconds into the third quarter against Baltimore, forcing them to go to the pass almost exclusively.
A season-ending injury to right tackle Willie Colon forced rookie Marcus Gilbert into the lineup against the Seahawks and Chris Kemoeatu took the week off to rest his sore right knee, pushing Ramon Foster into his spot at left guard.
Pittsburgh had success in the first half as Mendenhall and Redman both ran for scores, but struggled getting the tough yards at times. Mendenhall was stuffed at the goal line on fourth down on Pittsburgh’s first series and the team had to settle for a field goal at the end of the half after having first down at the Seattle 2.
Things didn’t get any better from there. The Steelers had 16 carries for 30 yards in the second half, numbers skewed only slightly by the three Roethlisberger kneel downs in the final minute.
The lack of production forced Roethlisberger to pass to ice the game. Not an issue normally, yet Roethlisberger had to do it on Sunday while walking on a gimpy right knee after taking a low shot from Seattle’s Raheem Brock.
Roethlisberger came out of it intact, though coach Mike Tomlin would have preferred Roethlisberger spend the second half handing off instead of dropping back to pass.
“I thought we won the line of scrimmage in the first half, not so much in the second,” Tomlin said. “Maybe that is a function of conditioning. We’ve had some guys who’s roles have been backups in the past playing in the line of scrimmage for us.”
Running the ball helps shorten the game and allows Pittsburgh’s formidable but aging defense catch a breather. Mendenhall had a breakout season a year ago, rushing for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He’s at 111 yards through two weeks with a middling 3.6 yards per carry average and found the going tough at the goal line. He had five yards on six carries inside the Seattle 5. Redman has been more productive while spelling his backfield mate and ran for 49 yards on 10 carries against the Seahawks, including a 20-yard touchdown run in which he juked by a Seattle defender and walked into the end zone.
It was the kind of move that drew praise from Tomlin, who called his backup running back “Red Zone Redman” during a film session on Monday. Tomlin isn’t complaining about the flashy moves but would like to see his team grind it out too.
“The reality is that we have to be able to play 60 minutes of football in the manner of which we desire,” Tomlin said. “I didn’t think we ran the ball as effectively as you would like to in the second half. Our run game efficiency wasn’t acceptable and we will just simply work.”
The Colts can still bring it against opposing quarterbacks with ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis but have shown little grit stopping the run. Indianapolis is 29th in yards allowed and 30th in the league against the run. The Steelers know there’s room to move in between the tackles.
Redman hopes the backs will be given a chance to find it. For all the talk about the weapons at Roethlisberger’s disposal, this is the Steelers after all. They’re supposed to line it up and run it down your throat, right?
“As a running back, we always want to be a run-first team even if it sounds kind of selfish,” Redman said. “As running backs, we just want the ball in our hands but we know we have great receivers, a great tight end … so it’s kind of hard to get into a rhythm and try to even it out, run and pass at the same time. “By the time we get to midseason, we should have a good run/pass ratio.”
When it happens, Redman expects the backs to be ready. They’re not out there doing extra wind sprints because it’s fun.
“We want to make sure we’re not huffing and puffing and breathing too heavy,” Redman said.
They’d rather leave that up to the Colts.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
The young drop coverage to avoid higher premiums
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
A collection of communities writers columns on Benghazi
We welcome you to the intimate and personal thoughts on the news and events we, as editors, watch, read, and discuss with our writers every day.
Consummate traveler Todd DeFeo explores the unique stories that make destinations worth going to.
Looking at pop culture, politics and social issues.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall
NRA kicks off annual convention
California wildfires wreak havoc