By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — With ageless backup Charlie Batch starting at quarterback and a run defense by the St. Louis Rams offering little resistance, the Pittsburgh Steelers were poised for their best rushing game this season.
Despite a makeshift offensive line with third-string center Trai Essex playing three-plus quarters due to an injury to backup center Doug Legursky, starting for injured Maurkice Pouncey, Rashard Mendenhall ran for 118 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries, his second 100-yard game this season.
Batch also threw for 208 yards (15-for-22) with one interception in the Steelers 27-0 win, their second shutout against an NFC West opponent. They also blanked the Seattle Seahawks 24-0 earlier this season.
Legursky injured his left shoulder after Batch slipped a sack attempt and tossed a short pass to Mendenhall, who rumbled 35 yards to change field position. As Legursky was taken to the locker room for X-rays, Essex moved to center, while Chris Kemoeatu secured the left guard spot. Jonathan Scott started at right offensive tackle for rookie Marcus Gilbert. Head coach Mike Tomlin said that Gilberts preparation was less than professional this week and was the reason for him sitting
Still, the Steelers drove from their 21 to the 11, but a five-yard toss to Mike Wallace and three-yard burst by Mendenhall made it third-and-two at the 3. Batch’s pass on a line to Wallace at the goal line caromed off his hands with the defender’s hands in there as well.
So, Shaun Suisham had to kick a 21-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 3-0 lead that held up until the Mendenhall show began. The fourth-year running back, who has run well in spurts this season, had three carries for 65 yards — including a 52-yard burst to the 10 — to put the club in scoring range.
Rookie John Clay, freshly promoted from the practice squad Friday, powered into the end zone from the 10 for a touchdown on his first NFL carry. Clay was not on the active roster all season. His run gave the Steelers a 10-0 halftime advantage. The Rams came close to points with time running out in the first half, but Josh Brown’s 52-yard field-goal attempt was wide left. He also shanked a 33-yarder to open the fourth quarter.
In the second half, the Steelers got a 49-yard Suisham field goal and short touchdown runs from Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. Batch launched a bomb to Wallace that he caught inside the 5, but a touchdown call was overruled with replay to make it a 46-yard reception. He and Hines Ward finished with four catches each. Antonio Brown tallied 77 total yards to set the Steelers’ single-season mark with nearly 2,100 yards that originally was set by Barry Foster.