By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — With starter Rashard Mendenhall battling sore ribs and third-down back Mewelde Moore out with an MCL sprain in his left knee, second-year player Isaac Redman could carry the load for the Pittsburgh Steelers running game against the St. Louis Rams Saturday at Heinz Field.
“I’ve been working with Mewelde all year as the third-down back, but I’ll pretty much have all of it this week,” Redman said.
“And I’m prepared. During a game, it could go where either one of us could get all the third-down chances.
“We each had certain situations where we’d go in, and it mostly depended on down and distance. But it’s nothing new for me, so I’m prepared for anything. Rashard should be ready to go, too, but I’m looking forward to this game.”
Redman’s claim to fame in nearly two seasons with the Steelers is power running and short-yardage success. This season, Redman leads the NFL with a 100-percent rating on third-and-one rushes at 6-for-6.
“Last year, I guess it was my trial and error for the coaches, and they got a chance to see how I would do on third downs,” Redman said. “And I think I did pretty well. I was pretty successful on third-and-shorts and picking up blitzes. And they upgraded me to that No. 2 role this year, so that allowed me to get two drives a game. And it’s been going pretty well.
“Me and Coach Tomlin talked about it before the season, and he wanted to be perfect on third-and-short runs. So, that’s worked out for me, because I’m still at 100 percent. It’s been going really well for me so far, my second year in the league, and another Super Bowl would really top it off. Maybe I can get into the end zone as well. That’d be nice, because I haven’t been there for a while.”
Mike Wallace leads the Steelers with 67 catches for 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns, while Antonio Brown has 60 for 984. The two are among the NFL’s top 10 receivers with more than 40 of their catches netting first downs.
“Me and Tonio are about the fastest receivers in the league, too,” Wallace said. “Nobody can cover us in single coverage. There’s always a chance we can take a short pass and go all the way.”
Wallace, the NFL’s leader in yards per catch the past two seasons combined, has 26 catches this season that have covered 20 yards or more. And six went for 40 yards or more with an 81-yard touchdown catch at Indianapolis and Steelers record 95-yard scoring jaunt at Arizona. But those big plays have been few and far between lately.
“He’s been open,” Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “We’ve dropped some and missed him every game. There’s a 50-yard play in every game we could’ve made, that we made early in the season. We have missed those chunks. Either they’ve gone off his fingertips or we’ve overthrown him.
“We had him wide open the other night to take the lead. That was one of those throws where the foot actually worked on him, and overthrew him. So, just throw it deep, and we’ll hit him. (Wallace) is an excitable guy, but it’s in a very positive way. He’s gotten to where he doesn’t have to go deep for a big play.
“He’s learned to play the short areas with a lot more run after catch than I thought he would for a fast guy,” Arians added. “And he’s really been making plays for us in the red zone, which is a great asset for a speed guy. If we can just get the speed plays back in, we’ll be all right. So, we’ll keep trying.”
Second-year wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who was ahead of Brown in his development as a rookie last season as far as blocking and running routes were concerned, has had a rough sophomore campaign. He struggled early on after offseason surgery on both his feet. His mom passed away, and he suffered a left knee injury at midseason. And now he has a right foot sprain.
Sanders has been inactive four games due to the various injuries, and he could miss the club’s final two regular-season games. However, Sanders has remained positive throughout this season despite the mental and physical anguish.
“I look at it this way, whatever doesn’t kill you can make you stronger,” Sanders said. “I feel that way about my injuries, and I also feel that way about a loss. We can learn from our loss to the 49ers, and we can look at it in a way to help us for the next couple games and the playoffs.
“We know they are a very good football team, and it was good to play them on the road because it looks like now we’re going to have to go on the road to win the Super Bowl. So, games like we had on the road against the 49ers, at Baltimore and at Houston, Kansas City, Indianapolis, all tough places to play, those can only make us stronger for our run during the playoffs.”
With just 21 catches for 274 yards and two touchdowns, modest numbers considering what was projected and what Brown accomplished, Sanders has had to adjust any individual goals and replaced them with a team one
“The main goal is the Super Bowl, and if we reach that all my other ones would be fulfilled,” Sanders said. “That’s the ultimate every season, so to get back there in my second season would be amazing. And I’m looking forward to going on another long playoff run. I’m feeling better, but I don’t know if I’ll play.
“I’m still testing it out. And the most important thing for me is to be at 100 percent for the playoffs and hopefully another run to the Super Bowl. I don’t want this injury to linger, so I’ll play when I’m able to play. … It’s just that I really work out hard, and I’m turning into a vet now and listening to Hines.
“After practice, sometimes, I overdo it,” Sanders added. “But in my eyes, I only know one way to practice. I practice like it’s the game. But I have to rethink it a little bit, because you can’t practice every week like that. Playing football on Sundays is way better than practicing. So, I definitely have to train my mind for that and get back out there when I don’t have to think about another injury.”
Steelers rookie offensive tackle Trevis Turner, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound behemoth from Abilene Christian, has spent the entire season on the practice squad. So, Coach Mike Tomlin has granted his request to miss Saturday’s game to take a trip home to Texas to visit his family.
Turner has spent time with his wife and six children (three sets of twins) just once since the season began.
“I’m going to leave (Friday) after our walkthrough, and I’m so happy to be going home to see my kids and spend time with them,” Turner said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I talked with Coach Tomlin last weekend, and I wasn’t sure if it would work out. But he’s a family man, a family oriented-type person, so he was OK with me doing that. And I really appreciate that from him.
“I have to come back sometime on Christmas, sometime that night, so I can be ready to go Monday for whatever we have to do. We’ll have to lift weights or something that day, so I want to be back and ready to go for that. I haven’t seen my kids since the bye week. I guess it’s only been a few weeks, but it feels like it’s been a lot longer. So, I can’t wait to get back home to see my family.”
Turner said that his strong family support staff, his mom, mother-in-law, cousins and aunts, all live in the Dallas area. So, they help take care of the children while he’s in Pittsburgh.
The St. Louis Rams listed WR Brandon Lloyd (illness) as probable after he got through a full practice Thursday, while CB Josh Gordy (abdomen) and DE Chris Long (ankle) were limited. But QB Sam Bradford (ankle), QB A.J. Feeley (right thumb) and CB Justin King (shoulder) did not practice.