By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — While pre-game and early game discussions might have been filled with talk about who wasn’t playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, those who suited up against the St. Louis Rams Saturday made sure anything post-game centered on them after a 27-0 victory.
The Steelers ran for 169 yards against the NFL’s worst rush defense (6.0 per carry), as Rashard Mendenhall tallied 116 and one touchdown on 18 carries. He ripped off a 52-yarder for his best run this season and added a 35-yard reception on a dump-off pass and sprint into the open field.
“We prepared like we do every week, but we were glad to get some more opportunities with Charlie at quarterback,” Mendenhall said. “That 52-yard run, it was just hat-on-hat, and there was enough space to mix a lot. And our guys really controlled the line of scrimmage there, so that was great.”
Isaac Redman added 35 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries, while rookie John Clay — just promoted from the practice squad Friday — scored on a 10-yard run on his first NFL carry.
“When you have guys who can step up and do as well as the starter, that’s when you know you have a good team,” Redman said. “Charlie came in and played his butt off today. Rashard ran hard, and we played a solid, all-around game on offense. Defensively, we got a shutout, so that’s the end of that.”
Clay has not been on the 53-man roster the entire season, and he only got the one carry for some reason. However, Clay played the majority of the game on special teams, and he was thrilled for the opportunity.
“It was great for me, just to get moved up from the practice squad to the active roster,” Clay said. “But I can’t believe I scored a touchdown on my first and only NFL carry. That’s great. I played a lot of special teams, too, starting on the punt-return team.
“That was interesting, since I never played special teams at Wisconsin, but I played them in the preseason. And you’ve got to get on the field somehow, so I’m happy to do whatever they want me to do.
Ageless veteran Charlie Batch orchestrated the victory at quarterback, as starter Ben Roethlisberger was rested for the day. Batch was 15-for-22 for 208 yards and one touchdown with no sacks. He actually moved pretty well in the pocket, managed the game and cut loose for a 46-yarder to Mike Wallace.
“The one thing I know about Chuck is that he can really throw the deep ball, but I think I almost out-ran his arm,” Wallace said with Batch getting dressed next to him in the locker room. “It’s not like it was last year.
“I think it might be a little weaker, but he does throw a nice deep ball. It’s perfect every time, right in my hands. That’s the way I like it. (And) it’s been a long time since I got a long one, maybe 6-7 weeks, so that was nice, too.”
The Steelers tallied 377 total yards despite a more than makeshift offensive line, as starting center Maurkice Pouncey (left high-ankle sprain) missed a second straight game. Doug Legursky started, and Trai Essex played in his left guard spot, but Legursky suffered a left shoulder strain in the first quarter.
So, Essex moved to center, and Chris Kemoeatu came in at left guard. According to several Steelers, Essex received the game ball from Coach Mike Tomlin. The other move occurred before the game, as Jonathan Scott replaced rookie Marcus Gilbert. Tomlin basically said it was a disciplinary action.
“(Gilbert) was less than professional in his preparation this week,” Tomlin said. “We acknowledge that he is a talented young guy. He’s going to be a really good player in this league, and he’s done a lot for us to this point.
“But I didn’t like the way he prepared this week. I wanted to make a point that it wasn’t what we like, so I sat him down for a veteran player who was prepared in the manner of which we wanted.”
Gilbert’s preparation and professionalism during practice this week will determine his status for the regular-season finale Jan. 1, 2012, at Cleveland, according to Tomlin. The head coach added that Roethlisberger’s status will be determined early in the week, so Batch can prepare to play if necessary.
The Steelers’ defense pitched a shutout for the second time this season, and it’s no surprise that the last one also came against an NFC West team, the Seattle Seahawks, early in the season. But safety Ryan Clark wasn’t satisfied.
“We gave up way too many rushing yards, and it wasn’t as physical a performance as we would like to have on defense,” Clark said. “But it was great to get a shutout, because it’s tough to keep an NFL team off the board no matter who it is. In the end, this was a game that we expected to win, and it’s never good when you lose those. So, I’m happy about that.”
Steven Jackson ran for 103 yards on 24 carries (4.3 per run), and the Steelers gave up 164 total rushing yards. But quarterback Kellen Clemens was just 9-for-24 passing for 91 yards with three sacks. He beat the Steelers early in his career with the New York Jets and was part of a victory for the Washington Redskins in the first preseason game this year, but not this time.
Jackson, he’s basically their entire offense, and he ran the ball hard,” Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. “He’s among the best runners in the league, so he’s gotten more yards on some other teams, but we would have liked to have held him under 100 for this one.”
If the Steelers beat the Browns on New Year’s Day and the Baltimore Ravens lose at Cincinnati, which is still fighting for a wild-card playoff spot, the Steelers would win the division and gain the No. 2 seed behind New England. If the Patriots also lose, the Steelers would be the No. 1 seed in that scenario.