By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin identified one area for improvement (running game) in each phase of the game Tuesday and noted that improved play there was the biggest reason the club has won three straight going into its matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs (1-7) Monday night at Heinz Field.
The Steelers’ offensive players believed the reason was much simpler, as in the team simplified its playbook in recent weeks to focus on the plays that they liked the most and worked the best. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger explained the situation Wednesday afternoon.
“We did get to a point this season where we felt like we were getting a little bit out of control with not being simplified with what we thought were our best personnel packages, so I feel like we know that now,” Roethlisberger said. “And we just design plays out of those groups. (So), It’s not so much about getting rid of things, but it’s more about not adding anything.
“We’ve cut down on that. Instead of, say, 50 plays, we felt like we should stick with 25 plays that we do well and worked on doing them very well. We did that in the passing game, as far as our formations and motions, (but) the approach you have to have is to mix it up enough and have a good combination of plays that you can do really well. So, that’s what we’ve done the past few weeks.”
Running back Jonathan Dwyer, who ran for more than 100 yards in the two games prior to missing the win against the Giants with a quad injury, believed the smaller amount of running plays were a key to the group’s recent success. After Dwyer’s two big games, Isaac Redman ran for 147 yards and a touchdown against the Giants.
“We found a lot of runs that we like and we can do better than other ones the past few weeks, so that really helped us in the running game,” Dwyer said. “So, it just took us a while to find those running plays, and Coach Haley also has gotten a feel for us now.
“He knows what type of players we are together and the type of players that we are as individuals. So, we’re just going off that now, and it really has helped us pick things up. We’ll see how it goes this week, but I feel pretty good about getting back into the mix.”
Tomlin said Tuesday that the running back with the hot hand, or more to the point, feet, would be the guy who got the most carries this week. Redman wasn’t sure how that would be determined, by the play or the possession, but he confirmed that he received all the reps with the first team Wednesday.
Former No. 1 pick, starter and 1,000-yard rusher Rashard Mendenhall has played in just two games this season. He missed the first three while rehabbing from offseason knee surgery and sat out the past three with a bruised Achilles.
“I feel a lot better, so I’m going to continue to work hard and try to get better every week,” Mendenhall said. “It’s just not ready right now, so I’ll continue to work at it and try to do a little more work in practice this week. So, we’ll see where we are at the end of the week, but I look forward to getting back out there as soon as possible.”
It doesn’t look good for Mendenhall’s chances to play this week, and it’s even less likely that Antonio Brown is part of the receiving corps against the Chiefs. That means Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, in Brown’s spot on the outside, will be the Steelers’ top three receivers. Sanders said it’s likely that first-year player David Gilreath will be added from the practice squad.
“Gilreath is a good football player, a good wide receiver, and we all saw that during the preseason when he made a lot of plays for us,” Sanders said. “This regular season, he’s done a lot on scout team to get our defense ready. He’s making plays and going up against guys like Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, so I have confidence that he can come in and make plays for us if necessary.”
The Steelers signed Rochester High School and Penn State product Derek Moye to their practice squad Wednesday.
“Just like everybody around here, I always was a huge Steelers fan, so it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to be part of this team,” the 6-foot-5, former PIAA sprint champion Moye said. “Black and gold were the colors that I always wanted to wear, so this is great for me.”
Notes: RB Chris Rainey (ribs) was riding a stationary bike during practice Wednesday, while OT Marcus Gilbert (foot) was moving around as well as he has in the past month. … Gilbert could be ready for a regular practice next week, but might not return to the lineup anytime soon since rookie Mike Adams has played pretty well at right tackle. … Brown was not at practice. … RB Baron Batch, who was limited to special teams work last week due to a shin injury, could get some offensive playing time this week behind Redman and Dwyer.