Running backs coming to grips with problem
Forget about the question of who is going to play quarterback Sunday for the Steelers at Baltimore.
Who is going to play running back is a much bigger question.
Will it be Jonathan Dwyer, who led the Steelers (6-5) with nine carries for 19 yards Sunday in a 20-14 loss at Cleveland? Or will it be Rashard Mendenhall? Or Isaac Redman? Or Chris Rainey?
Perhaps it will be none of the above.
Maybe Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will use linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who had the team’s best run of the day on a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown.
At least Timmons didn’t fumble the ball, which was more than the Steelers’ running backs can say. Mendenhall and Rainey each fumbled twice, and Redman and Dwyer put the ball on the ground once as Pittsburgh turned the ball over eight times, its most since having seven turnovers in a season-opening loss at Baltimore last year.
At this point, Tomlin might not be sure which running back is going to play.
The Steelers had been using a rotation of backs when they had more than one healthy runner. But against the Browns, Tomlin took the rotation to the extreme. When a running back fumbled, Tomlin pulled him from the game, with the exception of Rainey at the end of the first half after the rookie lost the ball out of bounds.
Rainey eventually scored the offense’s lone touchdown, getting into the end zone from the 1-yard line with only one second remaining in the first half to give the Steelers a 14-13 lead.
“They were fumbling the ball,” Tomlin said. “So we are going to play people who can secure the football. But after everybody does it, there aren’t many choices left.”
There also is the possibility that by pulling running backs after they fumbled, Tomlin might have put the thought of fumbling in their minds. And once they started thinking about it, more fumbles ensued.
“It can get tough,” said Mendenhall. “You can start to try to shadow box yourself. You try as much as you can to stay ready for the next opportunity.”
Because of all of the fumbles, the Steelers abandoned their rushing attack in the second half, despite being down only one score. After gaining 40 yards on 14 first-half carries, the Steelers attempted only six running plays in the second half, gaining nine yards. They fumbled two more times, one each by Mendenhall and Rainey.
That put all of the offensive pressure on third-string quarterback Charlie Batch, who turns 38 next week.
Batch dropped back to pass 20 times in the second half and was intercepted three times.
“This game is not Charlie’s fault,” said Dwyer, who leads the Steelers with 429 yards on 98 carries.
“The running backs, we didn’t do well, and we put him in bad situations. We put our defense in bad situations. The running game was supposed to help Charlie. We let him down.”
And now, tied with Cincinnati for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC with five games to play, the Steelers find their backs against the wall after losing their past two games without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
There is a slim chance Roethlisberger could return against the Ravens.
“There’s not going to be a players’ meeting. We’re not going to get together and sing ‘Kumbaya,’” said safety Ryan Clark. “We knew coming in that we needed to play good football around the quarterback. Running backs needed to play well. The defense needed to give the offense the ball in position to score, so that it didn’t need to make a long drive. I don’t feel like we did that enough. When you’re down a special guy, which we are, that’s what you have to do as a team.
“We just need to win. If we were playing Clairton High, trying to break their 60-game winning streak, we’d need to win. We need to play well. It’s not going to be easy.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers placed offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert on season-ending IR Monday and activated rookie guard David DeCastro. ... With right tackle Mike Adams likely out against Baltimore, the Steelers activated John Malecki from the practice squad and released wide receiver David Gilreath.