The Steelers managed just 69 yards rushing in each of their last two games, with the longest run from scrimmage going only 22 yards.
While the Steelers’ running backs want nothing more than to send those numbers skyrocketing through the roof, they know they have to be smart and not try to be heroic, but just get the job done.
“The main thing is making sure everybody is on the same page, we are aggressive in our running game and physical, running hard like we always do,” said back Jonathan Dwyer. “It’s being patient and don’t try to get the home run plays every time we touch the ball, making sure every run is efficient, three or four yards every time we touch the ball. If we do that the run game will take care of itself.”
Dwyer knows the running game has to pick things up this week against the Bengals for the offense to develop some much needed consistency and get into a rhythm.
“We just want to play a complete game,” said Dwyer. “It’s important to set up a score, make a play or a block so Ben (Roethlisberger) has time. It’s about being a complete player and doing our job and being specific on our details.”
Dwyer only had nine carries against the Cowboys, and while he is wants more opportunities, he knows the important thing is winning.
“Any running back would want more than single digit carries, but in all reality it’s whatever to me,” said Dwyer. “I just want to play and help my team get a win.
“I don’t think about all of that. I just want to help and be a part of helping us get a victory. That is what my mindset is about. I just want to be a contributor.”
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During his weekly press conference Coach Mike Tomlin referred to this week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals as “an enormous week for us.”
That is definitely something that doesn’t have to be told to the players, especially the veterans, as there is no doubt they know what is at stake this week…win and their playoff hopes stay alive.
“This is a playoff game for us,” said receiver Jerricho Cotchery. “You lose and you are out of it. The young guys need to see how the older guys are preparing and approaching the game and responding and follow the lead in that regard. We are going to be ready. We are preparing the way we need to prepare right now.
“Guys are just locked in right now, doing what we need to do to prepare and go out and have a successful game. That is all we can do right now. Everything we do this week, we need to do it right and carry it over on to the field.”
Many of the veterans on this team are used to fighting for playoff positioning at this point of the season, not fighting for their playoff lives. But Cotchery said the team understands the situation they are in this year, and at 7-7 nothing is guaranteed.
“We’re embracing the reality of it,” said Cotchery. “We are what we are. We can’t dwell on how we got here. If you do, you are going to lose the game. We still have an opportunity to win these games and get into the playoffs.”
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Tackle Mike Adams was limited in practice on Wednesday, but after missing the last three weeks he was happy to finally get some work in.
“It was great to be out there,” said Adams. “I couldn’t do everything I wanted to, but I am definitely getting better. It was sore, but I guess that is expected. I just hope to do more and more every day.”
Missing practice on Wednesday were defensive ends Cameron Heyward (not injury related) and Al Woods (illness), safety Troy Polamalu (not injury related), and cornerback Ike Taylor (ankle), while cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip) and receiver Emmanuel Sanders (rib) saw limited work.
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Re: Relationship with offensive coordinator Todd Haley and where you guys are as you head into the final two games:
I came in and I apologized to Todd, I apologized to Mike [Tomlin] and I apologized to Mr. Rooney because I let my frustrations jump out after a game. I don’t usually do that. Usually, I keep it under control. I was just frustrated with myself and I’ll be better at that.
Can those frustrations come from knowing how good this offense could potentially be?
It can come from just wanting to win, truthfully. It comes from just wanting to do anything to win football games, knowing the potential we have and the players we have. It was just a lot of frustration and I shouldn’t have [said that]. That’s my fault.
Re: Apologizing because you said things that could or should be handled in private:
Yeah, just apologizing for the storm that it created and caused. We do have a lot of talks behind closed doors about things, about plays, play calling, if I’m doing something that’s not right on the field, we have talks about everything. Coach Tomlin and I meet every Monday to talk about the game and what goes on. Just the frustration after a loss and especially feeling like it was my fault, just things blew up.
Re: Not apologizing for wanting to run the no-huddle more:
[Laughs] Like I said, I just want to win the game. However we can win football games and win championships, that’s what I want to do, and that’s number one on my priority list.
Re: Performance of the offense:
I feel like we’re doing pretty well with a lot of injuries. We have a lot of moving parts. The line has done a great job of filling in. Obviously, we want to be more successful, we want to score more points and we want to win games. In that sense, I feel like we need to be better as a unit.
Is this team just a few crucial mistakes away from being a really good football team when you look at the record?
I hope so. We’ve had injuries but we don’t make excuses. I haven’t made plays. We haven’t made plays when we’ve needed to and we’ve been close but it’s been close but no cigar at times.
Re: You and Haley seeing eye-to-eye:
There are obviously times that we don’t but we get that ironed out. I’m sure it’s that way with every position player and their coach. There are going to be times when you just don’t see eye-to-eye. There are times when I don’t see eye-to-eye with Coach Tomlin. But that doesn’t mean anything, I don’t think. I’m sure a lot of you don’t see eye-to-eye with your bosses at times. But it’s nothing that is a big deal. You work it out, you talk about it and you get it figured out.
Is this team where it needs to be mentally going into a critical game?
Mentally, I believe we are. I believe we’re ready to go. We understand the importance of what’s ahead of us and understand the importance of this week in particular.
Re: Needing to get the running game going like it was a few weeks ago:
[Cincinnati] is a very good run defense, maybe tops in the league. It’s going to be a big challenge for us but we’re going to come out, try to establish the run and be balanced because that’s what we’ve always said we need to be.
You and the Bengals are similar teams in similar situations but the Steelers have more experience with these types of situations. Can you use that to your advantage?
I hope so. I think that a lot of the guys in this locker room have “been there before.” They understand that this is a playoff game for us. It’s a playoff game for them. Does that mean the outcome is going to be in our favor just because of that? No. But I think that it does help us, especially being at home. I’m sure the fans are going to come out and be rowdy and excited and treat it as a playoff game. That’s what we hope and expect from them because we’re going to give our all as if it is a playoff game.
Re: Wanting to get back on the field and fix what happened against the Cowboys:
Yeah, but unfortunately you can’t take it back so you just have to move on and get ready for this week. You have to do the best you can to not make the same mistake and not let your team down.
Does that put you more on edge for this week?
No, I’ve been doing this long enough. I know how to put things behind me, move on, let it motivate you and try to bring out the best.
Have defenses been more effective at disrupting the timing on short passes?
They’re definitely keeping an eye on a lot of our short passes, the quick game, as we call it, because we’ve done a lot of it. That’s how we started the year and we’ve been pretty successful at doing that stuff. They have sat on a lot of short routes, which means we need to take advantage of that, double-move and push the depth a little more.
Is there anything you can do to help the wide receivers win at the line of scrimmage?
No, not really. That’s pretty much what you’ve got to win.
Were there plays you could have gone to TE Heath Miller in the second half, and did the play calling change in the second half?
There’s always options. Any time you have a pass play you have multiple options. We usually don’t just send one guy out. There’s probably opportunities that anybody can get the ball, whether they’re open, whether they’re covered, whether I don’t see them, there are always things that are like that. There were probably times that I didn’t see Heath in the second half that he was open, as with Mike [Wallace], Antonio [Brown], Emmanuel [Sanders] and anybody else that was out there.
Is Miller a guy that comes back to the huddle and lets you know about it when he’s open and does not get the ball?
No. I’ve always said that Heath is one of the most selfless teammates I’ve ever played with. I’ll ask Heath if he was open and he’ll tell me no. I’ll look at film and he was wide open. That just speaks volumes for him that he’d tell me the truth if he was open or wasn’t. That way I know if I need to come back to him.
Can RB Rashard Mendenhall still make an impact for this team?
He’s a pretty darn good football player. If he can help this team win football games, we’ll take it.
Re: The touchdown to Miller when you said the play that was called wasn’t the right one:
What I said was they called a prevent defense and the play we had called was not a good play call. The play was called before we saw the defense. They just came out in a defense that had us thumped. There was nothing we could do. We just improvised and made a play. It had nothing to do with seeing a defense and calling a bad play. It was just that the play that was called, they ran the perfect defense for it. We improvised and Heath made a play.
Could you have changed the play?
No, they ended up dropping eight guys. A couple guys ran out and we were just kind of stuck.
What has gotten results for you in games like the one coming up on Sunday?
Obviously, you try not to turn the ball over, number one. But just understand the importance, getting the young guys to understand the importance and limiting your mistakes.
How do you get the young guys to understand?
You hope that they just see it in you. You hope they see the intensity in your eyes and the importance of the game from you and ride off that wave. If they don’t and we’re pregame and I’m seeing that someone is not quite focused, I’ll go say something to them just to let them know the importance of every play in this game.
How much say do you have in the game plan? Do they tailor it around what you like?
Ever since I’ve got here, the coordinators do that. They go through game plans and you can mark off plays you don’t like. For the most part, those plays are out. If a coordinator really loves the play, it’s probably going to stay in, which has been that way with [Ken Whisenhunt], [Bruce Arians], and I’m sure it’s that way with any coordinator. They’re coordinators for a reason. They know offenses and they call the play. If they like it and it’s good we’re going to make it work.
Do you think you have a future as a coordinator some day?
I don’t want to do it. [Laughs]
Has much changed with the Cincinnati defense since you last played?
A little bit. Not a lot but it seems like they have little more continuity. Their guys are getting used to each other and they’re playing very well.
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger
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Running back Rashard Mendenhall was back on the practice field on Wednesday after serving a one-game suspension. Mendenhall spoke to the media following practice.
Is it nice to be back at practice?
Have you talked to your teammates about what happened?
No, not really. I talk to these guys every day.
Why didn’t you show up for the Chargers game?
I’m really not trying to get back into that.
How do you feel about being back?
It’s good to be back.
You weren’t dressed the last few games, do you feel you will this week?
I don’t know what is going to happen, I just take it day by day.
Have your teammates been supportive?
Yeah, they are my friends. They are my teammates. I talk to them all of the time so nothing has changed.
How do you feel physically and if they ask you to carry the ball on Sunday how is it going to go?
I have felt great this whole time. I have worked this whole time. I am ready for whatever I am called to do.
Do you feel as good as you have been? Are you over the Achilles stuff and feel like you did when you played against the Eagles?
I felt like I have gotten better every week since then and I am just continuing to do that.
Has this been a nightmare season for you?
No, not at all. I can see why it appears to be that on the outside, but no, not at all. Nothing has changed this year for me the way I work, the way that I prepare and the way that I grow. It’s been that same thing. Outside circumstances have been different, but for me it hasn’t been that at all.
Coach (Mike) Tomlin said you would have a chance to redeem yourself. Do you think that is still the case?
I don’t know the decisions up there and how they are made. For me, from the day I got here I just continue to work as hard as I can and do everything I can. With that I am okay and happy. I can look at that and be pleased with that. I will just continue to work and whatever happens, whatever opportunities are in front of me, they will show themselves.
Coach Tomlin said there was some frustration on your part. Is that with the injuries, the inactives or what?
I wouldn’t use that word. There is a lot of thought that goes into anything I do. For me, I am just back and taking it a day at a time.
Do you look forward to a chance to redeem yourself and help this team make the playoffs?
I don’t know what chances or opportunities I will get, but I just want to continue to work every day and offer whatever I can.
What was the reason you didn’t show up?
I am not really going into that. I am just continuing to work every day like I always have been and continuing to grow.
Tags: Rashard Mendenhall
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Members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra stopped by the Steelers practice facility on Wednesday morning prior to practice for their annual Christmas visit.
Cornerback Ike Taylor served as the maestro, conducting them in some carols, while Max Starks and Drew Butler did their part as well added some musical talents to the group.
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