Harris: Getting physical in the run game
They were the Steelers' badmen of legend.
Roughneck bullies embedded in the consciousness of the New York Jets during the AFC Championship Game.
Just when you thought the run game had disappeared, back came the Steelers like it was 2005 all over again.
Pile after pile unraveled with Jets defenders strewn like bowling pins.
The tone for the Steelers entry to Super Bowl XLV was set on the opening drive against the Jets when running back Rashard Mendenhall dipped his shoulder and blasted for 8 yards behind tight end Heath Miller, who locked up safety Brodney Pool and drove him backward the way Baltimore Ravens tackle Michael Oher did to an overmatched high school opponent in "The Blind Side.''
Mendenhall ran for a touchdown, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for another, and the Steelers tallied 43 carries -- their most this season -- in a 24-19 win to advance to their second Super Bowl in three seasons.
"Our offense really set the tone when they came out running the ball, moving those guys around,'' defensive captain James Farrior said. "As a defensive player, you're watching those guys, and you want to do the same thing -- go out there and dominate and make the game as physical as possible.''
"We want to beat you up,'' backup running back Isaac Redman said. "People talk about how physical our defense is and what our offense is lacking. But no matter what, we're going to pound you.''
Normally it's the other way around -- the offense deferring to the defense, and the defense pounding the opposition.
Now it's the offense that bears watching.
"We're trying to be a physical team in every phase,'' said the soft-spoken Miller. "Obviously our defense has that reputation.''
Miller played a mean and nasty game in what was easily his most physical performance in a Steelers uniform. He, as much as anyone, helped fuel the run game.
"When you look at film, you see Heath Miller about every time driving somebody to the ground, driving them 10 yards back,'' Redman said.
During one memorable second-quarter run near the goal line, Miller didn't stop blocking Jets outside linebacker Bryan Thomas until he had deposited Thomas on his back in the end zone.
"We talked a lot about finishing blocks downfield, peeling guys off the pile,'' said backup tight end Matt Spaeth, who lined up in three-tight end sets with Miller and David Johnson against the Jets. "Nothing late or dirty, but when you start doing stuff like that and hitting people downfield, they start looking around instead of worrying about making the tackle.''
Get used to the idea of the Steelers showcasing the run against Green Bay in the Super Bowl.
The Jets were No. 3 in run defense, but Mendenhall, Redman and Roethlisberger gashed them for more than 160 yards.
The Steelers are running the ball more than passing it in the playoffs -- a lot more -- and liking it.
They're averaging 37.0 rushes per game compared with only 25.5 passes. During the regular season, it was almost an even split.
Led by outside linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson, Green Bay ranked No. 18 against the run.
The Steelers, while impressed with the Packers' credentials, remain undaunted and unbowed.
"They have a great defense,'' Redman said. "They have the reigning defensive MVP (Woodson) and the defensive MVP candidate for this year (Matthews). We've got to go right at them -- don't shy away from either one of them. Let them know how physical the game's going to be and see if they can man up to it.''