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Steelers turning up their running game

| Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 11:58 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Steelers running back Isaac Redman eludes Giants defenders during the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The Steelers turned their season around by turning back to what has worked so well for them for so long.

Only a few games after the Steelers couldn't run the ball much worse, they couldn't be running it much better.

Check out the running-game numbers from the past three games: Isaac Redman, 147 yards against the Giants; Jonathan Dwyer, 122 yards against the Bengals and 107 against the Redskins. As cornerback Ike Taylor said, it's the Steelers being the Steelers.

“You see our running backs, man?” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “It doesn't matter who you plug in, they run for 100.”

An envious Larry Foote noticed.

“I want to get back there and play running back, see how many yards I can get,” said Foote, an inside linebacker who is in no danger of being shifted to offense. “We got no-name backs, but I knew from training camp how good those guys are.”

The Steelers' problem early on was their no-yardage backs.

The team that has outrushed every other in the NFL by at least 5,000 yards since the 1970 NFL merger got off to a historically bad start, averaging 65 yards rushing in the first three games. Something had to change, and it did.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley slimmed down the playbook, tossing out a lot of running plays that had been in the weekly game plan. The offensive line stabilized, even as rookie Mike Adams was replacing the injuring Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. And Dwyer and Redman began running with authority rather than hesitation.

“I think the key is we're keeping it simple,” left guard Willie Colon said. “Early in the year, we were doing a little too much maybe. We're keeping it extremely simple and starting to be repetitive and really owning in to what we've got to do.”

Winners of three in a row, the Steelers (5-3) trail the Baltimore Ravens (6-2) by one game in the AFC North. After playing the Kansas City Chiefs (1-7) on Monday night at Heinz Field, they will meet the Ravens twice in three weeks — games that could decide the division, just as they did when the Ravens swept them last season.

“We learned our lesson early in the year, that just because we're the Steelers, teams aren't going to lay down for us,” Colon said. “We learned that with Oakland, we learned that with Tennessee. We've got to run the ball, be hard-nosed. We've got to bring it.”

The Steelers are averaging 155 yards rushing over their past three, or 90 yards per game more than they did in their first three.

“You watch it on film from the beginning of the year to now, and it's like night and day,” Redman said. “I feel like they (the offensive line) are comfortable, and we're running strictly runs that we're pretty good at.”

The offensive line stabilized after Colon, a tackle throughout his career, became more relaxed at guard. Adams' strong run blocking has been a factor since he began starting alongside right guard Ramon Foster.

“Each week they're getting better,” Redman said. “Pouncey and Willie Colon, they're going right at guys, and you can see them tussling after plays. By the end of the game, we're pounding people out, they're tired of getting hit and tired of tackling our running backs.”

Redman's 147 yards against the Giants on Sunday were the most by a Steelers back since Rashard Mendenhall gained 151 yards against Buffalo in 2010. Left tackle Max Starks called him “unstoppable.”

“He's a one-cut runner, he's not dancing, he makes that one decision and just goes straight ahead,” Starks said. “You can either get on the train tracks or get out of the way. And if you're on the train tracks, you don't really win very much.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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