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Steelers film session: Revolving door at running back

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 8:50 p.m.
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall runs against the Ravens at Heinz Field Nov. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers running back Johnathan Dwyer runs against the Ravens at Heinz Field Nov. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says the team is in transition heading into the 2013 season.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that it would depend on who had the “hot hand” when it came to which of his three running backs would be on the field.

So much for that.

With Rashard Mendenhall back in the starting lineup against Baltimore, it gave the Steelers three healthy running backs, including Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, for one of the few times this year.

So, how did the Steelers use their running backs?

Well, the film said there was very limited rhyme or reason.

The Steelers rushed for 134 yards on 27 carries against the Ravens with Dwyer leading the way with 55 yards on 12 carries, followed by Mendenhall with 33 yards on 11 carries.

No running back played more than four consecutive snaps, regardless if they carried the ball or not; no back carried the ball more than three times in a row before another got a carry, and that came over three series by Dwyer in the second quarter.

Four of the five snaps Redman played came on third down before he suffered a concussion in the second quarter and did not return.

Most of Mendenhall's work came on first down, where he played 17 snaps. By contrast, Mendenhall played only one of 17 third-down snaps.

Dwyer was more versatile as he had 10 plays on first, 11 on second, 10 on third and one on fourth down.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

• Keenan Lewis and Ike Taylor aren't going to be mentioned among the best cornerback duos in the NFL, but their play against the Ravens should have them in the conversation. Taylor put together a fifth straight solid game and shut down Baltimore's best receiver, Torrey Smith. Taylor didn't allow Smith a catch on six targets. For the game, Taylor gave up only a 5-yard catch to Ray Rice. As for Lewis, he allowed five straight catches to Anquan Boldin before tackling him for a 3-yard loss followed with four consecutive incompletions, including a pair of pass defenses. Lewis allowed seven catches for only 39 yards.

• Todd Haley promised to play to Byron Leftwich's strengths, and that's what he did against the Ravens by allowing the strong-armed quarterback to throw the ball down the field with more frequency. Leftwich attempted 11 passes of 20 yards or longer down the field and completed four of them. That makes 13 attempts from that distance in the six quarters Leftwich has played. In 34 quarters for Ben Roethlisberger, he attempted 31 passes of 20 yards or longer, completing seven.

• The key play in the Steelers' 13-10 loss to Baltimore on Sunday night was Jacoby Jones' 63-yard punt return for a touchdown — the Ravens' only touchdown of the game. But that play could have easily been called back because of a block in the back. Although it was a subtle push by Baltimore's Josh Bynes, it was a push that affected David Paulson enough to not make the tackle or, at least, disrupt or slow down Jones in order for somebody else to make the tackle.

• Fullback Will Johnson took part in 32 of the Steelers' 72 snaps on offense, but the first-year player out of West Virginia spent more time as the H-back than at fullback. Johnson lined up at the H-back position 17 times compared to the fullback position 15 times. Johnson was used on a number of occasions to crack-back block on a linebacker or defensive end on the opposite end of the formation.

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