Jonathan Dwyer and the Steelers offensive line have seemingly had enough of the doubters, nay sayers, and non believers. They took it upon themselves to take over late in the game and help Pittsburgh gain ground in a key AFC North win over the Bengals on Sunday night, 24-17.
It hasn’t been very often this season that we’ve able to say that the Steelers were an efficient team on the ground, but on Sunday night in Cincinnati they were just that. If you’re an old school Steelers fan; one who loves the ground and pound along with a tough defense then you have to love what you saw at Paul Brown stadium. That’s not to say that Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t efficient in the passing game, he certainly was, but the clock eating ground attack was a big reason the Steelers were able to close out their week 7 win on the road.
As has been the norm this season, the Steelers entered the game with injuries galore and very little depth available on both the offensive line and at running back. Doug Legursky started for Maurkice Pouncey and rookie Mike Adams started in place of the injured Marcus Gilbert. Both Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman were also out, so Jonathan Dwyer got the start and was spelled by rookie Chris Rainey.
On a night when the Steelers absolutely had to get a win, and we’ve talked all week about this really being a must win game, the big hogs and JD stepped up and responded to the challenge. Speaking of Dwyer, he finished with 122 yds rushing and a monumental first down with under 2 minutes to go that sealed the victory for the Steelers. It was simply a battle of wills; and on this night both Dwyer and the Steelers O-Line found a way to get it done. I don’t know about you but other than 2 weeks ago when Rashard Mendenhall returned and gave a spark to the run game, I haven’t see that type of response under pressure in quite a while.
Dwyer knew this was going to be his chance to shine when Mike Tomlin ruled out Mendenhall and Isaac Redman a couple days before the game. He’s been inactive since #34 returned to the lineup, taking a back seat to Redman, who for what it’s worth was not impressive until Mendenhall returned. After that performance against the Bengals though, Dwyer has done all he can to stake his claim to coach Kirby Wilson for more playing time. Given the Steelers knack for sticking with established veterans, there’s no guarantee that Dwyer is active when the other 2 are healthy again, but he gets my vote.
Willie Colon, the man who’s been in a race with Ike Taylor for the most individual penalties this season, had his best game by far this year. Colon and the rest of the offensive line; Max Starks, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, and Mike Adams all stepped up their game. Sure they weren’t perfect, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 3 times, but they were able to overcome some early mistakes in protection and came together nicely in the 2nd half to really take over the time of possession and keep drives a live. Anytime you control the ball for over 37 minutes (37:30 to be exact), you give yourself a chance to win.
Back to Colon for a minute though; I give all the credit in the world to #74 who took all the adversity he’s been through this season after moving to Guard, and made sure the Bengals remembered his name. For the first time this season we saw a player just flat out get mad and play with an attitude of finishing blocks, finishing plays, and not letting anyone get by without a fight. There are some that were critical of Colon I’m sure for the scrapping going on, but I personally was waving my towel and cheering. He played with the kind of attitude and motor that you want to see out of a lineman; taking the over hyped Bengals front 4 on all day long and not backing down. Save for the one sack on Roethlisberger in the second half that was clearly on Colon, he had a solid game.
If the Steelers want to keep winning they’ll need more of that type of play the rest of the season.
Let’s not forget the rest of the guys though too; as Ben Roethlisberger told the NBC media earlier in the week, (paraphrasing here) “When Max is over there I don’t even think about the left side. It may not always be pretty but he gets the job done.” That’s as high a compliment as you can get as a lineman.
Doug Legursky made you forget for one night at least that the Steelers have a pro bowl center on the bench in Maurkice Pouncey. Ramon Foster was his usual road grader self in the run game and his pass blocking is starting to develop nicely.
Mike Adams, who had his share of struggles when left alone against the Bengals Carlos Dunlap and others, fought through and gained valuable experience. Sean Kugler knew that Adams would need help, and found a way to keep both David Paulson and Heath Miller beside him regularly but still involved in the passing game.
All in all, the Steelers still have much to work on as my partner Marc wrote about earlier today but the win against the Bengals was a big step in the right direction.