But it is the injury situation that makes me realize that big part of this success lies with the Coaching and Front Office staff. It all comes down to good drafting and smart decisions at the dreaded time of roster cuts before the season. The points I want to make are really quite simple.
First, the three RBs playing in yesterday's game were selected in 5th (Rainey), 6th (Dwyer) and 7th (Batch) round of their respective drafts. Throw in Will Johnson, and undrafted rookie FB/TE who helps a lot blocking for the Pittsburgh tailbacks.
Praising Kevin Colbert and his team for good drafting is really nothing new. But this year the front office and coaching staff had a different kind of dilemma when the team was at training camp: a big unknown with Mendenhall's knee, uncertainty with whether Isaac Redman would be able to carry a starter's workload, Dwyer's conditioning issues, Batch's knee injury before his rookie season and Rainey's small size. Throw in John Clay who was on the same depth chart level as at least three other RBs.
There was a lot of debate on how many RBs to carry on the roster in Week 1, and whether any of them should be cut after Mendenhall's (quicker than expected) comeback. The Steelers chose to take all of them besides Clay, and, boy, were they right!
No, admittedly, injury situation made some of the answers to this dilemma obvious, and the Steelers still wait to face a situation where all of the 5 RBs are healthy and none is in Tomlin's doghouse (which rules out their suiting up for games). But you can now appreciate the combination fo Steelers' smarts in drafting and playing the low-round running backs. Each of them brings his own special dish to the table, and the combination seems to work.
Jonathan Dwyer (am I the only one who thinks that his comparisons to Jerome Bettis are in the very least premature?) is an obvious highlight right now, running with power and determination, and his strong stiff-arm and "slick" hips make him difficult to tackle once he gets to the second level. I had a feeling that this season would be different for him after that 32-yard catch down the sideline from the Steelers 5-yard line in a 2-minute drill in a preseason game at Buffalo. That was a catch that many receivers would envy, and only a better, fitter Dwyer could run that route and make that grab.
Chris Rainey is a small but a very explosive player, who can make every play a homerun threat. It is a matter of time, it seems, before he breaks a long return, and he has already shown that he can be a very elusive runner in the red zone. He is also great as a receiver out of the backfield - all the screens that the Steelers love to run with their speedy WRs get another dimension with him.
Baron Batch is still a dark horse for many. He has his bright spots and dark ones too (like that dropped bomb at Cincy that, ironically, may have been attributed to the brigh lights at Paul Brown Stadium). Naturally, Tomlin got into Batch's head about it, and Batch needed to redeem himself (psychologically (see: Limas Sweed), but also to get a chance for playing time for when Mendy and Redman come back). And he did redeem himself on a designed pass to him in the third quarter against the Redskins. It was an 8-yard catch that went for the first down after some good speed down the sideline. But, boy, was it a difficult catch! In heavy rain, over the outside shoulder while turning upfield, and with the ball thrown by Ben slightly higher and away from the target than usual, Batch made that grab! I was very impressed! Also, Batch is quite good at blocking (which goes back to his rookie camp where he started turning some heads) and handles the high-speed no huddle well.
This is obvious now, but who would have made a bet that the Steelers best rushing performances would come with these three as the only healthy backs? WOuld anyone have guaranteed that all three would even make the final season roster?
So all this tells me that not only the Steelers were able to circumvent their dire RB injury situation, their clever drafting and smart roster decisions made sure that they play with a talented, multi-dimensional group in the backfield. I don't think many teams could do that.