Steelers Running Back Roulette: The cycle of Steelers running backs may not have been caused by fumbles in Week 12

Jason Miller

The Steelers only ran 26 plays in the second half, and 11 of those were downs of 11 or more yards to the first down marker.

Before Sunday's Week 12 loss at Cleveland, Steelers running backs didn't have to fumble the ball to get removed from the game. They took care of the fumbling part on their own.

But how much did the idea of one poor carry lead to their multitude of poor fumbles?

It's a fair question, and one Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will certainly address at his press conference at noon ET Tuesday. Suggesting the Steelers need to pick a running back and stick with him is a valid argument, but not in the face of their Week 12 loss. The Steelers only ran 26 plays in the second half, and 11 of those were downs of 11 or more yards to the first down marker.

The opportunity really wasn't there to run the ball.

Looking at the game play-by-play, it appears the Steelers' rotation of running backs wasn't nearly as big of an issue as it seemed immediately following the game. He did not start, but it only took Rashard Mendenhall two carries before he put it on the ground.

Dwyer came in, had two carries and a reception for seven yards, netting the Steelers one first down. On his third carry, though, he slogged toward an open hole, but still managed to get four yards on the run.

Isaac Redman entered the game as the Steelers went with a power formation. He went for two yards on third and three, forcing the first of what would be six punts on the game.

Three Steelers running backs touched the ball on all seven of their plays in their first two drives. Dwyer was clearly the most effective, having gained 18 total yards on four touches (three rushes and one reception).

The Steelers throw on three downs their next drive, largely stalled due to a false start by wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The first quarter ends after the Steelers got the ball back and Dwyer ran for two yards.

That's five touches for him in the quarter, 20 total yards and one first down. Redman has one carry for two yards, Mendenhall has two carries for five yards and a fumble.

Tomlin's "hot hand" theory seems to indicate Dwyer would continue getting the ball.

He does, but the wheels come off starting in the second quarter.

A three-yard run by Dwyer is nullified by a holding penalty called on right guard Ramon Foster. He then runs for a three-yard loss after cutting horizontally three yards in his backfield (not advised for a non-speed back like himself). Redman enters the game for him, runs way too high into the hole and coughs it up after a five-yard gain.

It lead to a Browns field goal, putting them up 10-7.

Dwyer gains three yards on his next two carries, and looks awful doing it. He's slow approaching the hole and fails to attack the line of scrimmage with his shoulders square. He also catches a pass for a yard gain.

It leads to another Butler punt, and eventually, Cleveland's only successful drive starting in their own territory the entire game. Another field goal puts them up 13-7.

Dwyer gets the ball to start the next drive, and fumbles after an eight-yard gain. That gives him 10 touches for 30 yards in the first half. He was removed for Chris Rainey in the two-minute offense.

Rainey proceeded to take his first carry six yards, and fumble his first reception two plays later. He doesn't exit the game (the Steelers clearly were using Rainey in their two-minute offense, and weren't going to stray from that).

Starting with the ball in the second half, Mike Adams picks up a holding penalty, making it first and 20. Heath Miller makes Usama Young remember the value of tackling low, knocking him out of the game and probably into next week sometime. Three passes and other penalty, the Steelers punt.

The next two drives: two penalties, one interception, one sack. Very little opportunity to run the ball anyway, but Rainey was in for Dwyer, with a brief appearance from Mendenhall.

First drive of the fourth quarter, Mendenhall fumbles again, but the Steelers recover. Dwyer runs for a two-yard loss and Batch throws an interception.

Dwyer doesn't get another touch in the game, but the Steelers fumble twice more and throw one more interception to end the game.

A punchless offense, a flag-happy officiating crew and sloppy play top to bottom highlighted this game only a little less than the turnovers did. It wasn't the rotation of running backs that failed to get the offense in enough of a rhythm to go with one back - Dwyer had 10 touches for 30 yards at halftime. For the sake of comparison, Browns RB Trent Richardson had 14 touches.


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