Pittsburgh Steelers: Comparing the Contributions of Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Comparing the Contributions of Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Why can't the Steelers run the ball? Is it Isaac Redman's (or Jonathan Dwyer's) fault?

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin expressed his displeasure with the way his offense is running the ball so far this season in his Tuesday press conference. 

His disappointment is understandable. They're averaging just 70.5 rushing yards per game, good for 30th in the league, and have a total of just 141 yards on 54 total attempts—an average of 2.6 yards per attempt.

The bulk of these carries have been split between Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer in lieu of Rashard Mendenhall's return from last season's ACL tear and subsequent surgery.

They have nearly as many carries as one another, but their yardage totals thus far are very disparate. Dwyer has carried the ball 21 times, for a total of 71 yards and a 3.4 yards-per-carry average, while Redman has had 23 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown and is averaging just two yards per carry.

Is this simply a case of Redman being a worse running back than Dwyer, or is something else to blame for both men not having consistently good showings? Could the offensive line be at fault?

Let's take a look at two similar plays for each running back, one from the loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 1 and one from the win over the New York Jets last Sunday to find some clues.

 

Left Tackle Runs on Second Down

Here, we'll be comparing Redman's three-yard run against the Broncos on a 2nd-and-7 to Dwyer's 11-yard run against the Jets on a 2nd-and-6. Of note: Both plays were called back because of offensive holding, but for our purposes here, it matters very little.

 

Steelers at Broncos: Isaac Redman, 2nd-and-7, first quarter, three-yard gain

A left-tackle run here, against the Broncos' weak-side, was a smart call. That is, as long as it works.

However, as Redman approaches, you can see Steelers offensive linemen being turned around, and the hole is rapidly shrinking.

Once Redman gets closer to the line of scrimmage, three Broncos defenders have come unblocked and are heading right for him.

One block neutralizes No. 58, which allows Redman a bit of running room, but there are still unblocked defenders with him in their sights.

They snag him and start to bring him down.

Redman does push for another yard or two and ends up with a three-yard gain. But the offensive line's breakdown prevented anything more significant.

 

Steelers at Broncos: Jonathan Dwyer, 2nd-and-6, -second quarter, 11-yard gain

The Steelers ran the same play with Dwyer to start the second half; however, you can see that the Broncos defense are giving Pittsburgh a different look. They're prepared for a run, with Dwyer in the backfield and Heath Miller again lining up outside the left tackle.

Dwyer has some good lead blocking to start the play.

But as he moves closer, Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert get off their blocks. It appears that Dwyer's run is done not long after it began.

However, Starks is able to manhandle the two Broncos defenders about to get their hands on Dwyer, while Dwyer simultaneously bounces outside.

Dwyer simply outruns the first defender to pursue him. Note that Mike Wallace is holding Tracy Porter, which is why this run was called back. For our purposes, however, let's just pretend he has a legal block on him.

Regardless of the hold, Porter breaks free and appears to be the only Bronco to stop Dwyer.

Linebacker Keith Brooking, however, comes into the picture, and he and Porter bring Dwyer down after an 11-yard gain.

 

Up-the-Middle Runs on 1st-and-10

These next two plays are straightforward, up-the-middle runs against the New York Jets defense in Week 2. Redman's comes near the end of the first quarter, while Dwyer's is near the top of the second quarter. Neither gains many yards.

 

Steelers vs. Jets: Isaac Redman, 1st-and-10, first quarter, two-yard gain

The call is for an up-the-middle run; there are extra blockers in place to neutralize the Jets around the edge and allow for Redman to simply run forward and into the Steelers line.

As Redman approaches, however, the Jets have begun pushing the Steelers blockers backwards. Regardless, there is a hole in the middle open for Redman at this point.

However, the Jets manage to close that hole by pushing Heath Miller and Ramon Foster into one another. There's also an unblocked Jets defender heading towards Redman, and another Steeler is about to lose track of New York linebacker David Harris.

There's simply not enough help for Redman at this point, and he's wrapped up after a mere two-yard gain.

 

Steelers vs. Jets: Jonathan Dwyer, 1st-and-10, second quarter, two-yard gain

It's a similar formation for the Jets' defensive front, and the Steelers run the same play with Dwyer as they did in the previous quarter with Redman

This time, once Dwyer is handed the ball, the protection holds up better than it did for Redman's run.

As Dwyer gets closer, however, the offensive line breaks down. Safety Yeremiah Bell is unblocked, Max Starks is turned around, Antonio Brown loses his man and Heath Miller's control of Kenrick Ellis leaves a defender free to take Dwyer down.

Dwyer makes a last little push, and the run ends as a two-yard gain.

 

Conclusions

The common perception is that Dwyer is simply a better running back than Redman, and the fact that Redman's done far less with more carries than Dwyer seems to support this hypothesis.

However, the fact is simply that they are two different types of runners who are dealing with a shaky Steelers run-blocking offensive lines in different ways.

Dwyer is able to have more success on the ground with that line blocking for him because he's a more bruising back. He can force his way through holes that aren't there and plow over defenders with greater ease than Redman despite being the smaller back.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
The Steelers offensive line must simply get better at run blocking or it won't matter who gets the carries—they won't be getting yards.

Redman's job was to spell Mendenhall; he's not suited to be a feature back. He lacks burst and explosion and goes down after contact fairly easily. That, combined with an offensive line constantly thrown off their blocks, is no recipe for Redman's success.

The offensive line isn't blocking better because Dwyer is on the field. He just has more explosive power upon contact and can shake off defenders. But his numbers aren't all that impressive either because the line simply isn't doing either back any favors.

The problem is not Dwyer and it's not Redman—it's the offensive line. It's not likely that any running back, aside from the more elusive and shifty in the league, could pull down consistently significant chunks of yardage with this crew blocking for them. 

In pass protection, the Steelers offensive line is doing an admirable job of allowing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to stay in the pocket and have time to make throws, but it's their fault—and not Redman's or Dwyer's—why the run game is so presently dismal.

Without improvements or a new formula when run blocking, it won't matter who gets the hand off—it's simply not going to amount to much.

 

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