Dwyer making most of second chance
By Mike Prisuta
Despite fumbling in the second quarter at Oakland and disappearing for the remainder of that game and the two that followed, Jonathan Dwyer always suspected a second chance would be forthcoming eventually.
“I knew that if I stayed patient my opportunity would come,” Dwyer maintained last Sunday afternoon. “It’s just about using the opportunity to make a statement and taking advantage of it and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Sounds like a plan. Looks like one, too.
The third-year pro and fill-in starter at running back for Rashard Mendenhall(Achilles) and Isaac Redman (ankle) topped 100 yards rushing for the second consecutive game in the Steelers’ 27-12 besting of the Washington Redskins at soggy Heinz Field.
Dwyer’s 107 yards on 17 carries against Washington followed up a 17-carry, 122-yard effort on Oct. 21 at Cincinnati.
He handled the bulk of the heavy lifting as the Steelers out-performed what had been the NFL’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense in terms of total carries (27-21), rushing yards (140-86) and average yards per carry (5.2-4.1).
“He has answered the call and taken advantage of the opportunity and that’s what we expect from all of our young people,” head coach Mike Tomlin assessed of Dwyer. “We don’t discount what any of them are capable of.”
The 100-yard game was Dwyer’s second this season and the third of his career, a career that has included on 13 games over two-plus seasons.
The Steelers’ top two rushing performances as a team this season (167 yards at Cincinnati and 140 against Washington) have been achieved with Dwyer as the preferred runner of choice. And the benefits of that rushing production have been obvious.
“If you can start with a solid running game and make people respect your running game and force them to bring safeties down into the box it opens up everybody else on the field,” tight end Heath Miller said.
That must explain how No. 3 tight end Leonard Pope and fullback Will Johnson were both able to catch touchdown passes against the Redskins. It was Pope’s second catch of the season and his first touchdown since signing with the Steelers during the offseason, and for Johnson the touchdown was the first of his NFL career.
“He just understands what he has to do as a running back,” guard Willie Colon said of Dwyer. “I think he’s doing a great job of really staying down-hill, not trying to bounce it (outside) all the time but when he has a chance to bounce it, he has been making plays happen.
“I think he’s starting to grow confidence in himself, and we’re starting to grow confidence in him.”
The confidence in the running game’s potential never wavered, offensive tackle Max Starks insisted, despite some early-season struggles in that department.
“The running game has always been there,” Starks said. “More importantly, I think we’ve found some consistency with the running game. We’ve finally found what plays work for us and what schematically puts us in an advantageous situation.
“I think that’s been the biggest thing, keep it simple and just allow us to do work and hit the guy in front of us.”
In taking advantage of all of that, Dwyer became the first Steelers running back to post back-to-back 100-yard games since Willie Parker did it on Sept. 7 and Sept. 14, 2008.
“Dwyer has been running awesome,” Starks added. “He’s been making great decisions.”
One of those has been to stick with the plan.