The Steelers running game stalled against the Titans in the season opener, amassing just 32 yards, with starting back Isaac Redman struggling with just nine yards on eight carries. Getting the running game on track is a key, and it needs to happen fast with an AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.
"I think a consistent running game is really important, not only to be good offensively, but to strike a balance," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We haven't been able to do that to this point. Obviously, we are working hard to do so."
Having a healthy backfield might help. The Steelers lost LaRod Stephens-Howling to a season-ending knee injury and Le'Veon Bell is still working his way back from a foot injury suffered in the preseason.
Jonathan Dwyer was back at the Steelers practice facility on Tuesday, but to get back into the mix on offense this week he is going to have to first show a few things in practice.
"That depends on his dependability, his ability to get up to speed with the game plan and things," said Tomlin of Dwyer's ability to contribute against the Bengals. "He's been away from us for a couple weeks now. Obviously, I don't anticipate that being a major problem but we'll play it by ear and see how he looks on the practice field and in the classroom."
Dwyer was released when the Steelers got down to the mandatory 53-man roster, after leading the team in rushing last season and during the preseason. Part of the reason for his release was the versatility of others on the roster.
"We kept the guys that we kept because of the things they did, not because of the things Jonathan didn't do," said Tomlin. "We were encouraged by the versatility of LaRod Stephens-Howling and what he's able to do in spread packages and in the passing game."
Stephens-Howling was placed on injured reserve on Monday, and will undergo surgery Wednesday, which opened the door for Dwyer's return.
"That presented an opportunity to bring what we believe is a capable NFL player back," said Tomlin. "Thankfully for us, no one acquired him. Really, that's the story in regards to running backs and Jonathan's leaving and Jonathan's return."
Redman, who fumbled twice against the Titans, is listed as the co-starter along with Bell, while Felix Jones is second and Dwyer third. Jones continues to develop in the offense, still picking up on things after being traded from the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 23. Jones didn't have any carries against the Titans, despite the running game amassing only 32 yards.
"He just needs to continue to learn," said Tomlin of Jones. "He hasn't been here as long as some of the others, being picked up late in the preseason. We got in some circumstances within the game, particularly as the game wore on, where we were down by two scores and we had to pick the pace of the offense up. Some of that requires non-verbal communications.
"We just thought it would be sound to go with guys that have been around here longer and that have executed some of the things we were executing situationally better."
There is nobody that feels worse than guard David DeCastro about Maurkice Pouncey's injury, but as Tomlin said it's "one of the unfortunate elements of football."
Pouncey suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Titans when DeCastro hit him with his head from behind while trying to block one of the Titans defensive linemen.
"We're working a zone scheme block against their interior defensive lineman and Maurkice was trying to escape and work his way to the second level," explained Tomlin. "The defensive lineman did a good job of not allowing that to happen and holding Maurkice there at the line of scrimmage. As David worked to get his head in front of the defensive lineman and execute a legal block he contacted Maurkice.
"You see things like that happen from time to time. You never want it to happen but you acknowledge that it's part of the game."
DeCastro was injured last season in a similar fashion when tackle Marcus Gilbert fell into him.
"It happens in football," said Tomlin. "You won't accept it, you don't like it, but you acknowledge that it's a part of the game."