For those who believe the Steelers cannot run the ball effectively enough to succeed in 2012, their young reserves saw it differently on Sunday Night Football.
Down 24-23 to the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth quarter and following a Josh Victorian interception off of Chandler Harnish, Pittsburgh milked 5:17 from the clock and amassed 69 yards.
With 63 yards via the ground game - to situate themselves for a 22-yard Danny Hrapmann game-clinching field goal with 20 seconds to spare.
This came one week after Alex Henery and the Philadelphia Eagles dogged a steely defense with a last-minute kick of their own. Preseason bandwagon fans and NFL analysts alike are finding varying value in the resiliency shown during these "meaningless" weeks.
Between rebuffed aging throughout the defense, perpetual questions along the offensive line, and Mike Wallace's unfortunate holdout, we shouldn't be shocked if the threat of the Pittsburgh Steelers is uncharacteristically inconsistent in 2012 (hold on - James Harrison and Ike Taylor are at the door...um, hi).
Then again, if the backups are displaying such poise, awareness, and mental toughness late in games, then that intangible persona has to be regarded yet again come the regular season. It all transpires on the ground.
With Isaac Redman hurt and Rashard Mendenhall just coming off of the PUP list, less experienced running backs are being given the opportunity to establish their roles in the depth chart, and no one is cashing in more so than Chris Rainey.
While unknown Jason Ford broke runs of 5, 22, and 10 yards early in the drive to lead Pittsburgh to Indianapolis' 26, it was the 5-foot-9 180-pound specimen out of Florida that mustered the tough 1-yard gain up the middle or powered for 5 yards off the left guard.
Rainey is proving how Pittsburgh-like physicality does in fact accompany the Darren Sproles that the Steelers thought they were drafting this past April.
More impressive, although, was the leadership and comfort level assumed by rookie quarterback Jerrod Johnson. He completed just 1-of-2 passing attempts (a 6-yard third-down conversion to David Gilreath) in their inaugural set of downs, compared to 3 rushes for 11 smart yards.
On 2nd-and-9 at Indianapolis' 25, Johnson was able to read the defense well enough to audible into a Rainey run to the left that resulted in 8 yards. The offensive line appeared as confused before the snap (several "whats" could be distinguished) as the Colts remained afterwards, but at least Johnson knew what he was doing.
He certainly knew once more on 3rd-and-4 at the 9, when the Colts bit on the fake to the right only to watch Johnson elusively scramble out of the shotgun for 8 yards and the first down near the goal line.
Spectators were being reminded of Johnson's 2010 Texas A&M days, albeit against a collegiate Indianapolis defensive unit in the preseason. There's no need to appoint him as the next Michael Vick or Ben Roethlisberger, even, but as Mike Tomlin has carried four quarterbacks on his roster in prior campaigns, Pittsburgh looks to have found a new Dennis Dixon.
Of course, what stands out most of all was Johnson and company's comprehension of the five-minute offense and the surrounding circumstances. Rather than aspiring for the quick, flashy score and sending their Curtain back onto the field to grind for the victory, they were patient. They stayed in bounds. They drained the clock.
Classic Pittsburgh Steelers.
They couldn't muscle the football into the end zone, but Rainey and Ford lined up Hrapmann for the last of four converted field goals - all of Pittsburgh's scoring in the second half.
If there wasn't a position battle at kicker between the Southern Mississippi draftee and Shaun Suisham beforehand, it would at least be interesting to consider moving forward, despite the 22-yarder being tipped through the goal posts.
The failed block was the Colts' best defensive play of the drive. All of the Luck resided with Pittsburgh.
Drives to Victory:
Preseason Week 1
Hall of Fame Game
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