By Matthew Marczi
A few weeks back, I observed a certain trend in the way that the Pittsburgh Steelers began using running back Jonathan Dwyer, and speculated that the team was building a role for him as a short-yardage back.
That truly came to fruition in the team’s last game against the Buffalo Bills, particularly during the second quarter, when the Steelers handed the ball off to Dwyer on third and short three times.
Needless to say, he converted all three. They would not have kept feeding him the ball in those situations had he not. It was not the mere fact that he was successful in converting each opportunity that was most significant, however, but rather the way in which he was able to convert them.
The first opportunity came at the top of the second quarter on a third and one. The Steelers lined up in a heavy set to the left with both Mike Adams and Heath Miller at tight end to Kelvin Beachum’s left and fullback Will Johnson in the backfield shaded to the left.
The play went unsurprisingly to the left. With four Bills against three blockers, the odds didn’t seem favorable, but Dwyer somehow pushed his way through the traffic and, in fact, ended up with six yards instead of one because he kept churning his legs.
The second opportunity was even more notable, however, despite it being a two-yard gain on a third and one. Just a few plays later, the Steelers found themselves right back in the same situation as before. This time Adams and Miller lined up to the right, and Johnson remained to the left, though this time on the line.
The play went to the right side, and though multiple Bills had an opportunity to try to tackle him, Dwyer avoided their efforts, and kept his feet moving and his back to the line before spilling over for the first down.
The third and final conversion, though, was both the most interesting and perhaps the most impressive of the three. This time, the scenario was third and three, which very rarely draws a running play. With a heavy set to the left, Dwyer cut back all the way around right tackle for daylight and scampered on for an eight-yard gain.
Just last year, it was Dwyer coming out of the game as the feature back to allow Isaac Redman to convert these situations. Now he is the veteran and the leader in that running back meeting room, the one who gets the job done and leads by example.