Redskins

Backfield clarity only place Chiefs edge Steelers

Backfield clarity only place Chiefs edge Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) Ask any of the people involved in the current - and at the moment only - drama surrounding the surging Pittsburgh Steelers about who should be the starting running back and you'll get a variety of answers. None of them definitive.

Jonathan Dwyer, whose 299 rushing yards lead the team, thinks the job belongs to injured Rashard Mendenhall, whenever Mendenhall's strained right Achilles heals.

Isaac Redman thinks it should be the ``hot hand,'' which at the moment would be his after running for a career-high 147 yards in last week's season-defining triumph against the New York Giants.

Mendenhall, who has carried the ball just 19 times in the past 10 months after tearing the ACL in his right knee on New Year's Day, thinks the decision is out of his hands and would prefer to focus on his health.

Even the guy actually in charge of the depth chart is noncommittal.

``Whoever's being productive when healthy is going to get the totes,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ``I really think it's that simple. I'm not going to make it any more complex than it has to be.''

Or any less murky either.

Redman will get the start on Monday night when the Steelers (5-3) host luckless Kansas City (1-7). The Chiefs have endured a miserable first half of the season, though the re-emergence of Jamaal Charles gives them clarity in the backfield.

A year removed from a torn ACL that ended his 2011 season after just two games, Charles is ninth in the NFL in rushing and remains one of the most explosive players in the league. He ran for 233 yards - the second-highest total of the season - in a 27-24 overtime win against the Saints that remains Kansas City's lone victory.

``You just can't let the guy get daylight because he's gone,'' Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. ``New Orleans was doing a great job and had a pretty good lead. Then, in two snaps he erased it. He went 90 yards with one and 50 yards with the next.''

Charles' numbers have tumbled the last three weeks thanks to erratic quarterback play that has done little to prevent defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage to keep him in check.

While the Chiefs are sinking, the Steelers are soaring.

Pittsburgh has won three straight and is getting production from whoever happens to be bending over next to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the huddle.

Mendenhall returned from his rehab to rack up 101 total yards and a touchdown in a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 7. The comeback lasted all of a game. He strained his Achilles tendon the following week against Tennessee and hasn't played since.

His absence, however, has hardly derailed the running game. Dwyer - the third-string back at the beginning of the season - went over 100 yards in wins over Cincinnati and Washington before tweaking his right quadriceps.

Enter Redman, who shook off minor injuries in both of his ankles to thrash the Giants in 26 angry and clock-chewing carries.

All three backs are quick to credit the suddenly dominant offensive line and coordinator Todd Haley's streamlined playbook for helping the Steelers find the balance necessary to take pressure off Roethlisberger's capable shoulders.

All three also know the leash is short if they don't perform.

``It's like basketball, if the shooter has the hot hand, we're going to feed him the ball and if all of us are feeling it, we'll just rotate or something,'' Dwyer said.

Something the Steelers did with little success early in the season. Redman began the year as the starter but neither he nor Dwyer found much traction while splitting carriers. Pittsburgh ranked 31st in the league in rushing during the first three weeks and heralded Mendenhall's return as the spark needed to kickstart the running game.

It did. The flame, however, didn't go out when Mendenhall headed back to the sideline during the first half of a 26-23 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 11.

Dwyer and Redman have both thrived while not having to look over their shoulder. Redman and Mendenhall were both inactive when Dwyer rolled through the Bengals and Redskins, and Mendenhall and Dwyer weren't in uniform against the Giants.

The last time Dwyer and Redman played together they combined for 26 yards on 12 carries in a befuddling 34-31 upset at Oakland on Sept. 23, including a fourth-quarter fumble by Dwyer that helped the Raiders rally and led Tomlin to bench the former Georgia Tech star for the next two games.

Dwyer responded by becoming the first Steelers running back in four years to top 100 yards in consecutive games. Did he earn more playing time? That's not his call.

``I've done my job,'' Dwyer said. ``The two weeks they needed me to step up, I stepped up. I did what I needed to do to help us win some games. I went down and Red stepped up and he did his job. It just shows that there's no let off from our group.''

And no pecking order either. At least, not at the moment.

``At times this season we've had a running back by committee approach because none of them had been overly effective at that time,'' Tomlin said. ``When someone's effective, they'll get the ball.''

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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Online:http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

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USA Today Sports

Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

Yahoo! Sports ranked all 32 head coaches in the NFL and Washington Redskins fans may not be too happy with where Jay Gruden ended up.

Entering his fifth year as head coach, Gruden was ranked as the No. 27 head coach in the NFL. Here's Yahoo!'s rationale behind his ranking:

"Four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, one franchise quarterback run out of town."

All that is ... not false, but the whole franchise quarterback being run out of town thing is at least debatable. And even if the ranking is fair, it's still okay to be upset because it's the middle of July, training camp hasn't started yet and the offseason is the perfect time to get irrationally angry about things like these.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur checks in at No. 23, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is No. 17 and the Eagles' Doug Pederson is No. 2.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick was ranked No. 1; he may be the greatest of all time when all is said and done, if not already. The top five rounds out with Pederson at No. 2, New Orleans's Sean Payton at No. 3, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer at No. 4 and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin at No. 5.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

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Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

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USA Today Sports

Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

TORONTO (AP) -- Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman gave up hits to the first three Baltimore batters Saturday.

The Orioles got just two more hits the rest of the afternoon.

Stroman pitched seven sharp innings for his second win in three starts and Toronto beat Baltimore 4-1 for its sixth straight victory over the struggling Orioles.

"He started working both sides of the plate with his sinker and I think that threw them off a little bit, especially late in counts," Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile said. "Overall it was just kind of vintage Stroman."

Baltimore right-hander Alex Cobb picked up his major league-worst 13th loss. The Orioles dropped to 1-8 against Toronto this season.

"I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name," Cobb said. "It's sickening."

Stroman (3-7) allowed one run and five hits. He threw a season-high 107 pitches, the first time this season he has topped 100.

Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts since returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss more than a month. He went 0-5 in seven starts before the injury.

"Since he's come back from the DL he's been really good," manager John Gibbons said. "I just think he's pitching like he's always pitched."

Stroman said he's focused on forgetting his early season struggles.

"I know I didn't have the first half I wanted but I've always been someone who prides myself on the second half and finishing strong," Stroman said. "That's something I'll look to continue to do this year."

Friend and teammate Devon Travis likes what he's seen from Stroman since the right-hander returned from injury.

"He's got that fire back," Travis said. "He's really under control. I think he's locking in on every single pitch."

Seunghwan Oh worked the eighth and Ryan Tepera finished for his seventh save in 12 opportunities.

Baltimore scored one run or fewer for the 27th time, the most in the majors.

The first three Orioles batters all singled, although Jonathan Schoop was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. After Adam Jones gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead with an RBI hit to right, Mark Trumbo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Blue Jays answered with a three-run fourth against Cobb, taking advantage of a key Orioles error.

Justin Smoak opened the inning with a walk and, following a video review, was ruled safe at second after Cobb's high throw pulled shortstop Tim Beckham off the base on at attempted force play.

"That's not it in a nutshell but I can understand why that's the focus, a play we haven't been making," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Randal Grichuk followed with an RBI double, a second run scored on Diaz's double play grounder, and Maile capped the rally with an RBI single.

Diaz had four hits Friday, including the game-winning single in the 10th. He went 2 for 3 Saturday with a pair of singles.

The Blue Jays made it 4-1 in the fifth when Teoscar Hernandez doubled, advanced on a fly ball and scored on Cobb's balk.

Cobb (2-13) lost his sixth straight decision, allowing four runs, one earned, and four hits in five innings. Showalter said Cobb was removed to avoid worsening a blister on his pitching hand.

"I was only going to have a few more pitches going into the sixth so he felt like the risk-reward was not really worth it," Cobb said.

Grichuk made the defensive play of the game, a running catch on the warning track in left center to retire Trumbo for the first out of the ninth.

GOING DOWN?

Jones and Chris Davis got stuck in an elevator at the team's downtown hotel following Friday night's defeat. Jones documented much of the saga on Instagram. The players and fellow passengers were eventually rescued by Toronto Fire Services staff. The sound system at Rogers Centre played a few bars of Aerosmith's `Love in an Elevator' before Jones batted in the fourth inning Saturday.

NO HOMERS

Toronto won without hitting a home run for just the third time in 26 games this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: Baltimore is expected to demote a reliever when RHP Andrew Cashner (neck) is activated off the 10-day disabled list Sunday.

UP NEXT

Cashner (2-9, 4.56) last pitched July 10, when he allowed five runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Yankees. Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ (10-6, 4.29) is 0-3 with a 9.75 ERA in three July starts.