View Full Version : Steelers, Pack on even ground with short-yardage backs

02-02-2011, 06:48 PM
Steelers, Pack on even ground with short-yardage backs

By Gregg Doyel
CBSSports.com National Columnist
Feb. 1, 2011Tell Gregg your opinion!

DALLAS -- Thought I could help you today. Thought I'd break down one of the most important parts of Super Bowl XLV: short-yardage situations. Specifically, third-and-one. Sundays shift on third-and-one, you know. Drives stop or start there. Games are won or lost. I was going to break it down for you today, tell you which team was better in that essential, inevitable situation. But I failed.

Because I can't find a difference. There isn't one. Pittsburgh on third-and-one? Green Bay, in the same situation? They're practically even, and in a good way. Put it this way: If the Steelers face a third-and-one, or the Packers face a third-and-one, don't get off your couch and go anywhere. There's no punt coming. No commercial. What's coming? A first down is coming.

Isaac Redman can get it done on third-and-short situations. (AP)
Isaac Redman can get it done on third-and-short situations. (AP)
Pittsburgh's third-and-short back is Isaac Redman. Green Bay's guy is John Kuhn. On the season they have carried 20 times on third-and-one -- and succeeded 17 times. Technically Kuhn has a small edge, converting 9-of-10 opportunities, compared to an 8-of-10 rate for Redman. That's 90 percent for Green Bay, 80 percent for Pittsburgh.

That's almost identical -- which describes these backs as football players. Almost identical.

Both are rolling mounds of granite, listed at 6 feet tall but an inch or two shorter, and weighing in the neighborhood of 250 pounds. Redman is listed at 230 pounds, but his position coach with the Steelers, Kirby Wilson, told me he's more like 245.

"I didn't realize it until recently myself," Wilson said. "But he runs with all 245 pounds. You feel it."

Both were undrafted free agents out of Division II schools, Kuhn from Shippensburg, Redman from Bowie State. Both started their careers with the Steelers, too. Kuhn joined the team in 2005, was released, rejoined the Steelers in 2006, was released, then was drafted by the New Orleans VooDoo of the Arena Football League. As an eighth-round pick.

Odds? Not good. But Kuhn persevered, signed with the Packers practice squad in 2007, and got his first carry in 2008. On the season he carried eight times for 10 yards. Not good. In 2009 he had eight carries for 18 yards. Not a lot better.

Today he's the closest thing this Super Bowl has to a cult hero. Listen to the background noise, behind the TV announcers, when Kuhn carries the ball Sunday.


Fans all over the league bellow his name when Kuhn touches the ball, even in New England when the Packers visited the Patriots on Dec. 19. I was there, and I heard it myself. It wasn't the whole crowd, or even the majority. But it was enough people to be heard:


"I'm still trying to figure out what a 'cult hero' is," Kuhn said Tuesday during Super Bowl media day, where he was asked repeatedly about his burgeoning cult-hero status. "But if people appreciate the way I play, and the way I made it into this league, that's a great thing."

He came from humble beginnings at Shippensburg, where a good season meant a trip to the Whataburger Cactus Bowl and where friendships last a lifetime. When Kuhn got married recently, more than 30 college teammates showed up.

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Super Bowl XLV Dallas

"I'll always remember where I came from," Kuhn said.

It's hard to say where he's going. Is he a short-yardage back for the rest of his career, or could he become a punishing featured back like ex-NFL tailback Mike Alstott or contemporary LeGarrette Blount? No telling, but Kuhn continues to evolve.

After gaining those 28 yards in 16 carries in his first two seasons with the Packers, he emerged this season as a playmaker. He was second on the team in touchdowns with six, and he has scored two more in the postseason. He ran for 281 yards and caught 15 passes for 97 yards, and he has scored six touchdowns in the Packers' last six games spanning the regular season and playoffs. He has become an integral part of the offense, and he will be that again on Sunday.

"Third-and-one? Every game boils down to little situations like that," Kuhn said. "Those are key moments in a game, and I'm never one to turn down the chance to carry the ball."

Sounds a lot like Redman, who said he yearns to be an every-down back in the NFL, not simply the short-yardage specialist he has become with the Steelers.

"I love this role, but definitely I feel I'm going to be a starter in this league," Redman said. "No question."

It's hard to argue with his numbers. Redman averaged nearly a yard-per-carry more than starting tailback Rashard Mendenhall in the regular season -- 4.8 yards per rush for Redman, 3.9 for Mendenhall -- and that gap has grown in the postseason to 6.2 yards per carry for Redman, 3.6 for Mendenhall. That's startling, considering the bulk of Redman's carries come against stacked defensive fronts.

"On the plays he gets it, there are 18 or 20 guys right there around the ball," said Wilson, the Steelers' running backs coach. "You've got to have a guy who has a feel for where the [first-down] marker is. Maybe he has to run over a guy to get it, but [Redman] will do what he has to do. We feel comfortable giving him the ball in any situation, but he's at his best on third-and-short."

So is Kuhn. They're almost the same guy, Redman and Kuhn. Same role. Same importance on Sunday. So who's going to win this game? I'll tell you who: It's the team that can figure out how to stop the rolling mound of granite on the other side.