Kudos to Rashard Mendenhall. He clearly gave the entire Steelers offense a shot in the arm, and because of that the Steelers running game was able to push Pittsburgh past Philly.
Since arriving in as Pittsburgh’s first round draft pick in 2008, Mendenhall has seen his share of criticism, and Steel Curtain Rising is no exception.
The enjoyable, and tantalizing thing about Mendenhall is that when he hits a hole decisively he can run with any of the top backs in the NFL. That’s a bold claim but skeptics need only remember his:
- first start vs. San Diego in 2009
- show stopping performance in the 2010 AFC Championship game
- performances vs. St. Louis and Cleveland last year, prior to injury
So fortunately for Steelers Nation, Mendenhall was “on” in his return from a nasty ACL injury.
- But what does that say about the other two Steelers running backs?
There were many in Steelers Nation, yours truly one of the, who didn’t think Mendenhall’s absence was going to be that important. That’s simply because Mendenhall has never run with the kind of consistency needed to establish himself as one of the top runners in the NFL.
The logic therefore was that the Steelers would suffer little in a running back by committee system.
- The pathetic results of the Steelers rushing game in weeks 1-3 would seem to wholeheartedly refute that argument.
Numbers don’t lie. But does the resurgence of the Steelers running game with Mendenhall’s return prove that the Steelers rushing attack would be doomed should it be forced to rely on Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer?
- This scribe says “no.”
There hasn’t been much reporting about this in the press since August, but both Redman and Dwyer were hurt in August. In fact, the Steelers were forced to sign DeJuan Harris off of waivers, just to field a full complement of running backs before their final preseason game.
- Neither man was likely at 100% when the season started.
This should be especially obvious in the case of Redman, whose performance was way, way below the standard he set for himself.
Even with Sunday’s stronger showing against the Eagles, Redman’s season rushing average is a measly 2.5 yards per carry.
- In 2010 Redman averaged 4.7 yards per carry
- In 2011 he clocked in at 4.4 yards per carry
Now a lot of those carries came in sport duty situation, which is not the same as building up an averge as a feature back. But Redman played lights out in his two starter like situations, namely the finale vs. Cleveland and the Tebowing in Denver.
Jonathan Dwyer poses a more complicated question, as his body of work is far more limited.
- But even this limited sample suggests that Dwyer’s performance of 2012 represents far much more of a floor than a ceiling.
Be clear about one thing, a healthy and productive Rashard Mendenhall should be a welcome sign to Steelers Nation.
But also rest assured that a healthy Redman and Dwyer can also deliver.