A slow running game drew the ire of many fans from the start of the season almost five weeks ago. Last Sunday against the Titans the Steelers run game began a path of redemption through three people – Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Max Starks – even if it was Rashard Mendenhall’s hammy that made the path possible. Mendenhall is recovered from the injury and has been listed as the starter for this Sunday against the Jags. “…everything will be back to normal,” said Bruce Arians when asked about Mendenhall’s progress. Ummm, is that necessarily a good thing? Back to normal?
Define ‘normal’ for me. ‘Normal’ as in Mendenhall being the quick tackle breaking 1,273 yard back he was a season ago? Or ‘normal’ as in a tweeteriffic offseason with a side of mediocre effort and dancing happy feet at the line from this season? If ‘normal’ means the later, then Arians can have it because I don’t want any.
And how far along is Mendenhall in his recovery? No one has yet to say if he is 100%, and we all know too well how good the Steelers and their players are at hiding pain (Polamalu in the playoffs ring a bell?) yet letting their players suit up. If Mendenhall isn’t 100% he loses his greatest asset – his speed. Even with all the toe tapping he’s been prone to do at the line of scrimmage this season, he always had a threat of busting out a big run because of his speed. Take that away and you are looking at just another Thomas Jones on the field. Worthless.
I for one am a person who comes from the school of ‘what’s working now, should stick.’ The Steelers are coming off their best offensive performance of the season – in large part due to an effective running game put together by Redman and Dwyer. Mendenhall’s been struggling for four weeks. Why change back? It would be a different story if Mendenhall was performing to standards prior to the injury. But he wasn’t. The Steelers have a golden opportunity to gain an absurd amount of momentum as the game against the Pats looms in the distance. The offensive line is looking at its sixth different starting lineup combination and found success last week with two backup running backs. Man, I would be grasping onto that tighter than the last tree root while hanging off a cliff.
You know, in a way that’s where I see the Steelers right now. Their performance against the Texans had them sitting at 2-2 and beginning to slide off the cliff, ready to plummet into the abyss. They lashed out and grabbed that final root with the strong win against the Titans. But, they aren’t quite safe yet. They have yet to fully pull themselves up – and it all starts with games against the Jags and Pittsburgh West (Cards). Should they fall to either one of these teams, and they are just as good as letting go of that root seeing that the Pats and Ravens are next in line.
So why go back to what WASN’T working this season? It baffles me, but doesn’t surprise me. Has any one of us had that much confidence in Arians? I didn’t think so. Well, no matter how much I petition to the South Side headquarters, Mendenhall will get the start. I just hope that by having Mendenhall start he is indeed 100% and has shown in practice that he is not the timid back he’s been thus far.