The untested ‘new’ offensive line and the untested running back of the Steelers raise many doubts throughout as to whether the Steelers can succeed with the type of running game that combination will produce. Add new OC Todd Haley into the mixture, and there are numerous unknowns about this offense and its ability to influence the outcome of a football game into a W.
Isaac Redman will assume the starting role when camp starts and will retain it unless ‘The Others’ (Batch, Clay, Dwyer, Rainey) take it away from him. Redman’s ability to run well over the course of an entire season is his biggest uncertainty and worries lots of fans and media. His ‘explosiveness’ is also put into question because that was one of the things greatly lacking from the Steelers running game last season. And that’s where the crux of debate of what was ‘wrong’ with the 2011 Steelers run game and what will still be ‘wrong’ with the 2012 Steelers run game is revealed. Even though the Steelers run game lacked ‘explosiveness’ with big gains, it was the situational running that bit them in the rear last season and is what needs to greatly improve.
Believe it or not, Mendenhall gained an average of 4.1 yards per carry last season. His longest run was 68 yards (pretty good), and he lacked a large amount of 20+ or even 15+ yard gaines. Hence the lack of explosiveness, yet he was gaining yards. His best Hines Ward on DWTS impression every time he carried the rock led to many a ‘3rd and short’ scenarios. It frustrated the hell out of Steeler Nation and became unbearable when Bruce Arians called bubble screens and other asinine plays on 3rd down. Throw in a bunch of Red Zone trips with the same type of game plan, and Steeler Nation was about ready to storm the castle.
With Redman as the new back, we can expect quite possibly the same kind of output that the team experienced with Mendenhall. We won’t quite see the dancing with Redman as with Mendenhall. But, with a younger line that will be working out its kinks on run and pass blocking, Redman may not have the holes in the defense to get big gains. Redman’s head down and bowl’em over style will work well and probably net similar gains on 1st and 2nd down scenarios. The key for the success of the Steelers offense will come to 3rd down situations and red zone situations.
There are many, including Joseph Bruno from Bleacher Report, who feel that the Steelers offense will be focused on Big Ben and the passing game because of the lack of an explosive run game. In fact the word ‘backseat’ was used several times. I disagree. I think that the Steelers will balance out the running and passing in the offense. Ben has his targets, but even the best of pass blockers and receivers need to create running lanes to keep the linebackers and corners honest and not sit back and wait on every down. The Steelers are going to need Redman and ‘The Others’ to contribute with consistency all season long. They will need to average 4+ yards per carry. And Todd Haley is the one who needs to come up with schemes that move the chains on ‘3rd and short’ downs.
That’s where new guys like Chris Rainey and Leonard Pope, one a draftee and one a FA pickup, will be very important. Guys like Heath Miller, Baron Batch and Jerricho Cotchery will also be important. Screens (like REAL screens), slants and curls will be key in both ‘3rd and short’ and red zone situations. The offensive line will also need to be able to create push off the line for Redman, Batch and Rainey for those times that Haley needs to change things up and run on a 3rd and short or use John Clay at the goal line.
So, I think everyone needs to relax about whether the run game will be an explosive one or not. Settle down about arguing if Roethlisberger and the receivers will make or break the success of the team. Focus on the consistency of the run game and those situational downs – that’s where this team will either be a 11-5 team or a 5-11 team.