Mendenhall may feel ready for a return, but is the offensive line ready? Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Steelers Mendenhall Poised For Return - But Will He Matter?

Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer – that’s been the debate for the last few weeks as the Steelers left training camp and vaulted into the regular season.  54 rushes and 141 yards later and the Steelers are staring at an anemic 30th ranked rushing offense.  Surprisingly, as quickly as some fans who were happy to see Rashard Mendenhall sit out most of the season while recovering from a knee injury, are now hoping that news of his readiness to start running again would lead to an appearance or even a start during a game situation.  But would Mendenhall really matter?

To put it bluntly.  No.  It pains me to say this about as much as an ACL tear that it’s not really his fault either.  If any running back is to be effective, the offensive line of the Steelers will need vast improvement with its run blocking.  Watching the last two games, it’s easy to see that the offense is missing guard David DeCastro.  During the preseason, even while the team swapped linemen and running backs out to observe different combinations, the offense ran for over 500 yards and averaged 5.0 YPC.  That’s worlds better than the 2.6 YPC they average currently.  What are the biggest changes – DeCastro is out, and Ramon Foster is in.

Now it’s not all on DeCastro that the running game is suffering.  But, his ability to muscle defensemen and pull very well is certainly leaving a negative impact on the run game.  The simple fact that the line is not getting the push off the ball it experienced during the preseason is a bit of a head scratcher.  The running lanes either never exist or collapse very quickly as the defense pushes and pursues.  Even guys like Heath Miller are having a time sealing off a block to help create lanes off the edge.  It’s an aspect of the game that is a bit unpredictable and has left the Steelers in some ling third down situations because of poorly executed run plays on second down.  Ben Roethlisberger has been able to scramble his way to a 56% third down conversion – but the team can’t rely on that every game.

Dwyer appears as if he is the ‘better’ back over Redman.  But if you watch some of the run plays that are similar formations, each back has a different result based on how effective the line blocked.  Dwyer is coming out a bit more on top over Redman simply because he is more of a bruising back and will fall forward for another yard or two while he’s being tackled.  But, the problem of the running game lies in the offensive line not the running back.

Now you tell me how well it will go with ‘Twinkle Toes’ Mendenhall carries the football with this line executing the way it is.


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