2012 has been a rough beginning for the running games of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders. They are ranked 30th and 31st in the league – eeesh. Conditions in Oakland will be ripe for either one (or both) of these teams to kick start the ground game. But who comes out feeling revitalized?
Darren McFadden of the Raiders had a bust out season in his third season back in 2010. Not earth shattering numbers but 1,157 yards and a 5.2 YPC was pretty impressive for an Oakland team that struggled to have any flash of life offensively. He’s been called ‘injury prone.’ A knee in 2009 and foot in 2011 cut short any semblance of a successful season.
McFadden has a tough season ahead of him in the early going. Injuries to the wide receiver core and a mediocre quarterback in Carson Palmer has left the passing game ineffective and left with little respect from defenses. Defenses wil be able to stack the box and press the run without having to commit extra backs to cover receivers down the field. A speedy 4.33 40 yard makes him a threat if he can break out into the open field, so he can have flashes of ‘the big play’ at any moment.
The Steelers are still looking for their run game identity in which back they will use as a featured back. Tomlin and Haley keep bouncing between Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Whether they are just using these two in tandem to bide their time before Mendenhall returns is unclear. But what is clear is that the coaches are about as committal to a single running back as a 19 year old dude dating that crazy girl from his Economics 252 class – don’t ask it was a tough semester. Redman and Dwyer have their own styles and have had varied success – though it seems that Dwyer is more consistent in ‘finishing’ his runs.
What complicates matters more for the offense is an offensive line that is injured, unorganized, and seemingly fighting to keep their collective heads above water. Line coach Sean Kugler has his hands full – and on one of those hands I have to say I’m impressed that he is able to do what he does every week and not have this line implode. The trouble with the line is the loss of DeCastro. Believe it or not, he was making a big difference in run blocking from recent seasons, and his presence is missed. Looking at tape on run plays, the Steelers continually collapse in the middle first – Foster, Pouncey, Colon. Starks and Gilbert have actually done well on the edges – Starks has even been able to help Colon and take down two defenders at one time. But the team can’t run the ball around the corner all the time. Neither back is fast enough to consistently win the edge and don’t expect improvement with Mendenhall – unless he’s changed his dancing ways.
The Steelers, however have a ripe opportunity to get the running game going against the Raiders. The defense currently ranks 29th against the run by allowing 148 yards per game. They’ve faced Curtis Brinkley from the Chargers and Reggie Bush from the Dolphins. Bush torched the Raiders D for 172 yards on 26 carries. There are those out there who say Bush is still a great back and is resurrecting his career in Miami. Meh. The Dolphin line did a good job of blocking, and the reality is that the Raiders D just isn’t that great against the run.
I expect both Dwyer (or Redman) and McFadden to have impressive days. The weather will be good and the field in good shape. However, if Carson Palmer even begins to struggle, which *ahem* he will, then the Steelers D will stack the line and contain McFadden for under 100 yards on the day. Dwyer (or Redman) should have the bigger day, and we may even see our first 100 yard rushing game out of them too – solo, not combined.