Todd Haley's offense in Pittsburgh was meant to focus on the running game more often. Unfortunately, through week three of the 2012 NFL regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers' rushing stats rank them 30th out of 32 teams. Running back Rashard Mendenhall, who missed the first three games this season due to ACL surgery in January, is expected to be in uniform Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles in the week five game at Heinz Field. His return could improve the offense in a major way.
Mendenhall achieved 1,000-yard rushing seasons twice in the past three seasons. In the Steelers' first three games against Denver, New York (Jets) and Oakland, the offense has rushed for 195 total yards. In the loss to the Raiders, the Steelers were only able to produce 20 carries for 54 yards. Mendenhall is a powerful back when healthy. His entrance onto the field may reduce carries by Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, but could also provide an opportunity for the offense to have extra weapons against opponents.
Mendenhall told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he'd like to help bring all the pieces of the offense together. As for how he and his teammates see the running game, Mendenhall said, “We just want to continue to grow and, as long as we get better and not worse, that's what we want to do...we see how close we are [to breaking out] so we just will keep working.”
No one with the Steelers organization is ready to throw in the towel on the new offensive schemes or the rushing opportunities. Mendenhall's biggest complication now will be to get used to Haley's offense while working with other key teammates to create a complete package. The game against the Eagles could be a proving ground for his skills.
Haley admitted that in the Oakland game, they opted for a throwing game over the running game because the defensive backfield for the Raiders was soft. “We went into that game knowing what kind of a game it would be, that they were going to have a hard time stopping us throwing the football so it was important that we ran efficiently.” Part of the reason the offense hasn't had as many carries is because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been so efficient and effective in creating plays through the air to as many as ten different receivers in a single game.
With the return of Mendenhall, expect to see a more explosive burst through the offensive line and around the ends. Mendenhall has the potential to burst for the open field. While Redman and Dwyer have been pounding out much needed third and fourth down conversions, they do not have the experience that Mendenhall does on the field. That isn't to say they haven't contributed, but they have different skill sets than Mendenhall. With Mendenhall's ability to make cuts while running, the Steelers could be looking at a game changer this weekend.
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