Rashard Mendenhall: Ailing Steelers Need Star RB to Return After Bye Week

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 24:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball against the St. Louis Rams during the game on December 24, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers won 27-0.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers don't look right.

They are 1-1 heading into a Week 3 matchup with the Oakland Raiders, which seems to be the perfect cure for any team, but something is missing with the Black and Yellow that we haven't seen in a long time. 

A big part of the problem is the absence of starting running back Rashard Mendenhall, who has been on the shelf since tearing the ACL in his right knee against Cleveland in the regular-season finale last January. 

However, it appears that Mendenhall's journey to get back on the field is nearing its climax. According to a report from CBS Sports, Mendenhall is expected to return when the Steelers play Philadelphia in Week 5:

Mendenhall is still recovering from season-ending knee surgery, and though he's beginning to take on a heavier load in practice, the Steelers, as (Jason) La Canfora has been reporting, likely will put off his season debut for another two weeks.

The Steelers are a franchise that has been built on running the ball, yet through two games this season, they are averaging just 70.5 yards on the ground. There was some thought that Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer could handle the role, but that has not panned out thus far. 

To be fair, and this has been the case for years with the Steelers, the offensive line is dreadful. It has already allowed eight sacks through two games, to say nothing of all the times Ben Roethlisberger has had to run around or the running backs have had to scramble to get positive yardage. 

But Mendenhall seems to have found a way to make the offensive line work for him. He ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2009 and 2010, and he fell just 72 yards short of that total last season. 

Plus, Mendenhall is a monster in the red zone. From 2009 to 2011, he had 29 rushing touchdowns.

The Steelers are a different and better team with him in the lineup. No matter how good the backups look, they don't do the same things that Mendenhall can. 

This team can't succeed with a running game that is near the bottom of the NFL. The Steelers at least need to be able to threaten the run to get opposing teams to respect it. With Mendenhall out, no one has any reason to pay attention to the ground game because it isn't going anywhere. 

As long as the Steelers can make it through Sunday's game against Oakland, which wouldn't seem to be a problem, Mendenhall will be the big boost they need going forward.