It’s no secret that the Steelers running game has been bad this year.
The Steelers average just 65 rushing yards per game. That puts them at 31st in the league, and ranks above only the Oakland Raiders’ anemic 60.8 yard per game average.
We haven't run the ball as well as we have liked. I'm not interested in assigning blame in that regard. I will take responsibility for it. The reality is we've got room for growth.
Many hope that Mendenhall’s return will be the growth that Tomlin referred to, and in many ways it will be—as long as fans don’t expect too much production on the ground.
The fact of the matter is (as most Steelers fans know) that the days when the Pittsburgh Steelers ran the ball down opponents’ throats has long since passed. Pittsburgh hasn’t ranked in the top-10 in total rushing since 2007, and that won’t change anytime soon.
The Steelers are a passing team now, and a good one. They’re built around Ben Roethlisberger’s arm offensively, with the ground game being much more of a sideshow. So, anyone expecting Mendenhall to start ripping off 100-yard rushing games is going to be sorely disappointed.
But with that being said, Mendenhall can still give the Pittsburgh offense a big boost.
The problem to this point isn’t just that the Steelers running game has been bad, it hasn’t even been respectable.
Running backs Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer just haven’t been able to get anything going on the ground. That's allowed opposing defenses to focus all of their attention on stopping Roethlisberger and the Steelers' dangerous group of wide receivers.
Pittsburgh has still been able to throw the ball with a good deal of success (they rank sixth overall in passing yards per game), but with a more consistent running game they could be something really special.
Mendenhall can at least give them that.
Since he first became the Steelers' featured running back in 2009, Pittsburgh has ranked 19th, 11th and 14th overall in total rushing yards. Those aren’t exceptional numbers, but they’re respectable.
And respectable is all that Pittsburgh needs right now.
Roethlisberger and the receivers have already proven dangerous even without a running game. Mendenhall’s return will make them even better.
Opposing defenses are no longer going to have the luxury of dropping extra men back into coverage. That's going to lead to even more big plays from Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, who are already one of the scariest receiving duos in the league.
The Steelers aren’t going to morph into a rushing juggernaut overnight, but Mendenhall’s return should at least propel them to “average” status and help out the passing game as well. Knowing how bad the running game has looked lately, “average” is a title the Steelers will gladly accept.