The Pittsburgh Steelers running game was virtually useless during the first month of the season before Rashard Mendenhall returned last week. He suffered another injury on Thursday night, however, which has the potential to crush the Steelers' offense again.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com reports Mendenhall suffered an Achilles injury and wasn't able to return in the team's loss to the Tennessee Titans. It's the latest setback for the formerly durable back, who suffered an ACL tear late last season.
The Steelers haven't said how serious the injury is yet, but if Mendenhall is forced to miss more games it's a major concern. Of the other four running backs who have carried the ball for Pittsburgh this season, none of them are even averaging three yards per carry.
In contrast, Mendenhall gained more than five yards per carry in his first game back last week. He also totaled over 100 yards and scored a touchdown, helping lead the Steelers to a hard-fought victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
He wasn't able to have as much success against the Titans, but that probably had a lot to do with the injury. Achilles problems are especially tough for running backs, who rely heavily on being able to push off when making cuts.
Ben Roethlisberger has done his best to keep the team afloat without a running game, passing for 297 yards per game and 10 touchdowns. But the Steelers are still just 2-3 and have a pretty tricky schedule the rest of the way.
The bottom line is the Steelers aren't built to win that way. The team has been built on the foundation of a reliable running game and dominant defense, not a high-powered passing attack like so many other elite teams right now.
For the most part, the defense has held up its end of the bargain, ranking sixth in yards allowed per game. Without the running game, however, the offense hasn't been able to produce at the same level. The Steelers are in the middle of the pack in yards gained per game.
Pittsburgh needs balance to succeed. Mendenhall has proved throughout his career he can provide it. The group of Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey simply haven't been able to replicate his contributions.
An update on Mendenhall's status will probably come soon after further testing on his Achilles and the Steelers need the news to be positive. Another extended absence would be a serious problem for the team's offense.
Pittsburgh hasn't had much luck in terms of injuries this season. Another key loss like Mendenhall would put its playoff hopes in jeopardy.