Highlighting the Importance of Rashard Mendenhall's Return to the Steelers

Dan SnyderCorrespondent IOctober 17, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 07:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes for a first half touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the game on October 7, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

By now, it's not shocking news but the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL. That's right, a team that has always been known for its rough-and-tough, physical nature has gone soft lately. 

One of the biggest reasons for that might be the absence of starting running back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall blew out his knee in the teams final regular season game last December and has missed some major time in 2012. 

In Week 5, the former first rounder returned to action just nine months after surgery and made an immediate impact. Mendenhall scored the Steelers only touchdown and accounted for almost a third of their total yards, while averaging a season-best 5.2 yards per carry on the ground. 

Mendenhall's absence continue to rear its ugly head the following Thursday, however, as he was forced to leave the game against the Titans with an Achilles injury. The result was the Steelers returning to their 2012 form, and averaging only 2.5 yards per touch. 

I'll admit that I didn't perceive Rashard Mendenhall as a major loss to this football team. The passing attack was quietly developing into one of the best in the league and the offensive line looked to be on the up and up, blocking for one of the deepest running back corps in the game. 

Boy was I wrong. 

Yes, the passing game has been as good as it's ever going to be in Pittsburgh, but everything else has been bad.

The offensive line is in shambles following injuries to now three preseason projected starters (Pouncey, Gilbert, DeCastro) and they can't open any holes up front. The backs haven't helped their cause out much either. The team's leading rusher, Isaac Redman, is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry on 50 touches, while no Steeler back has managed to hit 150 yards yet.

Rashard Mendenhall can change that.

He got a big rest before he came back against Philadelphia and he'll be facing a similar situation this week. Following the Thursday night debacle in Nashville, the team has 10 days of rest before they travel to Cincinnati.

Mendenhall isn't going to be a full-go against Cincinnati and will most likely only tote the rock somewhere between 12-15 times, but those could be some major carries for the Steelers. He carried just 13 times against the Eagles and had a big impact then.

As the season progresses, a healthy Rashard Mendenhall can mean the world to this Steelers offense. Combine the passing threat Pittsburgh has going with any threat of a rushing attack, and you'll have defenses dying to get off the field.  

The season may not hinge on Mendenhall alone, but without him, this team doesn't stand a chance.