The Pittsburgh Steelers broke out for 167 rushing yards against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night, but the Steelers are still not a running football team.
With Rashard Mendenhall in the lineup, those numbers, ideally, get better, but the fifth-year ball-carrier may not be in the lineup (according to The Associated Press, via Sports Illustrated) on Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
The report states that "Mendenhall (Achilles) and [Isaac] Redman (ankle), who top the running back depth chart, 'have a chance' of playing as well, Sunday, coach Mike Tomlin said."
Entering Week 8, Pittsburgh is 26th in the league in rushing offense—averaging 90.2 yards per game. The Redskins have quietly put together the league's seventh-best run defense—holding opponents to 85.3 yards on the ground.
Fantasy owners, everything about that situation should scare you. If you own Mendenhall, he's given you 74 yards on 19 carries this season. By now, you should have several backup plans on your roster, or you shouldn't have the Steelers' running back on your team at all (although he's owned in nearly 90 percent of ESPN's standard-scoring leagues).
Playing Mendenhall against the Redskins on Sunday isn't going to end well. Even if he has a solid week of practice and does wind up playing, there's no sure bet that he won't get hurt again. On top of that, Pittsburgh could stick Jonathan Dwyer's hot hand in the backfield.
It seems unlikely, and unwise, that Mike Tomlin would activate Mendenhall, start him and give him the ball 20-plus times against a proven group of run-stoppers. Anything less than that doesn't validate his fantasy value, unless you're in a major pinch due to excessive bye weeks.
In its last two games, Washington has allowed 158 combined rushing yards. Minnesota (seventh in the NFL) ran for 94 yards—roughly 36 yards below its current season average. The New York Giants (12th in the NFL) ran for 64 yards in Week 7, which is nearly half of what they currently average.
Expecting Pittsburgh to run the ball well against a red-hot front seven is unrealistic, with or without Mendenhall. The offensive line is still bad, even though the report states that center Maurkice Pouncey is expected to play on Sunday.
If your lineup is in shambles, and you're starving for a No. 2 back or flex player, Mendenhall may be your only choice. But that doesn't mean he's a good one. Don't anticipate more than 15 carries or so, even if he does take the field on Sunday.
These aren't your grandfather's Steelers. It's Ben Roethlisberger's team, and that doesn't leave much room for oft-injured ball-carriers to help you out in fantasy land.