Is Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall Playing His Way Out of Pittsburgh?

Lou RomContributor INovember 25, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 18:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens during the game on November 18, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Ravens defeated the Steelers 13-10.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After missing a month with a left Achilles tendon injury, Rashard Mendenhall was inserted back into the starting lineup for the Pittsburgh Steelers last week with mixed results.

Head coach Mike Tomlin insists Mendenhall is the long-term starter in Steel Town. Steeler fans, though, aren't 100 percent on board.

In Pittsburgh's first game without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Tomlin leaned heavily on the fifth-year starter against their big AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens, handing him the ball 11 times.

But Mendenhall only gained 33 yards in the game against a Ravens' defense that isn't what it once was against the rush.

Through three games the Steelers' star running back has barely 100 yards rushing on 17 carries and has not found the end zone.

Without Mendenhall, the Steelers' rushing attack shined with a running back-by-committee approach.

Against the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins, Jonathan Dwyer became the first Steelers back since 2008 to secure back-to-back 100-yard games. A week later, Isaac Redman ran for a career-high 147 yards against the New York Giants.

Mendenhall saw a drop-off last season after two straight 1,000-yard seasons he ran for 928 yards and his knee and Achilles problems this year likely will result in another off year.

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said he would split time between all three running backs against Cleveland this week.

But if Mendenhall expects to keep that starting role he needs to perform better because Dwyer and Redman are waiting in the wings and Steeler fans are ready for a change.

According to an ESPN poll, only one in 10 polled want Mendenhall to start, with 76 percent of those polled backing Dwyer and the rest behind Redman.