This is not what the Pittsburgh Steelers had in mind when they spent their first pick on Rashard Mendenhall in the 2008 draft. The star running back is going to miss his third consecutive game, but this time it wasn’t because of a fumble.
On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers suspended Mendenhall for one game due to “conduct detrimental to the team.”
The report stated that Mendenhall was suspended because he did not show up for last Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers.
Now it is entirely possible that Mendenhall has already seen his last carry as a member of the Steelers.
But it was more than a demotion as Mendenhall found himself on the inactive list for games against the Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers.
Tomlin clearly had seen enough of Mendenhall, and it is hard not to blame him. This has been an underwhelming season for the former first-round selection.
Mendenhall, while the most talented running back on the team, has been far from the most productive.
With 113 yards on 34 carries, Mendenhall ranks third on the team behind Jonathan Dwyer (510 yards) and Isaac Redman (350 yards), and he has yet to find the end zone. These numbers are a far cry from the past three seasons, in which he averaged 1,103 yards and nearly 10 touchdowns per season.
Besides not running the ball effectively, Mendenhall has been a non-factor in the passing game. He has seven receptions for 61 yards and a score.
It was anticipated that Mendenhall could have been a huge factor in the passing game after offensive coordinator Todd Haley put an emphasis on having quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dump the ball off to the running backs during training camp.
By comparison, Redman leads all backs with 19 receptions with Dwyer just behind him with 17 and Chris Rainey at 14. Even fullback Will Johnson ranks ahead of Mendenhall with 11 receptions.
But numbers aside, Mendenhall never showed that he could carry the load.
Even though the offensive line wasn’t a strength, it still played well enough for Dwyer and Redman to produce some good numbers. Dwyer especially stood out with two 100-yard performances in October, as he took advantage of an opportunity to get significant carries.
Dwyer doesn’t have the same speed or power that Mendenhall has, but he is a forward runner who hit the holes quickly and had the ability to make his own yards when the offensive line didn’t free up lanes for him to run.
This is something that has plagued Mendenhall throughout his career, and Tomlin decided to go with production rather than potential in naming Dwyer the starter (via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
"[Dwyer’s] been consistently the most productive guy," Tomlin said. "I think we've got a large enough body of work to be able to identify that at this point.”
As the Steelers are in the thick of things for the final playoff spot, production is exactly what they need. Dwyer has shown enough to the coaches that they feel comfortable with him moving forward.
Dwyer has now led the team in carries for seven of the past eight games and has firmly established himself as the starter.
With Redman backing him up and Rainey providing a threat on passing downs, there is no spot for Mendenhall anymore.
Tomlin is not going to try to work him back into the lineup for the final two games—which will be must-win games if the Steelers are going to make the playoffs.
The running-back rotation has been set, and it does not have a spot for Mendenhall.
Even though Mendenhall could potentially help this team, it takes belief from the head coach. Right now he doesn’t have that, and for that reason, he has seen his final carry as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.