Bengals vs. Steelers: Why Steelers Need Rashard Mendenhall in Week 16 Matchup

Mike BatistaContributor IDecember 22, 2012

Oct 7, 2012; Pittsburgh , PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) runs the ball past Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Justin Babin (93) during the first half of the game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers play a do-or-die game Sunday on the 40th anniversary of The Immaculate Reception—the play on which Franco Harris scored the most pivotal touchdown in Steelers history.

How fitting, then, that another running back has dominated the conversation as the Steelers prepare to host the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field

Rashard Mendenhall is no Franco Harris, on or off the field.

Harris united multiple ethnic groups in Pittsburgh through Franco's Italian Army. Mendenhall's Osama bin Laden tweets pretty much killed any chance he had of getting a fan section named after him.

Mendenhall has had an enigmatic career with Pittsburgh, but the Steelers need him in uniform in a game they must win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

There's no guarantee Mendenhall will be activated Sunday. He's coming back from a one-game suspension served for not showing up to a game after being told he wouldn't be activated.

Mendenhall hasn't dressed since fumbling twice in a Nov. 25 road loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Despite two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, 29 career touchdowns and a 4.1 yard-per-carry career average, Mendenhall can't seem to break from the middle of the pack among NFL running backs. He's not even the best running back in his division as long as Ray Rice is around.

The Steelers have run for 69 yards in each of their last two games, and have failed to gain 100 yards on the ground in five of their last six games. They're 2-4 in those games.

Mendenhall has done his time for his childish behavior and the Steelers (7-7) are in no position to continue making an example of him.

That doesn't mean the Steelers have to start Mendenhall. Jonathan Dwyer is the starter right now and that shouldn't change Sunday. He gained 122 yards in the Steelers' 24-17 win over the Bengals Oct. 21. He had 107 the following week in a win over the Washington Redskins, but he hasn't had more than 56 yards in a game since then.

So the Steelers should give Dwyer and Isaac Redman a series or two to see if they have any pep in their step. Redman hasn't had more than 43 yards in a game since gaining 147 against the New York Giants Nov. 4.

If Dwyer and Redman keep getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage, it will be time to give Mendenhall a shot.

Mendenhall might not be the answer, either. But the Steelers have to try everything if they want next week's game against the Browns to mean anything.

Maybe Mendenhall will be motivated to put up some big numbers since he'll be a free agent after the season. Maybe he'll realize that if he wants to continue making millions of dollars, it will have to be as a running back and not a Twitter philosopher.

If Mendenhall gets the ball Sunday, he should just ask himself, "What Would Franco Do?"