The Pittsburgh Steelers rushed a mere 15 times for 32 yards in their season-opening, 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Supposed starting running back Isaac Redman had nine yards on his eight carries and the run game proved so worthless that after 10 first-half rushes, the Steelers took to the ground just five times in the second half.
The run game suffered additional blows with the ACL and MCL tears to center Maurkice Pouncey, via Scott Brown of ESPN, and the ACL tear suffered by backup rusher LaRod Stephens-Howling, via John Breech of CBS Sports.
None of this is good, but the Steelers cannot simply sit back and forget about running the ball. With Le'Veon Bell an unknown number of days or weeks away from returning (he's targeting next Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals), Redman clearly not effective and Stephens-Howling done, the Steelers needed to make a roster addition.
They didn't have to look far to find him, with the team set to bring back Jonathan Dwyer, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, whom they released in final roster cuts just over a week ago.
#Steelers will re-sign RB Jonathan Dwyer— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) September 9, 2013
Dwyer was the Steelers' leading rusher in an anemic 2012 run game, with 156 rushes for 623 yards and two touchdowns. However, after the team took Bell with its second-round draft pick in April and then signed free agent Felix Jones in the summer, Dwyer was released.
Despite his leading-man performance in the team's preseason games and the fact that Redman missed all of them with a stinger, it was Dwyer who was initially ruled expendable.
Re-signing Dwyer was an act of necessity, but it doesn't mean the Steelers' run game is going to magically improve overnight.
Pouncey's season-long absence, in particular, will have a major impact on the rest of the offensive line and the team's ability to run the ball. At this point, it doesn't look like the Steelers will run better than they did last year, and it also seems like they know it.
After all, the Steelers weren't terribly behind coming into the second half against Tennessee, with the Titans leading, 7-2. There was no need to pass heavily in an attempt to close the points gap, but the fact that 10 runs produced a mere eight first-half yards told the Steelers all they needed to know about their ability to run the ball.
The Dwyer re-signing is more about numbers—having enough running backs on the depth chart—than any indication that he's the best back for the team or that his presence on the roster will somehow magically yield 4.4 yards per carry.
How concerned are you about Pittsburgh's run game?
In 2012, Dwyer averaged four yards per carry on a rushing offense that collectively averaged 3.7 yards per carry and a terrible 96.1 yards per game. He did this behind an offensive line that, while plagued by a rash of injuries both major and minor (as is usual for the Steelers), at least had its Pro Bowl starting center for 15 of 16 games.
Now, it looks like 96.1 rushing yards per game would be welcomed by the Steelers.
But it's going to take more than just Dwyer getting carries—or even Bell's return—to make that happen. This is a bad situation and only the most dynamic of NFL backs can make something positive in it. Maybe that's Bell, but it's not Dwyer, nor is it Redman, and based on his exactly zero touches Sunday, it's not Jones either.
Pittsburgh's run game is in trouble.
Bringing Dwyer back was a move based in necessity. It was not the Steelers admitting they made a mistake in releasing him in the first place. With Pouncey done for the year, it's going to take a lot of work for any of their backs to run well this season.
It seemed impossible just 24 hours ago, but the Steelers might do a worse job running the ball this year than they did last season.