AFC North: Rashard Mednenhall

Upon further review: Steelers

September, 24, 2012
Revisiting the Pittsburgh Steelers' 34-31 loss at the Oakland Raiders:

The Steelers never envisioned they would have a dominant running game this season without Rashard Mendenhall. They did, however, think the combination of Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer would keep defenses honest.

After three games, the Steelers' running game ranks among the worst in the NFL despite new offensive coordinator Todd Haley emphasizing it all offseason. Pittsburgh has gained 195 yards on the ground as a team and has been out-gained by 17 running backs, including the Ravens' Ray Rice (268) and the Bengals' BenJarvus Green-Ellis (204). The most disturbing part is the Steelers managed 54 yards rushing against an Oakland defense that allowed 263 yards only seven days earlier.

Who's to blame for the lack of production in the running game? Some point to the reshuffled offensive line. But this is essentially the same group (outside of left guard Willie Colon) who blocked for the 14th-ranked rushing attack last season. Others think it's Haley's scheme. He is the same coordinator who put together the league's top running game in 2010.

The biggest problem is Redman and Dwyer. I'm not blaming them. This is the fault of the Steelers' decision-makers who chose not to add an experienced running back this offseason (the team's salary cap also played a factor in this) and went with two backs who have never had to carry the load for more than one game. It's clear the Steelers can't make this same mistake next season. With Mendenhall being a free agent at the end of the season, Pittsburgh has to upgrade at the running back spot.

STAT THAT STICKS: 19 -- Straight games that the Steelers had won when leading by 10 or more points after three quarters. That streak is now over.

OVERHEARD: "I wasn't going to punt the football to them. We hadn't stopped them enough in the second half to do that." Coach Mike Tomlin in explaining why he went on fourth-and-one from the Steelers' 29 in the fourth quarter.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The Steelers will try to heal up in an awfully early bye week. It would be a beneficial off week if linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu can come back from injuries. After starting the season with two trips out west in the first three weeks, Pittsburgh only has to leave its time zone twice for the rest of the season and those are games at Tennessee and Dallas.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he anticipates nose tackle Casey Hampton and running back Rashard Mendenhall to miss the start of the regular season.

"My guess is they'll open the season on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform list)," Colbert said. “You’ve got to remember, both of those injuries happened late in the year.”

While this is no surprise because both had surgeries to repair torn ACLs in January, Hampton said last week that he was still targeting to play in the season opener.

If a player is placed on PUP to start training camp and remains there to start the season, he is required to miss the first six weeks. He is able to return during a three-week window of Weeks 7-10.

If Hampton and Mendenhall are both sidelined to begin the season, it will be tougher for the Steelers to replace Hampton. In the three years before Hampton joined the Steelers, their run defense ranked 13th, 26th and 12th. In the first two seasons with Hampton, Pittsburgh's run defense ranked No. 1. In fact, in 11 years with Hampton, the Steelers' run defense has ranked in the top three in the league nine times.

Pittsburgh is expected to replace Hampton with either backup Steve McLendon or rookie fourth-round pick Alameda Ta'amu. Both will get tested in those first five games which features running backs: Denver's Willis McGahee, New York Jets' Shonn Greene, Oakland's Darren McFadden, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy and Tennessee's Chris Johnson.