This Sunday at Heinz Field would be as good a time as any to have a breakout game in the rushing department if you’re the Pittsburgh Steelers. Heck, any week is a good time to have a good performance on the ground if you want to live by what the mantra of old in Pittsburgh; run the ball and play good defense.
That hasn’t exactly been the weapon of choice in recent years for the Steelers, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Even if they are clearly, and no doubt clearly, a unit built to attack through the air, they still try to run the ball. There several reasons why it hasn’t been the most successful of strategies, not the least of which is the musical chairs at offensive line and injuries.
Things could be changing this week though, depending on how you take the following comments by running back Isaac Redman when he talked to reporters about the Eagles defense they’ll be facing: @CBSSteelers: Redman on #Eagles D:”They’re pretty much trying to sack the QB;they’re not really worried about the run. They’re not built to stop the run”.
Taking a quick look at the stats so far through 4 weeks of action; the Eagles are ranked 6th overall in total defense, allowing 298 yards per game on average. Against the pass they are ranked 7th, and against the rush they are 12th overall allowing an average of 95 yards per game.
Contrast that to the Steelers rushing attack which is currently ranked 31st, averaging just 65 yds on the ground per game with the combination of Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Take those stats as you will but it seems to me that while the Eagles have a solid secondary overall, they aren’t exactly bottom of the barrel in the run defense department either.
The return of Rashard Mendenhall to the lineup, even in a limited capacity could be just the spark the Steelers need to get that once vaunted ground game back on track. While we shouldn’t expect 120 yds on the ground and 2 TD’s from #34, the combination of his running style and the emotional lift of him getting back on the field should be significant nonetheless.
It’s likely that Mike Tomlin will continue to go with Isaac Redman to spell Mendenhall, just like last season, even when he’s back to full speed. Pittsburgh is no longer, and hasn’t been for years now, a one man operation on the ground. The presence of both will not only allow Mendenhall to ease back into more playing time but also give Redman a chance to showcase his short yardage game, which has been his forte so far in his career.
Big Ben will have his opportunities against an aggressive secondary and there’s no reason to expect their aerial assault to drop off in productivity, but a balanced attack will always get you more wins than losses when it counts. There should be no doubt that this game is definitely in the “when it counts” category.