Since the 1970s, the Steelers have prided themselves on smash-mouth football, but when Bruce Arians took control of the offense, that aspect of the game went the wayside.
The team became one of the worst in the red zone with the rush, the fullback disappeared and the team relied more on the pass in long and short game situations.
Under new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, expect things to change.
While Haley has the weapons most coordinators dream of in quarterback–Ben Roehtlisberger and his potent receiving corps (Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanual Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery)–he also realizes it needs to be balanced out with a strong running game.
That is when the running game can sort itself out.
During the pre-season, Steeler running backs again had trouble in the red zone, and averaged a meager 3.6 yards per carry. That was without running back Rashard Mendenhall, who has averaged 4.1 yards per carry during his career along with 29 touchdowns, but was still nursing a knee injury he suffered in a game against the Browns last January. Mendenhall returned to practice this week and has not been ruled out in the opener against the Broncos on Sunday.
“I have a brace. One of the requirements was for it to be light and mobile,” Mendenhall said. “It’s been a long journey and just to get out on that field with my teammates, I’m excited.”
Isaac Redman, used mostly in third down situations, was asked to handle the workload in Mendenhall’s absence against the Broncos last season during the wild card playoff game and performed exceptionally, gaining 121 yards. He is slated to do the same on Sunday.
“We have to start off on a good note, the whole world will be watching its prime time, and the rest of the world is watching,” Redman said. “Hopefully I don’t have any setbacks.”
Redman may be excited, but he too has been hobbled by injury as of late, and while practicing his status is still questionable.
This means Steelers coach Mike Tomlin may have to go to unproven backup Jonathon Dwyer in a key matchup. Dwyer has shown spurts of brilliance and took snaps with the first team offense during practices, but is untested, although he did rush for 107 yards against the Titans last season, most coming on a 76 yard run.
Rookie running back Chris Rainey, who has also taken snaps with the first team, may be the second coming of Darren Sproles in time, but he is still a rookie. He has a lot of learning to do, and unless necessary, Tomlin does not like to start rookies.
So for now, unless something drastic occurs, it looks as if smash-mouth football will have to wait a few weeks to return. Sunday night’s game against the Broncos will be a match-up between two future hall-of-fame quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning.
Matt Pawlikowski is a freelance writer covering all things Steelers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.