8.23.2010

Getting Caught Up - Running Backs

All you, Rashard

With all the attention garnered by the quarterback position the past few months, the remainder of the Steelers' backfield has faded in to the background in terms of topical discussion.

But not in terms of importance. As just about any yinzer will tell/belch at you: DEM STILLERS NEED TO RUN DA BOLL MORE! JUST YIKE WHEN BUSSY WAS ARAND!!

If Bruce Arians had his way, we'd run 5-wide sets until the female Browns fans came home. But, our reliance on the pass, or perhaps ineffectiveness with the run definitively bit us in the ass last year. In fact, let us take a look at a few somewhat cherry-picked stats:

2009:

1,793 yards rushing as a team (20th in the league)
10 rushing TDs
4,148 yards passing as a team (9th in the league)
28 passing TDs

2006:

1,992 yards rushing as a team (9th in the league)
16 rushing TDs
3,733 yards passing as a team (9th in the league)
23 passing TDs

Yes, our previous ill-fated Lombardi Trophy defense campaign, despite finishing a game worse than 9-7, was actually more productive on the ground. As you can see, both teams were top 10 passing attacks. And it got them mid-January tee-times. A case can be made that with a porous O-line, establishing the run was less of an option last season for the Steelers. A case can also be made that the NFL's landscape is changing toward multiple wide-out sets and running back committees. In fact, of the ten teams that rushed for over 2,000 yards last season only half made the playoffs. So are teams really WINNING with the run? Should it really be a priority for the Black and Gold?

A successful ground game MUST be used to keep opponent secondaries honest and dictate a minimum of coverage in the box. THIS is it's true value. Mendenhall & Co. will succeed if Arians is willing to commit to play calling that establishes the ground game early and then hammers opponents in to submission late. Remember that W-L stat they used to trot out in the 4th every time the Steelers were up? I miss that.

Let's just get to the ball-carriers:

Rashard Mendenhall: Last season, Mendenhall got his shot at the title of workhorse back. While he did rush for over a thousand yards, he only averaged 65 yards a game. However, he did quell concerns about his fumblitis (though he coughed one up last week) and, with 25 receptions, proved to be a better passing option out of the backfield than some had figured. I still get wood thinking about his 2 TD, 165 performance against San Diego in Week 4. It's too much to say this team will go as far as he takes them, but if they are going to shatter the ceiling most pre-season prognosticators are putting over us, it'll take a top-ten year from #34.

Jonathan Dwyer: Steelers' 6th round draftee out of Georgia Tech has failed to wow in camp. Showing up to Latrobe over weight was an obstacle he had just about overcome, only to sustain a shoulder injury that has limited his preseason touches since. Practice Squad fodder.

Mewelde Moore: With only 35 caries last season, Mewelde qualified as a bubble player at the beginning of training camp. Moore's ability to scamper to the open field and make grabs out of the back field will secure him a spot as a 3rd down option. Dwyer's injury/lack of pop indicates that there will likely be room for both Moore and Redman.

Stefan Logan: Currently listed as a running back on the Steelers roster, return duties were "The Joystick"'s to lose at the beginning of camp. It's looking like he has. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are both burners and have the inside track on Logan.

Isaac Redman: Most fans remember Redman generating preseason buzz last year. And then not making the roster out of camp. The difference between now and then is The Steelers are the ones furthering the buzz. Coaches are impressed and "Red-Zone's" numbers seem to indicate he could be a solid goal-line option and change of pace for Mendenhall. Redman lowers to deliver hits, secures the ball with two hands right at the line and runs between the tackles, all indications that he's a serious runner who will stick on the roster this year, maybe even serve as our #2.

Frank Summers: A halfback at UNLV, "Frank the Tank" Summers has been transitioned to lead blocker the past two seasons in Pittsburgh. An injury ended last year early for him, but reports indicate he will likely make the roster as either the first or second fullback.

Justin Vincent: Not much on him as he's barely seen the field on either preseason game, but it looks like Rookie Squad for Vincent.

Dwayne Wright: The only player listed at FB on the Steelers roster currently, Wright was claimed off waivers from the Eagles. He and Frank Summers are likely to come in at 1/2 at that position.

With all of the shifting on the depth chart here, I'm glad I procrastinated waited to write this up. This rather fluid stable of running backs does not scream league-leading rushers. But it does indicate that the Steelers are intent on committing to the run a bit more with heavier, bruising backs.

Up Next: Signal Callers

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I assume if Mendenhall doesn't do well this year we'll be looking for a new back? My fear is that the guy is injury prone and will be off the field more than he is on.

Dixie Normess said...

Injuries are always a concern, but a snapped collarbone isn't exactly something that you are "prone" to or likely to become a nagging issue. We could always see him run into the ground, but if that happens it'll mean we're rushing a lot. And that would make me happy.