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Steelers vs Eagles: Can Rashard Mendenhall Revive Steelers' Running Game?

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The Steelers have the worst rushing attack in the NFL after 4 weeks. Can the return of Rashard Mendenhall turn that around?

Jared Wickerham - Getty Images

Here's a fact you'd never thought you would see. At the quarter point of the NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the worst rushing attack in football. They're averaging just 64 yards a game and a pitiful 2.6 yards per attempt.

Now, it is true that these aren't the same ground and pound Steelers the league has come to know. They are a now a team driven by the pass, but still, the desire to run the ball is still there. They just haven't been able to do it.

A big reason has been the absence of starting RB Rashard Mendenhall, who has not played since tearing his ACL in January of this year. He is set to make his return this weekend and it should be interesting to see how much of a workload the Steelers give him.

The question is whether the Steelers' struggles on the ground were due more to the absence of Mendenhall or the struggles of their offensive line. While it may be that the duo of Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer don't have the talent of of Mendenhall, they really didn't make for a drop off when he went down last season.

In one game taking over for Mendenhall early last season, Jonathan Dwyer ran for 107 yards. In the two games after Mendenhall was lost at the end of the season, Isaac Redman ran for 92 and 121 yards respectively. Point is, their running game didn't disappear without Mendenhall last year, but it has this time around. So it would stand to reason that the main culprit is the offensive, a unit beset by injuries.

That said, Mendenhall brings more than just better talent, he has a very different running style than the other Steelers' backs. This from Pro Football Focus.

Their styles are different, with Mendenhall preferring to stretch his runs to the outside and right. Last season, over 60% of his rushing attempts (and seven of his nine touchdowns), attacked running lanes between the right guard and the sideline. So far this season, Redman’s been keeping things inside, with 60% of his runs between the tackles.

Running right should send Mendenhall right where the Eagles want him, into the domain of DeMeco Ryans & Michael Kendricks. It's a matchup the Eagles want, but still one that should provide a nice test for this revamped LB corps.