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Steelers' run game off to worst start in 62 years

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Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers running back Issac Redman is stopped by the Jets defense at Heinz Field Sept. 16, 2012.

Running theme

Most and fewest yards rushing by the Steelers through three games (since 1940):

Most

• 683 yards, 1983

• 622 yards, 1949

• 621 yards, 1948Fewest

• 189 yards, 1950 • 195 yards, 2012

• 196 yards, 1986

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By Alan Robinson
Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

Isaac Redman started the first three games, but he understands changes are needed in what is becoming an historically bad Steelers running game.

Redman concedes former 1,000-yard rusher Rashard Mendenhall will regain his starting job as soon as he is healthy and ready to play, and all signs point to that being when the Steelers return Monday from their weekend off.

“We're looking for him to come in and be the feature guy,” Redman said Thursday.

Time for a change? Even Ben Roethlisberger's exceptional passing statistics can't cover up that the Steelers haven't been this one-dimensional since they were running an offense most teams gave up on in the 1940s.

With 195 yards rushing and a 2.64-yards-per-carry average, the running game is off to its worst start in 62 years — or since the Steelers were the last NFL team still using the single-wing offense. For comparison's sake, the Chiefs have run for 575 yards.

And they didn't call it the wildcat back in 1950, when the Steelers gained only 189 yards in the first three games of what became a 6-6 season.

“We've got talented receivers, we've got a Superman at quarterback, and it's easy to say that the pass is doing better,” left guard Willie Colon said. “To kind of sum it all up, we've got to put in more work.”

During the offseason, general manager Kevin Colbert said the team couldn't count on Mendenhall in 2012, not after he tore the ACL in his right knee Jan. 1 in Cleveland. Then again, Colbert probably didn't count on not having a running back capable of gaining even 75 yards in three games.

Redman's 72 yards (on 32 carries) lead an offense that not long ago figured on Willie Parker or Jerome Bettis gaining that many yards by the end of the third quarter. Jonathan Dwyer (70 yards) is the only other running back with more than 15 yards rushing.

Still, offensive coordinator Todd Haley said the Steelers (1-2) must ease in Mendenhall, who didn't resume practicing until Labor Day.

“To get another difference-maker back hopefully will be a big deal for us,” Haley said.

Redman and Dwyer are inside runners, while Mendenhall is a turn-the-corner back capable of breaking the big run the Steelers are lacking. Their longest run is a 13-yarder by Redman.

“But I don't think (the running game) is too much different than it's been,” Mendenhall said. “It might be perceived that we're struggling, and it's not the case. It's a different offense, we've got some different guys, and we're trying to figure out how to put it together.”

The blocking isn't totally to blame; Haley gave All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey an unusually high grade after the 34-31 loss Sunday in Oakland. But Colon acknowledged he's still making the transition from right tackle to left guard, especially while run blocking.

“One thing I've learned in the three games I've been playing at my position is a lot of what I do makes runs go, as far as pulling and clearing holes,” Colon said. “I personally haven't been efficient with that. I'm trying my best and working my tail off. There are a lot of blocks that I see, if I were to be more detailed in my work and better at what I do, maybe our run average would be better.”

Roethlisberger has compensated for the absence of a running game by throwing 120 times for 904 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception, by far the most attempts for a Steelers quarterback this early in a season.

Even Joe Gilliam had fewer attempts (112) in 1974, when he threw so often while calling his own plays that it finally led coach Chuck Noll to bench him for Terry Bradshaw.

“I feel good about the guys up front and feel good about the guys carrying the ball,” Haley said. “You will see the run game come along — and it needs to.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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