On The Steelers: Will the team's run of success change Mendenhall's role?
Troy Polamalu, left, poses next to "Legendaryous Troy," his wax likeness, unveiled Tuesday at Madame Tussauds in New York. The wax figure required twice the amount of hair of any other creation in the history of the famed attraction, the wax museum said in a statement.
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Rashard Mendenhall will return to practice this week, but will head coach Mike Tomlin return him to his starting job at halfback?
The question was put to Tomlin Tuesday and he sidestepped it, giving a noncommittal response after the Steelers' best ground game production of the season Sunday using two backup runners.
"We expect him to participate this week, and we will see where that participation leads us," Tomlin said.
Mendenhall was off to a slow start through four games and a hamstring injury knocked him out of the fifth game. He has 173 yards and an average of 3.0 yards per carry.
Isaac Redman started against Tennessee and ran 15 times for 49 yards. Jonathan Dwyer, suiting up for just his second game in two seasons with the Steelers, ran 11 times for 107 yards, getting 76 yards on his first carry to set up the Steelers' third touchdown for a 21-3 lead.
That puts Dwyer in a unique situation with the "chance" to become the first Steelers back since Willie Parker in 2008 to have consecutive 100-yard games. He won't get that chance unless he dresses for the game, but with Mewelde Moore recuperating from a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the Titans game, Dwyer could set his personal high by playing in his second consecutive game.
But what of Mendenhall? The team's first-round draft choice in 2008, Mendenhall responded with good seasons in '09 and '10 after his rookie season was cut short by a broken shoulder. He has rushed for 2,381 yards over the past two seasons. Surely, Tomlin would not bench him after a slow four-game start to this one.
However, the coach was more expansive when he spoke about the performances of his other two backs.
"I thought he did a nice job but that is kind of what we expected. Isaac is not an unknown commodity in terms of what he is capable of doing with the ball in his hands, as a blitz pick-up guy and all of the things that encompass being a running back for us. So we were pleased but not surprised."
And on Dwyer:
"I wouldn't necessarily call that a surprise. Since Jonathan has been here, I think he has always made it very evident that running the football is something that he does well. But we are more pleased with some of the other things that he did in the game and other things that come with being a professional running back. He made two tackles on kick coverage units. He did a nice job there. He is growing in all areas, and that is what is going to be required for him to continue to move forward and retain his helmet as some of those guys who are injured get healthy."
The Steelers running game produced more yards and a better average than it has since piling up 206 in a 19-16 overtime victory Nov. 28 at Buffalo.
But it was not a dominant performance Sunday. Other than the 76-yard run by Dwyer, the two backs managed just 80 yards on their other 25 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per carry and no touchdowns. Had Redman's 49 yards on 15 carries been accomplished by Mendenhall, it might have been viewed differently rather than celebrated.
Wide receivers Antonio Brown (10 yards) and Mike Wallace (8) combined for 18 yards on their two carries.
Once the Steelers offense cracked Tennessee's 10-yard line, the team turned to the pass because the goal-line ground game did not budge. The first series, on first down at the 8, Redman was held to no gain, and Ben Roethlisberger tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller on second down.
On first down at Tennessee's 7, the Steelers did not try to run. Instead, Roethlisberger threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Hines Ward.
On their third trip near the goal line, with a first down at the 1, Redman got nothing and Roethlisberger threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to David Johnson on second down.
Their most productive runs inside the 20 came on a third-quarter touchdown drive. On first down at the Titans' 22, Redman ran for 6 and then ran for 5 and a first down. Redman ran again from the 11 for no gain, Dwyer picked up 6 yards on second down and Roethlisberger followed with a 5-yard scoring pass to Ward.
Finally, after LaMarr Woodley's interception and the passing game brought the team to a first down at the 7, Dwyer got nothing on first down, Roethlisberger went to the air on the next two and, on fourth down at the 1, Tomlin had Shaun Suisham kick a field goal.
The Steelers didn't necessarily commit to the run either. All five touchdowns came through the air, and the Steelers threw almost twice as much in the first half as they ran -- 23 passes to 12 runs. They finished the game with 35 passes plus a sack and 28 runs.
Mendenhall was the only player Tomlin on Tuesday declared definitive to return after missing last Sunday's game.
Defensive end Aaron Smith will miss his second game in a row with a sprained foot and a gaggle of players were declared questionable by Tomlin: Tackle Marcus Gilbert (shoulder), nose tackle Casey Hampton (shoulder), guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee) and linebacker Jason Worilds (thigh).
Maurkice Pouncey is fine, according to the coach, after the center left the game with a knee injury but later returned. Tomlin said it is a bruise. Rookie cornerback Cortez Allen also will return to play.
First Published October 12, 2011 12:00 am