Mendenhall will boost, not save, run game

Running back Rashard Mendenhall is expected to play his first game Sunday, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which is good news for the Steelers. Actually, any addition to Pittsburgh's struggling ground game would be considered good news.

Mendenhall, the leading rusher for the past three seasons, provides hope to the NFL's second-worst rushing attack (65.0 yards per game). But he's definitely not a guaranteed solution.

Even general manager Kevin Colbert said in February that the Steelers weren't counting on Mendenhall for the 2012 season because he had ACL surgery in January. This isn't like Adrian Peterson coming back and giving you 84 yards rushing in his first game from knee surgery. Peterson is an athletic freak of nature.

Mendenhall, though, will make the Steelers' run game better (yes, I know, it really can't get much worse). For the past three seasons, Mendenhall gave the Steelers a middle-of-the-pack ground game. He averaged 70.4 yards rushing per game and scored 29 touchdowns. Over those three seasons, the Steelers' run game was ranked: 19th, 11th and 14th.

At this point, the Steelers would take that. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have done little to take the pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Mendenhall took a step back last season when he gained 928 yards rushing. He didn't run hard up the middle and preferred to bounce plays to the outside. But the Steelers know they will be getting the best out of Mendenhall for the final 13 games. He'll be an unrestricted free agent by the end of the season and should be motivated to prove he's overcome knee surgery.

"To get another difference-maker back will, hopefully, will be a big deal for us," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.

The Steelers have brought back Mendenhall the right way. They activated him off the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 15 and allowed him to work himself back at his pace. Even though the Steelers have needed him in the first three weeks of the season, they refused to rush him back.

Mendenhall is the Steelers' best hope to revive their running game. There's really no other options.