Dec 4, 2011; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) runs the ball past Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker (92) during the second half of the game at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won the game, 35-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

Rashard Mendenhall expecting to return vs. Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall is expecting to make his return to action this Sunday when the Steelers host the Philadelphia Eagles.

December 24, 2011; Pittsburgh,PA, USA: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) carries the ball for a 52 yard gain against the St. Louis Rams during the second quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 27-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

If he does, it will mark a triumphant return to action for Mendenhall after ACL surgery in January. It may also provide a lift to the Steelers abysmal ground game, currently ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (65.0) and yards per carry (2.6). No running back has cracked 50 yards in a game and their longest run was 13 yards by Isaac Redman.

“I’m really just waiting on my opportunity,” Mendenhall recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I just want to continue to work and, as we as an offense sort of form ourselves and bring the pieces together, I want to bring whatever piece I bring.”

Mendenhall is coming off two 1,000-yard seasons in the past three years and while it’s unclear how much of a difference maker he will be, it is clear that he will be an upgrade over both Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer in the Steelers’ backfield.

In their 34-31 loss against Oakland last Sunday, the Steelers ran for 54 yards on 20 carries (2.7 per carry). Their longest run was eight yards, and that was a scramble by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Mendenhall said the repaired knee feels good, and he believes he has most of his speed and cutting ability back. But he is anxious to get on the field in a game and see exactly where he stands. The biggest adjustment, however, could be picking up the little pieces of Todd Haley’s new offense.

“It is a different offense, and we have some different guys and we’re just trying to figure out how to put it all together,” he told the newspaper.

Having a healthy Mendenhall means that the Steelers will have another offensive weapon to use, but while the rushing attack should be a little bit better, it’s doubtful that the fifth-year pro’s return will suddenly make the Steelers a good rushing team. There have been plenty of other issues rushing the ball other than the running backs.

Considering the Steelers struggles running the ball, it can’t get any worse, and it will be good to see No. 34 back in the Black and Gold on Sunday.

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