When the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, they will have to rely on their ground game to win. That’s just a fact. With an old and slow quarterback under center in Charlie Batch, against a young and fast defense that will get after him, the Steelers need the ground game to be effective in order to win.
But is head coach Mike Tomlin going to lean on the wrong running back?
It’s quite possible as Rashard Mendenhall will likely get the start and at least half of the carries, leaving Jonathan Dwyer as the backup for Sunday. Throw Isaac Redman in the mix as he was back on the field Wednesday after suffering a concussion Sunday against the Ravens and it’s likely Dwyer won’t get the feature back load that he has probably earned.
Usually I wouldn’t have a problem with Mendenhall getting the bulk of the carries. He has proven in the past that he is capable of being a more than adequate feature back in the NFL.
But not this year. Not for this game.
The bulk of the carries should be going to Dwyer.
Mendenhall may be healthy, but he is very rusty in terms of hitting holes and getting the ball up field. He has only had 30 carries on the season, but is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry.
Dwyer on the other hand is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has been the better back in terms of seeing his blocking and hitting the hole. He’s been able to get into a rhythm every game that he has been given a lot of carries and has had more success than both Mendenhall and Redman.
The Browns have allowed 125.3 yards per game on the ground this season. With a third string quarterback in Charlie Batch who head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t have much confidence in, this would be a good game to pound Dwyer over and over and over again.
Instead the wrong guy could be getting the bulk of those carries and eventually the game could end up on Batch’s arm, which isn’t the ideal recipe for success, even against a two win team.
If Dwyer falters, Tomlin has the option of turning to Mendenhall or Redman. That’s why this is a good problem to have. But you can’t turn to your most effective runner when it is too late. Trying to split the carries up evenly just doesn’t work. Whoever is the starter should get the bulk of the work and be given the chance to set the tone for the game.
That guy should be Dwyer. He’s earned it.