Steelers hope to stick with run game

By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer

Rashard Mendenhall entered the weekend with 411 yards rushing, the second best total in the NFL.

Yet nobody on the Steelers' roster was happier to see quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back in the locker room than Mendenhall.

With the return of Roethlisberger from a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy, Mendenhall is less likely to see many of the eight and nine-man fronts he's faced in the first four weeks.

"Probably, but that depends on the teams we're playing and what they're trying to do," said Mendenhall, whose 89 carries are second only to Tennessee's Chris Johnson.

"The more balance you can have, the more it opens up some different things. If we can improve our passing offense, it will improve our rushing offense as well."

Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers (3-1) were 31st in the NFL, averaging 136 yards passing per game. Considering Roethlisberger threw for a team-record 4,328 yards - eclipsing the old mark by 604 yards - opponents would be foolish not to respect his ability.

But the Steelers wanted to re-emphasize their rushing attack whether Roethlisberger was on the field or not after ranking in the bottom half of the league running the ball in each of the previous two seasons.

Roethlisberger's had an extra week of practice thanks to Pittsburgh's bye week, but there may be some thought to continue to lean on that running game while he gets back up to game speed, particularly next Sunday against Cleveland at Heinz Field.

"I'm not overly concerned about that, and mostly because of the position he plays," said coach Mike Tomlin. "If he was a running back or a cornerback it would probably be more of an issue. There is a level of concern, but not an extraordinary level of concern."

The Steelers also don't want to give up on Mendenhall and a rushing attack that's averaging 133.5 yards per game.

"We've got to realize that our all-world quarterback is an all-world quarterback, but what we have established is great," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "We're going to add him to what has been established. That's one thing we've got to realize, how much the run is going to complement the pass and how we can just grind it if we need to. We're not going to get away from the things we've been doing well."

So while there will be some obvious differences with the return of a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback back in the lineup, the Steelers don't expect drastic changes.

"The offense is definitely going to go in another direction," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "It won't change too much, but at the same time we're going to throw the ball because we've got one of the best guys back. So I'm excited."