After a game against the Cleveland Browns, in which each of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ four running-backs fumbled the football, with then starter Rashard Mendenhall fumbling twice on just eight total snaps for the whole game, Mike Tomlin announced this week that third year pro Jonathan Dwyer would take over as the starter in the backfield.
Dwyer has been a lightning rod for the Steelers at times this season, but he has also been struck with the inconsistencies that all of the team’s backs seem to celebrate together. His 4.4 average per carry for the season is decent, but it is significantly bloated by two big games against the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals in Weeks 7 and 8. Only four times this season has Dwyer averaged more than four yards per carry and never has he cracked 3.0 yards per carry in the other four games. It is at least comforting for the Steelers that his two biggest games came in games he started, but being a starter for the Steelers means very little these days.
Mendenhall was the starter last week, but he was instantly pulled after his first fumble and only got back in the game because every other back on the roster fumbled in his place. His second fumble condemned him, but Dwyer isn’t exactly proving himself as being consistent holding onto the football either as he has two fumbles in 98 carries on the season. With the way Tomlin has treated his other backs, and after last week’s fumbles essentially cost the Steelers victory, and one from Mike Wallace against the Baltimore Ravens the last time the two teams played each other proved crucial, Dwyer will most certainly be on a short leash.
Even more important than that however, is Dwyer’s lack of stamina and durability. He has never proven to be able to carry the load, with season highs of 17, 17 and 19 carries matched by three games with less than 10 carries. Whenever he breaks into the second level of the defense, he is quick to call for a replacement and spend the next play or two getting air on the sidelines. The idea that Dwyer could carry the football successfully over 20 times against the Ravens, in what should be a slugfest regardless of the injuries on both sides, is simply foolish.
That also simply isn’t the way the Steelers approach the running back position. Only Mendenhall ever really had an opportunity to be a feature back for the Steelers, as he is the only back who possesses the diversity to fill every role required of the position. Instead, Dwyer will see much of the workload on early downs, but will give way for Issac Redman in short yardage and goalline situations and Chris Rainey in passing situations. Dwyer does lead the Steelers on carries for the season, with 98, but Redman is close behind with 87, while Mendenhall has 34 and the now waived Baron Batch had 25. Rainey has 21, while receivers Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders account for eight. Fullback Will Johnson has also pitched in with two carries for seven yards.
Despite his slight resemblance to Jerome Bettis, the days of riding the Bus to victory are no more in Pittsburgh. Despite being named the starter, Dwyer is just the leading character in an ensemble cast that will carry out the role of running back for the Steelers.