When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted running back Chris Rainey in the 5th round this past April I must admit that I was pretty excited. The comparisons to Dexter McCluster of the Kansas City Chiefs were obvious considering offensive coordinator Todd Haley drafted him as well. Rainey, however, has been a huge disappointment so far this season, at least as far as his usage goes.
Through 14 games Rainey has carried the ball just 25 times for 100 yards and caught 14 passes for another 60 yards. He has returned 35 kickoffs for 922 yards and 3 punts for another 16 yards. 39 touches through 14 games is not even 3 per game if you are scoring at home.
Have we seen enough of Rainey so far to form a solid opinion of him? No, but right now he looks to be more like a Stefan Logan type of player than he does a full-fledged change of pace back. Isn\’t that what Baron Batch was supposed to be anyways? The new Mewelde Moore. Batch is an enigma right now as well as he has only touched the ball 29 times this season and has bounced between the practice squad and active roster over the course of the last few weeks.
Do the Steelers even have a third down back right now? You know, a back that comes in on third downs that is threat to both run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield? I don\’t think so and judging by the way that Haley and head coach Mike Tomlin have juggled the running backs this season, I am not sure they think they have a first or second down back running back either.
Last season the Steelers threw passes to their “true” running backs 68 times and completed 48 of them. Through the first 14 games of this season they have thrown 80 passes to them completing 55 of them. Should that pace continue it will result in 91 times, just 23 more than 2011, or about 1.5 more times per game than last season. So much for hoping we would see the screen game used more this season.
Haley said earlier this season that the reason Rainey wasn\’t being used more in the passing game was because he was drawing too much attention every time that he was on the field. At that time Haley insinuated that the rookie needed to be respected more as a ball carrier before he could be used in other ways.
Rainey was on the field Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys for 13 snaps and carried the ball 3 times for 15 times. 2 of those carries included a sprint draw and a wrap around draw. He also was targeted twice in the passing game during the final drive of the first half, a drive that also saw him get his third and final carry of the game. All of his work came in the second quarter.
The Steelers offense only threw to a running back once in the second half and that was an incomplete pass to Jonathan Dwyer during the first possessions of the second half. Fullback Will Johnson did have a 21 yard catch in the second half, but we are talking about running backs here. Throwing to Johnson on the wheel route twice a game should be a given.
The Steelers must win their final two games if they are to make the playoffs and using the running backs out of the backfield more should be part of the game plan moving forward as it will help loosen things up even more. Should it be Rainey? Should be Rashard Mendenhall, who by the way has an 8.8 yards per catch number over the course of his career? That is up to Haley to decide, but as it looks right now the Steelers drafted another Logan with their fifth round draft pick and not a McCluster like many of us thought.
The Logan type players are a dime a dozen, especially if they are going to be used as little as Rainey has been this season.