Mendenhall is likely to start at RB for Steelers
The Steelers own one advantage going in their biggest game of the season: The Ravens know who the Steelers' quarterback will be, but they're only guessing about the running back.
Then again, the Steelers' three running backs also aren't sure who will take that first carry from scrimmage Sunday night at Heinz Field.
The Steelers have gone into big games this late in the season without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But they almost always have a running back in place.
Now they're going with what coach Mike Tomlin said is the hot hand, starting three different backs — Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer — in the past five games.
Running backs coach Kirby Wilson said last week that Mendenhall would return when he was healthy, and he appears to be after missing four-plus games with an Achilles injury. Mendenhall reported being incident-free after practice Thursday.
Mendenhall has the best combined skills of the three — he possesses the get-to-the-edge explosiveness that Dwyer and Redman lack — but the downside is he figures to be rusty after getting only 19 carries all season.
Dwyer and Redman aren't. Dwyer (two games) and Redman (one) have three 100-yard games between them since Mendenhall went out. Dwyer averaged 95 yards in his past three games.
Still, Dwyer said, “If (Rashard) is back, he'll be the starter. We're excited for him to come back to play. He's working his way back and looking pretty good. We're excited we've got the band (of running backs) back together.”
Redman also expects Mendenhall to start.
“We got all the horses in the stable, and we're going to be able to have a fresh running back out there at all times,” Redman said. “That's going to be hard to deal with.”
Then again, the Ravens are having trouble dealing with most running games. They are 26th in rushing defense (132 yards per game), and they allowed at least 93 yards to an opposing back in four of their last five games.
No wonder Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he doesn't care who starts.
“It doesn't matter whether it's No. 7 (Roethlisberger) or No. 4 (Byron Leftwich) handing it off; it's still a power play. So that's not going to change that part of the game,” Pees said. “They're not going to come in and say, ‘OK, this week we are going to have all new.' … They are going to run the exact same offense.”
So drawing up the Steelers' game plan is easy, right? Run, run, run the ball at a Ray Lewis-free defense, wind the clock, keep the chains moving and keep the pressure off Leftwich, who is 0-6 as a starter since 2006.
“We want to try to take some of the burden off him, so he doesn't feel like he has to do too much out there,” Redman said. “If we run the ball at a high level, it definitely takes a lot off his shoulders.”
But the Ravens are also 26th in pass defense (258.2 yards), and they're missing two of their top three cornerbacks, Lardarius Webb (ACL) and Jimmy Smith (sports hernia). Nickel back Corey Graham — a 2011 Pro Bowl special teams player — will start at cornerback, and Chris Johnson, a former Raiders defensive back who was signed Tuesday, is expected to play.
Expect Leftwich to take a few shots downfield.
“We're going to try to find our best matchups all the time, run and pass,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “I wouldn't want to go through the whole game and not (test that secondary).”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.