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Steelers' Mendenhall is struggling on ground

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By Scott Brown
Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011
 

Rashard Mendenhall said he has never felt more confident and is "as ready as I've ever been." Yet a season after finishing seventh in the NFL with almost 1,300 rushing yards, the Steelers' fourth-year back is on pace to run for just under 800 yards.

Something doesn't add up when it comes to the workhorse of a ground game that can't seem to get going.

"It's a lot bigger than one person," Mendenhall said Wednesday. "It's a whole mindset. It's a whole attack from the top, offensive coordinator (Bruce Arians), plays that are called that matches what we have. It's a collective effort of everybody that has to be clicking to be successful."

The Steelers are 23rd in the NFL in rushing offense (85.7 yards per game). Mendenhall is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry.

Asked if the struggles stem from becoming a pass-first offense — the Steelers have run 42 percent of the time through three games — Mendenhall said, "We're just running what's called. We're the low men on the totem pole, and we're just trying to carry out what our duties are."

Mendenhall rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter and said the lack of production is a "frustrating thing." But he took a big-picture approach.

"Obviously, our running game is not up to par, and we want to work on it, but we're winning games first and foremost," the Steelers' first-round pick in 2008 said. "We're not panicking."

Roethlisberger last week said he had no concerns about the running game. But three days after the Steelers managed just 67 rushing yards against the Colts, Roethlisberger couldn't offer how jump-start the ground game.

"I am not the run-game guru," Roethlisberger said. "I don't know if it's blocking better, longer, running. Honestly, I don't know."

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Steelers' running-game shortcomings: All signs pointed to Mendenhall building on last season, when he rushed for the seventh-most yards in franchise history and came within one score of trying Franco Harris' record 14 rushing touchdowns in a season.

Arians praised Mendenhall during training camp and before the season opener said the offense would run through Mendenhall.

Mendenhall said there is still plenty of time for the running game to get going.

"I feel like I'm the best player I've ever been because I work at it and where I'm at experience-wise," Mendenhall said. "I think those things will show in time."

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