Mendenhall gives solid effort to lead Steelers
CINCINNATI — Rashard Mendenhall has chugged along confidently despite being stuck in neutral much of this season.
There haven't been any long runs in the open field for the Steelers running back. He has had to work hard for every inch, every yard.
And so it was on his 9-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter Sunday that enabled the Steelers to regain the lead, 24-17, then hold on to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals before a crowd of 63,262 at Paul Brown Stadium.
On first-and-goal, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians dialed up something simple. After flipping through the playbook for two early reverse runs by wide receiver Mike Wallace, the Steelers opted to outmuscle the Bengals in the trenches in the second half.
The Bengals grudgingly conceded ground and limited Mendenhall and Isaac Redman to only 69 yards on 23 carries — including 44 by Mendenhall, who averaged only 2.8 yards a pop.
However, Mendenhall staggered the Bengals with his punishing touchdown run. He stepped out of the hands of nose tackle Domala Peko at the 5-yard line with strong safety Chris Crocker zeroing in and the end zone in sight.
"They had bodies on bodies, and some of their guys were able to break through," Mendenhall said. "I was able to fight through the tackles to get across the goal line."
Only it wasn't that simple.
The Bengals appeared to diagnose the play before the snap. Mendenhall sidestepped a wall of blockers on the right before pivoting left toward a narrow seam in the middle of the Cincinnati defense.
Crocker wrapped his hands around Mendenhall's thighs, but couldn't get a grip. Mendenhall left Crocker sprawled out at the 3 as he stumbled into the end zone for the game-winning score.
"Rashard is gifted," said Redman, who rushed seven times for 25 yards. "That run shows what kind of running back he is."
One season after rushing for a career-high 1,273 yards, Mendenhall has 517 through nine games and is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. His two touchdowns yesterday increased his season total to six.
Mendenhall downplayed his effort. He suggested he's had better runs this season, but perhaps none more memorable.
"There are a lot of runs that people don't see that get only one or two yards," he said. "You have to keep looking for yards. When you get that close to the goal line, you don't want to go down. You've got to get to the white line."
"We were productive enough to get us a win," added Mendenhall, whose only 100-yard game was his 146 against Jacksonville. "The offense is more balanced when the run game is productive."
Also, Mendenhall was an integral part of the passing game, mostly in pass protection. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went to him three times, in part, because Cincinnati's linebackers sometimes cheated at the line of scrimmage.
Mendenhall caught only one pass, but it was the longest catch for any Steelers running back this season. He took a swing pass, and turned it into a 26-yard gain to set up his 2-yard touchdown run that put the Steelers up 14-0 with 3:37 left in the opening quarter.
"When Ben gets stuck with the ball, we try to give him an out," Mendenhall said. "They brought a lot of guys (on the pass rush), and when they do that the running back is unaccounted for."
Steelers vs. Bengals 11/13/11
The Steelers defeat Cincinnati, 24-17, Sunday November 13, 2011 at Paul Brown Stadium.