It was great to see the Pittsburgh Steelers pull out a last-second victory on Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles. It was great to see the defense play with some new creativity and aggression. It was also great to see Rashard Mendenhall return from his ACL injury and rush for 81 yards and a touchdown. Here comes the ‘but’ and I’m guessing not all of you will agree with me.
The return of the running game was much-needed and for many, a very welcome sight to see but I started to see some things in Todd Haley’s play-calling that worry me a bit. Right now, no one in the NFL is playing at a higher level on third down then Ben Roethlisberger is and while that’s a tremendous stat, how long before it catches up with the Steelers?
On several drives Sunday, Haley called runs on first and second downs which resulted in third and long situations. Thankfully, the most important of which was a third and 12 that was converted during the final game-winning drive. How much longer can Ben and the receivers continue to save this offense on third and long though? At some point, it’s going to bite the Steelers in the rear end and the constant runs on first and second downs have got to stop. If the runs leave you with a 3rd and two then OK, that’s manageable, but that isn’t happening. Play-action pass on first down isn’t exactly a bad call for this team either.
While that issue concerns me, the more pressing issue the fact that I am worried about this team thinking it’s a ‘running’ team when clearly is not. Yes, the return of Mendenhall was much needed and he showed exactly the type of burst the Steelers had been missing from the backfield, but how much is too much?
The defense surrendered 14 points on Sunday and while it was an impressive performance against a pretty darn good offense I don’t see 16 points by our offense winning a lot of games in 2012. I have a hard time believing, especially with the injuries to LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu that this defense will be able to hold the Ravens or Cowboys or Giants or even Bengals to 14 points or less.
My point is simple, throw the ball to set up the run. It’s not rocket science here people and it especially works under the Todd Haley system where three-step drops and short routes are the norm. In giving Mendenhall the respect he deserves, I noticed a change in his running style for one game anyway. Much less spinning and more straight ahead, ‘one-juke and go’ type of running. While this is great, I still believe Mendenhall needs to be used in the passing game just as much as the running game. We got a glimpse of this on his touchdown ‘run’ Sunday which was actually a swing pass ruled a rushing attempt.
The idea of giving Mendenhall 25 carries a game does nothing for this offense in terms of rushing the football and more importantly, scoring points. If you go back 10-12 years, then sure, run him like crazy, but this is an offense built for speed and led by the perfect trigger-man for it.
It’s great having Mendy back and let’s use his speed and versatility properly, but let’s remember to that this offense is a Ferrari and not a Mack Truck.