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Mendenhall’s Return Has a Potential Darkside

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.




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  1. Matt Pappas

    Well said Marc, if this team even thinks of going back to some version of the ground and pound I’m going to go through the roof! For decades it was run to set up the pass, now we are clearly pass to set up the run and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  2. Marc Uhlmann

    Hard to argue about the way Mendy carries the ball… I don’t have a problem if we continue to throw it short. Ben has thrived so far this season in the Haley offense. I agree that you have to take shots deep to Wallace simply because of his speed, but so far I like the passing game. Just so long as we don’t move away from it.

  3. Elyod

    I thought you were going to say that Mendenhall carries the ball like a loaf of bread, and given that his arms don’t look as strong as they have in years past and his consistantly carrying the ball in the wrong hand, he’s sure to fumble it like he has in the past.

    Mike Tomlin and the front office will hopefully figure out soon enough that this is a passing offense. Todd Haley may have been charged with re-vamping the run game but if the pieces aren’t there it’s not his fault.

    I think the team would be better off passing twice as much as running….and looking for down field throws more often also.

  4. Marc Uhlmann

    I like the Saturn reference…. This is kind of my point in the sense that this offense has more potential as a Ferrari than a Mack truck. I’m very concerned that with Mendenhall back, Haley will feel pressured to run it more. The Steelers need to let Ben score points and collect the wins. The D just isn’t going to be good enough in my opinion to carry the team.

  5. steelspikes

    Last year the Steelers averaged 20 ppg. In the bottom third of the league. Am confident this year’s avg. will be at least 4-5 points higher. Season is still young; offense is looking promising. But this offense has never been a “Ferrari.” It has been a herky-jerky Saturn at best…one sorely in need of a tune-up. That’s why a new mechanic (Haley) was brought in. HE KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING. Let’s see if they can become a smooth running machine by week 6 or 7.

  6. Marc Uhlmann

    It’s ironic for sure. I’m a big believer in balance but I also believe that the Packers are in a similar situation where they need to have more effective runs and not necessarily more runs. I kind of compare Benson, who is now out for 8 weeks, to Redman for us. With Mendenhall back he gives the Steelers that burst from the RB position that wasn’t there. GB needs that too and isn’t getting it. Thanks for reading!

  7. pancake_packer

    I find it funny that you read a Packers story about how MM only ran the ball 17 times and needs to be more around 25-30 and they need to run more and need to set-up the pass with the run……and here is the complete opposite story. Steelers don’t need to run the ball 25 times and need to pass more and need to set-up the run with the pass…..IDK just found it ironic

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