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DIESELMAN
12-30-2011, 10:46 PM
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

The 116 yards Rashard Mendenhall had rushing Saturday against the St. Louis Rams was just the third 100-yard game for a Steelers back this season.

The Steelers long have talked about December football as if they owned it, which means running the ball well on offense and stopping it on defense, and as they prepare for January football their strengths have switched on both sides to the passing game.

Despite their 169 yards rushing Saturday against the St. Louis Rams -- the worst run defense in the league -- they rank 16th in the NFL on the run, ninth passing. They rank ninth stopping the run and No. 1 on pass defense. The rankings are based on yards.

The questions are twofold as they head to Cleveland to play the No. 30 run defense in the league before heading into the playoffs: Can they run the ball and stop it well enough to make a difference, or can their passing offense and defense carry them to another Super Bowl?

Rashard Mendenhall's 116 yards against the Rams was only his second 100-yard game of the season and their third overall, thanks to Jonathan Dwyer's 107 yards Oct. 9 against Tennessee. The fewest times they've had 100-yard rushers since they first made a playoff game under Chuck Noll in 1972 was two, most recently in the abominable 2003 season when they set a low-water mark with an average of only 93 yards rushing per game.

They average 116.1 today and coach Mike Tomlin likes how they've run it lately.

"I think that we've run the ball effectively over the second half of the season," Tomlin said. "I've been comfortable with what we've been able to do on the ground. Situationally, I think we could be better in some areas. I think the goal-line stand that the Cleveland Browns had against us a few weeks back is one that sticks out. But largely, in terms of raw numbers, I haven't been displeased with our run game."

In the past six games, the Steelers have averaged 124.8 yards per game. That string came after three in a row below 100.

Mendenhall, who once seemed destined not to sniff 1,000 yards, needs 110 in Cleveland to get there for the third consecutive season.

Also, their average per rush has climbed to 4.4, which ranks 11th in the NFL, and Mendenhall's average has increased to 4.0.

After their big game against the Rams, backup Isaac Redman said: "We kind of expect this type of game every week. We really try to come out and play our hearts out."

The Steelers always expect to stop the run on defense; indeed, it is always their stated No. 1 priority no matter who lines up at quarterback against them. But they've slipped in that regard this season.

Next
Game: Steelers vs. Browns.
When: 4:15 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland.
TV, Radio: KDKA, WDVE-FM (102.5).
They led the league last season, allowing only 62.8 yards per game. This year, opponents have averaged 101.7 yards per game.

Steven Jackson of St. Louis became the third back to top 100 against them this season. Entering 2011, they had allowed just one in the previous 50 games. The next threat for 100 is Cleveland's Peyton Hillis, who gouged Baltimore's defense Sunday for 112 yards on 24 carries.

"He ran Larry Foote over a couple times, ran me over a couple times," linebacker James Farrior said of Jackson. "He's one of the best running backs in the league, so give him credit."

That the Steelers were able to shut out the Rams despite a 100-yard rusher against them was a feat in itself. They can thank another good performance by the NFL's top pass defense, which has changed the way the Steelers look at December and January football on both sides of the ball.

Running the ball effectively in the playoffs will be a big key to how far the Steelers advance. There are some potent offenses that we will likely face. A successful and clock eating run game should be a priority to keep the likes of Brady, Rodgers and Brees on the sidelines. Plus Ben won't be 100% until next season, so a good, effective run game should help keep Ben on his feet.

jnes1216
12-30-2011, 11:07 PM
With the passing offense coming to the forefront this year, I'm a little more concerned with the rushing defense. I agree a good running attack on offense for us would always be beneficial, but lets hope the defense can stop Foster, Rice, and whoever they encounter in the playoffs. They've done great against the pass, I know they'll step it up vs the run in the playoffs.:cope:

BlitzburghRockCity
12-31-2011, 01:45 AM
With a low ranked rush defense again on the schedule for the Steelers, you expect to see Mendenhall and Redman get a heavy workload. We know from past experience the Steelers don't always try to exploit a teams weakness like you'd think they would. When a team is bad against the rush, they pass. When a team can't stop the pass, they run.

Last week was the first time this season where we really saw them get after the Rams on the ground. Partly due to Charlie Batch being in there for sure. Will they do the same this week? One would hope so...