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.
Read the rest