View Full Version : Cook: Mendenhall gaining yards, team's trust

11-14-2010, 09:40 AM
Cook: Mendenhall gaining yards, team's trust
Sunday, November 14, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall has run for 702 yards this season.

" ... And the Steelers' handoff goes to No. 43, Troy Polamalu, off right tackle. He's stopped by Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones after a 6-yard gain ... "

You have no idea how close that came to happening in the game at Cincinnati Monday night.

"Troy was the next back in line," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "He was who we were going to if something happened to Rashard [Mendenhall]."

This was after backup running backs Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman were knocked out with concussions late in the game. The Steelers took possession at their 29 with 8:58 left, their 27-21 lead in jeopardy after the Bengals had scored on two consecutive drives. They needed to keep the ball, run off some clock and, hopefully, score some points to secure the win.

"Oh my, yes, Rashard grew up in that drive," Arians said. "He was tired and beat up, but he took over the game."

Seven consecutive times, Mendenhall carried the ball for gains of 8, 3, 9, 18, 0, 4 and 1 yard. Forget that the final run in that sequence nearly went for a 29-yard touchdown. "It would have gone to the house if their guy" -- safety Reggie Nelson -- "hadn't made a great play [by slicing under guard Doug Legursky]," Arians said. The Steelers still took nearly five minutes off the clock and were in position for a clinching 46-yard field goal, which, by now, you know was missed by kicker Jeff Reed.

That doesn't change the fact that Mendenhall was a big-time ball-toter on the drive.

Not that he had much choice.

No offense, Troy.

"He looked over to the sideline a couple of times and wanted to come out because he was getting a little gassed," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of Mendenhall. "I told him, 'This is what makes you great.' "

Mendenhall confirmed that conversation.

"I think it was after the fifth run that I was really feeling it from running and cutting and getting hit," he said. "Ben just said, 'Be great. Suck it up.'

"That was big for me. So was the offensive coordinator being able to put it all on my back and trust in me. When they put it on your back, you like to deliver."

Deliver, Mendenhall did.

"He plugged along, got first downs and held onto the ball," Roethlisberger said. "That's what's making him an elite running back."

Mendenhall finished with 22 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown, his seventh of the season. He caught a 17-yard pass on the Steelers' opening possession to set up his 1-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead. Arians mentioned he also had a couple of explosive blocks on blitz pick-ups.

"We're watching him turn into one of the great ones," Arians said. "He's been everything we expected him to be."

It's nice to think Mendenhall will be great again tonight. The Patriots' defense has earned its No. 29 ranking in the NFL by playing lousy football. Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis gashed the Patriots for 184 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday as the Browns rushed for 230 yards in their shockingly easy 34-14 win.

Mendenhall said he's taking nothing for granted. That doesn't have anything to do with the Steelers trotting out a new left side of their offensive line tonight with Jonathan Scott in for injured Max Starks at tackle and Ramon Foster in for injured Chris Kemoeatu at guard. Like Roethlisberger, Mendenhall said he's comfortable with all of his linemen. (Smart man, Mendenhall.) It has more to do with the adjustments that coach Bill Belichick is expected to make with his defense.

"I don't get into what happened the game before," Mendenhall said. "Each game is a new game."

Mendenhall might not want to look back, but we're going to take one more peek at that game in Cincinnati.

A question is begging to be answered.

So what would have happened if Mendenhall hadn't sucked it up on that final drive and had to leave the game?

"I would have loved to carry the ball," Polamalu said, grinning.

It turns out Polamalu was an All-Everything running back in high school in Oregon, not to mention an All-Everything center fielder and basketball player. "Isn't too much that Troy wouldn't be great at," Steelers teammate Ryan Clark said. Polamalu practiced occasionally at running back in college at Southern California and also practices a few running plays with the Steelers during their bye week.

As intriguing as it would be to see Polamalu carry the ball, it's probably just as well it didn't happen. The last thing the Steelers need is for him to take a hit from Dhani Jones or one of his linebacker brethren and separate a shoulder or some such thing.

Mendenhall is much better with the ball in his hands, anyway.

No offense, Troy.
Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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