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Old 10-27-2009, 06:52 PM   #1
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Default ERIC KNOPSNYDER | Running game still a question mark for Steelers

ERIC KNOPSNYDER | Running game still a question mark for Steelers
The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — There were plenty of positives to take out of the Steelers 27-17 victory over the Vikings on Sunday.

The defense turned in a great performance against one of the NFL’s best offenses.

Mike Wallace continues to emerge as a legitimate deep threat for Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game.

And the much-maligned offensive line was respectable against a very good defensive line.

But there is still one big question surrounding the team: What is going on with the running game?

Rashard Mendenhall looked to have answered that when he took over for the injured Willie Parker on Oct. 4. The second-year running back gained 165 yards on the ground against the Chargers. He had 77 yards against the Lions the next week. Parker returned on Oct. 18, but Mendenhall remained the starter, running for 62 yards against the Brown.

Mendenhall was even impressive against the Vikings, running for 69 yards on just 10 carries against the best run defense in the NFL.

So what’s the problem?

Mendenhall still can’t be trusted to hold onto the ball. His fumble at the Minnesota 4-yard line early in the fourth quarter likely would have been the turning point in the game if the Steelers defense hadn’t bailed Mendenhall out with a pair of defensive touchdowns. It was the second consecutive game Mendenhall lost a fumble. Mendenhall, who had most of his rookie season wiped out by injury, also had fumbling problems during the preseason a year ago, so it could be a troubling trend.

The Steelers offense only got the ball one more time on Sunday, but when they did, it was Mewelde Moore in the backfield and not Mendenhall.

So the fumble had to lead to Mendenhall’s benching right?

“It did and it didn’t,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “The young fellow fumbled, and every time he puts a helmet on, it’s a learning experience for him. Just a little careless in that instance. We were ready to go in for a score, and we lost the ball, but also it just speaks to a level of trust we have in Mewelde.”

Tomlin said he isn’t contemplating a change atop the depth chart. That means Parker, the one-time rookie free agent who went on to Super Bowl fame and three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, seems to be the odd man out in the equation.

He only carried one time for 2 yards on Sunday, which Tomlin blamed on the Steelers not having the ball for very long.

“You’re not going to find rhythm within games like that,” Tomlin said. “We’re not going to be able to run it as much as we’d like. I think we were sub-50 in terms of snaps, so you could ask about anybody and their level of participation. It’ll be below the line under those circumstances. We didn’t get Hines (Ward) the ball enough. Etc., etc. etc. We didn’t have enough snaps.”

That may be, but Parker – whose contract is up at the end of the season – can’t be happy sitting on the bench.

“When they call my number I just have to make the best of it,” he said. “Right now, we’re rolling, and we don’t need to get into all that. Just take it for whatever it is.”

A moment later he admitted it was difficult for him.

“Happy to get the win, but I’m a competitor, though,” he said. “You know I want to be out there playing, and things of that nature.”

Parker’s mind-set might be as important as his health. While this could very well be his last season in Pittsburgh, he could become pivotal to the team’s chances for success if Mendenhall continues to fumble.

Eric Knopsnyder is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat
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