Don’t Fret Yet, Replacing the 2011 Mendenhall in the “Statistical Aggregate” Possible for the Steelers in 2012

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Redman will be leading the charge to help out in Mendy's absence. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

On Monday, the Steelers appeared to be dealt a significant blow with regards to the makeup of their 2012 roster.  G.M. Kevin Colbert stated that the franchise is going to go about its business with an understanding that RB Rashard Mendenhall will not be playing in 2012.  While Colbert likely means that Mendenhall’s role will be lessened and he will be on the PUP List to start the year, many in Steeler Nation seem to believe that RB is now a position of need for Pittsburgh.

Don’t get me wrong, losing Mendenhall hurts the Steelers’ Offense, I will not argue that fact.  However, replacing Mendenhall in terms of his statistical impact on the team while maintaining 2011′s RB statistical output can be done, and it can be accomplished more easily than one would think.  If you’re interested in what I have to say and are interested in a statistical breakdown hit “Continue Reading” button and let’s get started:

Running Back: Easiest Position to Replace in the N.F.L.

So, you still think that losing Mendenhall will destroy the Steelers’ running game?  Sure, it will hurt Pittsburgh in terms of losing Mendenhall’s steady production, I’ll give you that Mendy supporters.  But you know what?  A high amount statistical production can be made up rather easily and picked up by a solid “RB by committee” staff.  Want some recent proof?

Let’s take a look at the New Orleans Saints as a nice example of a “RB by committee” in 2011.  New Orleans with their “4 Headed Monster” ranked 6th in the N.F.L. in rushing yards and averaged 4.9 YPC.  In fact, the Saints didn’t have a guy that carried the ball more than 122 times (Mark Ingram), and Darren Sproles led the team with 603 Yards Rushing for a backfield that had some injuries along the way.  Nevertheless, the Saints rode Ingram, Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Chris Ivory to over 2,000 yards on the ground and over 1,100 yards through the air in 2011.  Sure, you can say that the Saints faced a lot of 4-5 men in the box sets, but running for over 2,000 yards as a team is still an incredible feat.  In fact, only 9 teams in the entire League last season rushed for 2,000 yards last season (the Steelers weren’t one of them either).

The shifty Sproles was one of four main Saints to contribute at RB. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

Like the Saints, each of the Steelers’ RB’s I will discuss below do one or two things particularly well, but are not necessarily complete Backs all by themselves.  Furthermore, one of these Backs cannot shoulder the entire Offensive load if asked to do so.

Thus, the Steelers don’t necessarily need to replace Mendenhall the player.  They simply need to replace him in the “aggregate” in a statistical sense to have success on the Offensive side of the ball.  The chains just need to keep moving, the Offense just keeps producing, and the mistakes must be kept at a minimum when whichever of the combination of Backs is called upon to contribute: Much like the Saints did this season with their RB’s.

Mendenhall and his production can be replaced.  How so, you may ask?  Let’s start with a statistical breakdown:

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  • SonnyDrysdale

    Disagree, Batch is coming off a big injury and he hasn’t played for 2 years. The Big dude from Wisconsin is too fat and so is Dwyer who doesn’t work out.

    Sorry they will have to bring in some free agents and draft one

    They just can’t leave the running game in the hands of Redman, he has one start and fumbles a lot

  • DomDiTolla

    @SonnyDrysdale We shall see, the Steelers have way too many holes on their roster to fill before they think about acquiring a RB. Maybe bringing in a guy from the 6th Round or later or a veteran on the “very cheap” could help spur competition, but their roster is thin in too many areas to worry about a RB when they can make due with what they have. Also, Redman had one bad game in Cleveland whereas Mendenhall is actually “fumble prone” and has cost the team in some enormous spots. And who knows? Maybe Redman can win the job outright and not have to share? He certainly has been proving people wrong over the course of his short career after starting as a UDFA.

    The production can be had without Mendenhall, and I’m sure many would agree with me. They don’t need a game-breaker or a #1 Guy per se, just guys that move the chains, don’t make mistakes, and produce on a consistent basis. This is what the RB position has become in the N.F.L.. Have a bit of faith in what is on the roster, especially at such a replaceable spot.

    Ed Bouchette also reported and tweeted yesterday that Colbert thinks that RB is not any more of a need than any other position on the roster, even with Mendenhall’s injury:

    http://plus.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php/pro-sports/steelers/114855-ed-steelers-ok-with-current-backs

    But hey, you’re entitled to your opinion. I appreciate your reading my article.

  • SonnyDrysdale

    @DomDiTolla Mendenhall has 6 fumbles in almost 900 touches, not a fumbler in my book. The fact remains the Steelers after Mendenhall have no NFL experience to speak of. Redman might be able to carry 25 times a game but he hasn’t carried much of the load. Without a player like Mendenhall who can catch the ball and with his game breaking capabilty

    the Steelers offense is below what it was last season. Haley will be at a great disadvantage there as well as in his receiving corps.

  • DomDiTolla

    @SonnyDrysdale I guess I won’t make a believer out of you then, and we will just have to wait and see what happens. My money is on them not missing Mendenhall much if at all. As for experience, it’s the Running Back position. All you have to do is find a guy who properly fits the system and can produce within it. It’s the easiest position to transition from college to pro to in the entire League, and production can be found almost anywhere.

    Look at any RB that has played for Mike Shanahan over the years (Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson). Or how about Arian Foster and Ben Tate in Houston the last couple of seasons? Weren’t those guys lacking experience as well? They managed to come in and do a fantastic job.

    As for the sub-par WR coprs? You’ll have to enlighten me as to how are they at a disadvantage? With Wallace, Brown, and a healthy Sanders that’s a pretty good combo if you ask me and most QB’s around the League. Then you factor in Miller at TE, and I would say Pittsburgh has some pretty darn good pass catchers entering 2012. Disadvantage?

    Revamping the O-Line this offseason is a must, but if Pittsburgh can accomplish that I see no reason the Offense (especially the run game) will skip a beat in 2012 with Haley instead of Arians calling the plays and tailoring the Offense to the talent it already has.

  • mitchitized

    I’m excited to see how the new OC adapts his playcalling to the personnel and game circumstances – which Tomlin keeps lovingly referring to as ‘situational football’ which is perhaps the greatest weakness from the previous OC.

    Mendy’s uniqueness is his big-play ability, where he can bounce quickly outside and takes it to the house. I’m not sure there is another back on the roster with that kind of speed. I totally agree with you in that they have able bruisers, as well as good catchers; but I don’t see that explosive speed anywhere on the current roster at RB.

    That said, I don’t think the Steelers need to match the running stats from 2011, they need to match the stats from seasons where they actually won the big one. Last year their running game was mediocre, and lacked the ability to get the yards when needed most. This absolutely killed the defense (see Denver, and three lonely-and-gasping defensive lineman who never got a breather). It destroyed the defensive game plan, which was the only option available due to injury. Don’t be mad at LeBeau for failing to adapt, he had no more chess pieces and his game partner (Arians) was too stupid/arrogant to see his “three play offense” never controlled the clock!

    The playcalling needs to keep the Steelers’ defense off the field and control the clock. Can’t do that with a mediocre running game. They need to exceed the production from 2011.

  • dbuzard

    I dug the Moneyball analogy!! Steelers may need to play some smallball to get through the salary cap pinch. I can see a ‘win by committee” season this year.

  • DomDiTolla

    @mitchitized In terms of the Denver game, I refuse to excuse LeBeau’s strategic blunders. I know that I should let it go, but the 0-Coverage and other Man schemes employed a lot of the day cost his Defense which was burned deep time and time again. By not even harassing Tebow and allowing him to roll left all game long didn’t help either. The hubris displayed by LeBeau cost his team greatly.

    Yet you’re right though that Arians though is at fault the most for his Red Zone shenanigans and the Offense’s lack of execution. Denver won the T.O.P. the following week in New England (By almost 7 minutes), but the Patriots destroyed Denver out of the gate by finishing drives with TD’s early (like the Steelers could have done) and burying Denver when they had the chance.

    You’re spot on in the fact that their running game lacked the ability to pick up the necessary yards, and it cost them in many important games. As I stated in the article, the running game doesn’t necessarily need to have “stars” toting the rock, just guys that get the job done and help to move the chains and make plays happen when their number is called. It will definitely be a big question entering this season, but I personally believe that Redman will be hungry to earn the job outright and the other guys will be fighting for carries and a chance to shine as well. Some like SonnyDrysdale may disagree, and they have every right to because Steeler Nation still needs to see their production on the field throughout a whole season as “Featured Backs.” Thus it will be an interesting season/experiment to say the least to see if the Steelers can reinforce the notion that RB’s are a dime a dozen and can be replaced in most instances with guys that fit the system yet don’t have oodles of experience.

    As for “matching stats” from their championship seasons, the Steelers actually ran for more yards last season than in their 2008 Super Bowl run (over 300 yards). They just happened to have the League’s best Defense that year and one of the Top 25 Defenses ever assembled helping them along the way. That team got the necessary yards (as you alluded to) however on the ground to keep winning games with guys like Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell when Fast Willie Parker was unavailable/ineffective.

    Thanks for the input/comments and reading my article, and I appreciate you reading it.

  • DomDiTolla

    Thanks Dave, appreciate the kind words. I grew up in Denver during the 90′s and 00′s so I have seen a lot of late round guys which fit systems produce like mad-men (Davis, Gary, Anderson, etc.) I’ve always joked that my Grandma could run for over 1,000 yards for a Shanahan/Kubiak Offense if she knew how to run Zone plays.

    I forgot to mention salary cap pinch you just mentioned in the article, but the Steelers might have to go with the best 3 of 4 of these guys because of the salary issues. If they bring in a 6-7th Rounder or FA on the cheap who fits the system it would be nice for camp competition and a possible steal. Yet there are so many issues elsewhere to address early in the Draft, and Colbert said earlier in the week he is satisfied with the depth chart now and RB is no more a need than anywhere else even with Mendy. shelved.