Don't Fret Yet, Replacing the 2011 Mendenhall in the "Statistical Aggregate" Possible for the Steelers in 2012

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Replacing Football’s Most “Replaceable” Position in the “Statistical Aggregate”:

Remember that scene in “Moneyball” where all the scouts around the table are pissing and moaning about how to replace Jason Giambi, and then Brad Pitt says something to the effect of: “We can’t replace Giambi as a player and his production, but we can replace him in the aggregate,” and him and Jonah Hill break down how Giambi can be replaced by a number of players upping some specific averages (i.e. OBP)?  Well, the 2012 Steelers are in almost the same boat with regards to replacing a solid RB like Mendenhall in a statistical sense.  It might be tricky, but it can be done.

First, let’s begin with the on-the-whole statistics of all RB’s on the Steelers in 2011: (Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Mewelde Moore, John Clay)

386 Carries, 1728 Yards, 13 TD’s, 48 Catches, 342 Yards, 1 TD

Total Yards/TD’s: 2,070 Yards and 14 TD’s

Let me be clear about one thing.  The Steelers’ RB’s didn’t have a terrible season by any means.  Their stats were a bit on the mediocre side in large part due to the fact tha Bruce  If Mendenhall and his 2011 team leading statistics (228 Carries, 928 Yards, 9 TD’s, 18 Catches, 154 Yards) are lost for the season, it will be a tall order to replace.  Nevertheless, the Steelers do have a few guys that can heavy their workload if called upon, and all bring a specific skill set to the proverbial “table” to help Pittsburgh:


Isaac Redman

Isaac Redman, who will likely be the #1 guy, rushed for 479 Yards on 110 Carries (4.4), caught 18 balls for 78 Yards, and scored 3 TD’s in a backup role in 2011.  Playing “second fiddle” to Mendenhall last season, Redman did a solid job when called upon to carry the rock, and will look to shoulder most of the load this season in Mendenhall’s absence.  Moreover, Redman will be getting more touches inside the Red Zone on both running and passing plays in Mendenhall’s absence, and to me and many other Steelers’ fans, this could be a blessing in disguise (let’s try to forget that disaster against Cleveland with 4 straight runs).

In terms of his effectiveness in the passing game and through the air, Redman has displayed a knack for catching the ball and being a viable option in the screen game the last couple of seasons.  Hopefully Haley utilizes actual screen passes to RB’s like Redman and not the “Bubbles” employed by Arians we all knew and loved (grabs barf bag).  In 2011, Redman caught 18 balls in a relief role, the same number as Mendenhall.  As a starter, Redman should not only receive more touches through the air, he will poach a lot of the ones intended for Mendenhall.


Baron Batch

Baron Batch is the X-Factor in terms of replacing Mendenhall in the aggregate, and if he is recovered from his ACL injury sustained in Training Camp, could be the X-Factor on 3rd Downs that the Steelers desperately need.

Batch has good hands, displayed a knack for pass blocking at pass happy Texas Tech, and wowed many last Training Camp with his ability to run the football.  I personally believe that Batch could be in the 20-30 Catches range if he ends up proving himself during the preseason.

Batch could emerge (along with Redman) as a safety-valve for Ben in Shotgun formations and be used effectively in the Red Zone through the air.  In the event Batch becomes the Steelers’ best 3rd Down option, who knows?  Maybe he could have a season along the lines of Mewelde Moore in 2008.


Jonathan Dwyer/John Clay

I don’t know who will win the competition for “Big Back” this summer, but only one can emerge victorious, and they will end up receiving most of the work being asked to pick up tough yards.

Like Batch, the “Big Back” will be required to step his game up at all times, and he must be ready to be “the man” at a moments notice in the event of an injury.  Replacing the work done by Mendenhall must happen, and keep the Steelers’ Rushing Offense on at least the course it was in 2011 is of the utmost importance.

As for pass receiving, I personally believe that 0-5 passes will go in the “Big Back’s” direction.  The 48 total catches from 2011 could be easily had by Redman and Batch, and this role will likely be a rushing only one.  Nevertheless, the winner of this competition will be of vital importance when asked to keep drives alive and even pound the ball across the Goal Line in the event Redman proves ineffective.


My 2012 Estimations (Health Permitting)

To achieve the Total benchmark of 386 Carries and 1,728 Yards rushing the Steelers’ RB’s will need to run the ball almost 25 times per game at an average of 108 Yards per game to make up for the loss of Mendenhall in 2012.  Redman will likely get the most work of the three, and if he averages a measly 4.2 YPC on 15 Carries (what he would need to average per game to go just above Mendenhall’s 2011 Total Carries # in 2011) he should come in at 63 YPG (Less than Mendenhall’s 69.1 in 15 games but still extremely comparable).

For a guy like Redman, 63 YPG is on the lower end of the spectrum for 15 Carries, and he could likely average more than that.  If Redman only averages 63 YPG in a 16 game season, he still would go over the 1,000 Yard Mark (1,008 Yards) and set the rest of the RB corps up nicely to succeed.

In the event that Redman is asked to tote the ball only 228 times in 2012 (the same as Mendenhall, almost 15 times per game average in a 16 game season) and averages a conservative 4.2 YPC (Down from Redman’s 2011 4.4 and just above Mendenhall’s 4.1 from 2011), he still would gain 958 Yards on the ground in a pretty mediocre statistical season!

If Redman can hypothetically gain the 958 rushing on 228 Carries in 2012, that still only leaves 770 yards to be gained by the rest of the Steelers’ stable of Backs to replace Mendhenhall in the aggregate and the RB corps to still remain “up to snuff” when compared statistically to the 2011 team.

As for the other two Backs, the goal of 770 Yards on 158 Carries (whats left to add up to 2011′s RB Rushing Total of 386 and a 4.87 YPC average) combined in a season could seem like a lot, but if cut in half in terms of Total Rushing Yards (385 Yards apiece), it actually isn’t much at all.  If each player splits the workload of the 158 remaining Carries, they would need to average close to 25 YPG each, (24.25) on almost 10 combined Carries per game (9.875) throughout a 16 game season to make up for the loss of Mendenhall, a statistical goal that is not very difficult at all.

In terms of pass receiving, I think that this group of three (well, two in Redman and Batch) should completely exceed the 48 catch and 342 Yard mark (7.125 Average).  In 2010 with the Chiefs, Haley’s Offense completed 80 passes to its top 3 Backs (Jones, McCluster, and Charles) that season.  With adept pass catchers like Redman and Batch, the Steelers could very well be working more RB screens into their repertoire, and I could see Redman and Batch combining for somewhere in the neighborhood of 55-60 grabs this season.  Even averaging 7.0 Yards Per Catch on 55 Total Receptions puts the Steelers at over the 342 Yard mark (385 Yards), and all signs should point to the Steelers at the very least maintaining their Yards Per Catch numbers.

With regards to the 14 TD’s, that number could end up being lessened due to Heath Miller likely getting actual passes thrown his way in the Red Zone.  However, near the Goal Line, it wouldn’t surprise me if Haley had Ben giving Redman and the “Big Back” their shots to get the sure “6′s” as opposed to trolling out the ridiculousness that Airans used to call in the Red Zone.  I predict this statistic to be a wash if not a tad lower.  Nevertheless, it will not hurt the team as much as one would think, because a play-maker like Miller is being given a chance to succeed.

I hope that I have showed you that the Steelers could very well get solid statistical production out of their Running Backs during Mendenhall’s absence.  Outstanding performances aren’t necessarily needed by all, but picking up all the extra statistical slack left behind is.  That will be one of the biggest questions facing the Steelers if they go with a “RB by committee,” but in the event each player stays healthy, 2011′s statistical benchmarks are within reach.

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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:

    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.