First of all, let me state that I was dead wrong when I said that the Steelers could adequately replace Rashard Mendenhall in the statistical aggregate this season. While it is too early to tell how Mendenhall will perform over the course of this entire season, it has become evident that the “RB by Committee” Pittsburgh employed over the season’s first three games were not up to the task of carrying the proverbial “load.” After the backups began the season in absolutely dreadful fashion, Pittsburgh’s running game was sparked by Mendenhall’s return (14 Carries, 81 Yards, 1 TD) and now appears primed to improve over the next three months. Luckily for the Steelers, they have a perfect opportunity on Thursday Night to continue their ground game success, because Titans have had their fair share of issues defending the run this season.
Tennessee & Their 2012 Run Defense
To say that the Titans have had their issues stopping their opponents’ running games would be a vast understatement. During their 1-4 start, Tennessee’s Defense has been sieve-like against the run, and their stats are indicative of just how much improvement is needed in said area. The Titans rank 28th in the League in Rushing Yards per Game Allowed (144.2), 29th in Total Rushing Yards Allowed (721), and 17th in Yards Per Carry Allowed (4.2). Overall, Tennessee’s Defense has allowed over 100 Yards Rushing in 4 out of their 5 games, 6 Rushing Touchdowns over said span, and allowed their opponents’ Backs to look downright awesome.
Stevan Ridley ran roughshod over the Defense in Week 1 (21 Carries, 125 Yards, 1 TD), Mikel Leshoure had a fantastic N.F.L. debut in Week 3 (26 Carries, 100 Yards, 1 TD), the combination of Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley found success in Week 2 (32 Carries, 112 Yards, 2 TD’s combined), Arian Foster coasted to a solid day in a blowout win for Houston in Week 4 (24 Carries, 86 Yards, 1 TD), and Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart were very effective in last weekend’s game (23 Carries, 129 Yards).
What the Steelers Offense Can Do Tomorrow
Had Mendenhall not been available, and Redman not been moved into his effective “Smasher/Short Yardage Back” role, I would have some concerns as to which weakness would give between the teams. But after watching the Interior of the Steelers’ Line (Maurkice Pouncey, Willie Colon, and Ramon Foster) win the day against Philadelphia last weekend, I have hope that the Steelers can pound the rock with consistency against the Titans.
What will also help the Steelers’ running game tomorrow is the fact that their passing game has so many weapons for Big Ben to target, and will force Tennessee to not completely load the box. Tennessee will have to dedicate time, effort, and personnel to account for Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Heath Miller when they are on the field. Less players stacked to stop the run game means more room to work with for the Linemen and Backs. But even if the Titans do end up getting cocky and throw more than seven players near the Line of scrimmage, Big Ben should be able to burn them in the passing game. Tennessee ranks second to last in Passing Touchdowns Allowed (12), 28th in Pass Yards per Game Allowed (280), and have allowed opposing passers to complete a League-high percentage of their passes (74.6%).
With numbers like these, I would not be mad to see Big Ben & Co. slice and dice Tennessee’s Secondary if they are hell-bent on stopping the run. But to get the Titans to fully worry about the run game throughout tomorrow’s contest, the Offense must find ways to tote the rock effectively on the ground. If this can happen, it would not shock me to see the Offense as a whole enjoy their most balanced and effective game of the season.
As nice as it was to see the running game show up against the Eagles, I hope that Mendenhall and the rest of the Backs are able to exploit Tennessee’s porous run defense and have a huge collective night tomorrow. Tennessee’s issues with stopping the run (as well as the pass) are clearly evident, and I am sure that “Boss Todd” and Big Ben are ready to give the Titans a steady dose of the running game tomorrow. The more consistency the Steelers are able to find toting the rock over the next few weeks, the better and more versatile this Offense will become. And let’s face it readers, this Offense will need to bring their “A Game” every single week for the rest of this season, because their Defense has been too sieve-like too many times already in 2012.
So let’s get excited Steelers Fans, because we could see a return to some old fashioned “Steeler Football” tomorrow night with the ground game!