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And the winner is…..Mendenhall

October 23, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players

Perhaps the writing was on the wall when the Steelers failed to sign him to a new contract during the off-season.  Willie Parker’s days as the Steelers starting running back seem to have come to an end.

Parker returned to the playing field last Sunday despite a toe that is still not completely healed.

Prior to the game, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was non-committal as to who would get the majority of carries.  Both Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians used the same neutral reply; “we’re just happy to have both running backs available to play”.

Fans, on the other hand didn’t seem to be quite so neutral.  Many Steelers fans had already grown tired of Parker’s inability to gain short yardage between the tackles.  Parker’s running style was often seen as being “feast or famine”.  Parker would either get to the outside and picks up significant yardage, or he would be stopped for little to no yardage.

Fast Willie Parker

Fast Willie Parker

Personally, I’ve always felt that Parker’s game was rather one-dimensional.  Parker is fast.  Period.  He isn’t a powerful runner, which is why he is often unsuccessful running between the tackles.  He also isn’t particularly elusive.  He has never been known for having much “swivel in his hips”, and his running style will never be confused with Barry Sanders’.  Oh yeah, and he can’t catch.

But despite the collective thoughts of much of Steeler Nation, the Steelers coaches decided to make it an open competition.  And after a one game competition, the winner is Mendenhall.

Mike Tomlin announced that Rashard Mendenhall will get the majority of the snaps for the foreseeable future.  “Rashard has earned the right to take the majority of the snaps as we move forward”.  And with those words, a baton was passed in Steelers running back history.

Parker doesn’t quite see it that way.  He seems to think that the reason that he is not starting is because he is not healthy.

“I am not ready to take the load right now,” Parker said. “When I am ready, we will make another decision.”

Perhaps Parker is right.  However, if that were the case wouldn’t Mike Tomlin have said that Mendenhall will start “until Parker is healthy” ?  Instead, he said that Mendenhall had “earned” the right to take the majority of the snaps.  That sound like Tomlin believes that Mendenhall has proven that he is the better choice (at least for now).

Mendenhall is averaging  5.1 yards per carry, compared to 3.1 yards/carry for Parker.  Moreover, they have almost the same number of carries.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

But before we get too excited about Mendenhall’s future, we have to remember that most of his yards were gained during starts against the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns, two of the worst teams in the NFL.

We have to remember that Mendenhall does have a history of fumbling.  Even during his impressive games against the Lions and Browns, TV commentators mentioned how loosely he was holding the ball.

Besides those two dynamic games against lesser foes, Mendenhall doesn’t have much of an NFL resume.  Fans quickly forget that Mendenhall was all but invisible during the preseason.  In fact, most fans were calling for an undrafted rookie named Isaac Redman to become the Steelers’ starting running back at the end of the preseason.

The bottom line is that the ball belongs to Rashard Mendenhall….for now.  He still needs to show what he can do against quality NFL defenses.

In Willie Parker, we have a back who has proven himself over a long period of time.  In Mendenhall, it is still not clear what we have.

Perhaps Tomlin and Arians were right prior to their commitment to Mendenhall.  Perhaps we all should have just been happy to have both backs available to play.


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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. San Diego Chargers preview

October 02, 2009 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

October 2, 2009
By Donald Starver

After 2 straight losses, the Steelers will attempt to regain their winning ways this Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.  The game will begin at 8:20 PM (ET), and will be nationally televised on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

The Steelers have never lost a game to the Chargers in Pittsburgh during the regular season.  That’s right, NEVER.  The Chargers’ only win in Pittsburgh came in the 1994 AFC Championship Game.

The Chargers enter the game with a 2-1 record.  Their lone loss came in week 2, when they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 26-31.

Like the Steelers, the Chargers have been playing without one of their star players.  LaDainian Tomlinson injured his ankle in week 1, and has missed the last two games.  If Tomlinson can’t play, the Chargers will have to rely on Darren Sproles to lead their rushing attack.

Despite missing Tomlinson, the Chargers offense has been potent.  Chargers QB Philip Rivers leads the NFL with 991 passing yards through 3 games.  Rivers leads a Chargers offense that reminds some of the old  “Air Coryell” Chargers offense.

Philip Rivers

Chargers QB Philip Rivers

In his last two games, Rivers has passed for 739 yards (303 vs. Miami, and an amazing 436 versus Baltimore’s normally stout defense).  That’s the most yards by a Chargers QB in a 2-game stretch since Dan Fouts threw for 784 yards in 1985.

What makes the Chargers’ passing attack so difficult to stop is their collection of big receivers.  Wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd are both 6’5″.  Tight end Antonio Gates, another Chargers receiving threat, is 6’4″.  This is going to create match-up problems for the Steelers’ defensive backs.  Cornerback Ike Taylor is 6’2″, however CB Willie Gay is only 5’10″.  The Steelers’ safeties aren’t big either.  Safety Ryan Clark is 5’11″, and safety Tyrone Carter is 5’8″.

The Chargers’ defense is also depleted.  Linebacker Shawne Merriman did not practice on Thursday due to a groin injury.  He will be a game-time decision.

The Chargers will also be playing without massive nose tackle Jamal Williams.  The Chargers’ 350 pound lineman is out for the season with a tricep injury.  His backup, Ogemdi Nwagbuo was a member of the Chargers’ practice squad last year.  Nwagbuo is 50 lbs. lighter than Jamal Williams, and will not pose the challenge that Williams does.

As Steelers fans know, the nose tackle is the most important position on a 3-4 defense.  So playing against Nwagbuo may be just what the Steelers offense needs to get their running game in gear.

The Steelers’ running game looked much improved last week, as Willie Parker rushed for 93 yards on 25 carries.  Perhaps the running game will get a boost this week.  The team signed RB Carey Davis this week.  Davis had been released after Steelers training camp, but was still available when Frank Summers suffered a mysterious back injury (am I the only one who thinks that the only thing on Summers that is injured is his blocking ability?).

Steelers RB Carey Davis

Steelers RB Carey Davis

The Steelers passing game should also be improved, as wide receiver Shaun McDonald will probably replace Limas Sweed on the active list for the game.  After dropping a sure touchdown pass in last week’s game, Sweed has been dropped to the bottom of the Steelers’ WR depth chart.

As much as I’d like to predict a big win by the Steelers, we know that the Steelers never seem to win by a big margin.  Instead, they like to keep their fans on the verge of cardiac arrest until the final seconds of the game.  With that in mind, I predict the Steelers will win a close game by a score of 21-17.

Note:  To check out our Steelers vs. Chargers key match-ups, please click here.


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Steelers vs. Bears keys to victory

September 19, 2009 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

September 19, 2009
By Patrick Cartwright

This week the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to the windy city to face the Chicago Bears.  Here are what I believe to be the keys to a Steelers victory.

1.  Pressure Cutler – As you may have seen last Sunday, Jay Cutler isn’t quite the savior of mankind that all of Chicago thought he was when they traded for him a few months back.  Funny what a four-pick game will do to a quarterback’s sterling reputation.

Regardless, the reason the Chicago faithful are pining for the days of Kyle Orton is simple; Green Bay put constant pressure on Cutler.  He was hurried and frantic all day long.  When he had the time, and the coverage allowed, he was able to throw the deep ball, but that wasn’t nearly as often as the Bears would like.

More than this, however, the pressure and defensive scheme limited Cutler’s ability to put the ball in the hands of two of his biggest playmakers; running back Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen, who was bracketed for practically the entire game.

The bottom line is, against the Packers’ much improved defense, there wasn’t much to look at in the passing game.  I’ve read at least two or three articles attributing a lot of the Bears’ ineptitude to Green Bay’s new 3-4 defense.  That the Steelers play the same style of defense, and are the best in the league at it, does not bode well for Cutler.  He should be running for his life all afternoon.

2.  Run the Ball…and then Pass like Hell – Steelers football is dead.  Before you pass out or send a bunch of hate mail, let me explain; Steelers Football, as defined in the Myron Cope’s Official Terrible Dictionary, is “Run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, and play good defense.”  Which is what I suppose they still do, because if the Steelers ran the ball on three consecutive tries, they would most likely end up punting.

I’ll say it right now; the run game is going nowhere.  It hasn’t been any good for over a year now; yet Ben Roethlisberger has been better than he’s ever been in his career.  Throw the damn ball.

Throw the @#$&#% ball!!!

Throw the @#$&#% ball!!!

I know the arguments.  You have to run the ball the set up the pass.  Ben already takes too many sacks.  The offensive line is terrible.  Wallace is a rookie, Sweed is undependable, Ward is too old, and Santonio might be high.  I get it.  To which I reply: The offense has looked fantastic in the 2-minute drill. They did last year. They did against Tennessee last Thursday.

The best running back we have right now, as far as I can tell, is Mewelde Moore, who seems to be valuable because he’s the only one who can catch a pass out of the backfield.  Slow Willie isn’t getting it done anymore, and I have yet to see something from Mendenhall to make me think he’s the Next Big Thing at Steelers running back.  Oh, and he still fumbles a lot.

Joe Flacco put up 300+ yards and 3 TDs last week.  Joe Freakin’ Flacco.  And you’re not going to want to hear this, but the Ravens have a much better running game than the Steelers do.  Hell, I’d trade all three of our current running backs for Ray Rice.  So please, please, sacrifice the notion of “Steelers Football”, or for the second time this decade, “Steelers Football” is going to be synonymous with following a Super Bowl win with a mediocre season.

3.  The middle of the field is your friend – If you haven’t heard, Bears middle linebacker/Old Spice pitchman Brian Urlacher is out for the season with a dislocated wrist.  Yes, he’s old-ish.  And yes, he had back problems.  But if you think Urlacher isn’t a difference maker, you’ve just come back from a Jamacian vacation with Ricky Williams.

With Urlacher gone, that leaves a hole in the middle of the field to be exploited.  So how about throwing about, oh I don’ t know, a thousand passes to Heath Miller?  Dear Baby Jesus, why do they not throw to Heath Miller more often?

But I’m getting away from myself.  Heath, or perhaps Hines Ward, should be able to take advantage of Urlacher’s absence.  Then, when they cheat players toward the middle, its long bomb time to Santonio or Mike Wallace.

Oh, and it would also be a good time to bring back the fullback.

4. Chicks Dig the Long Ball – While the short middle of the field will probably open up, that shouldn’t discourage Ben from throwing deep.  The Bears defense has a significant weakness: their secondary is awful.  And where the secondary isn’t deficient, its injured.  Please, please, throw the long ball early and often, Bruce Arians.  Do it.  Don’t even think about it.  Do it.

5.  Don’t Screw Up – Honestly, the Steelers are the better team here.  I don’t think player-for-player, the Bears should be able to keep up with the Steelers.  But the Steelers have to be aware of the big play capability of this Bears team.

Jay Cutler has a cannon, and throwing the deep ball to a wide open receiver is something he excels at.  With Troy Polamalu out, there is a weakness to be exploited in the Steelers’ secondary.  If the safeties stay back  and don’t get beat by the long ball, the Bears will be unable to capitalize.

The same goes for the Bears’ run game.  Matt Forte may not have looked all that impressive last week, but he’s a strong runner that can not only wear a team down, but can break for a big play.  Thankfully, the Steelers have one of the best run defenses in the NFL.

Lastly, the O-line needs to be able to protect Roethlisberger.  The Bears showed improved play in their line and blitzing game last week against the Packers.  If Ben has time to throw, this game could be a blowout.  If not, it could be a long day for the Steelers offense.


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What’s wrong with the Steelers’ running game?

September 13, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

By now, we all know that the Steelers met with utter failure when trying to run the ball against the Tennessee Titans.  The Steelers not being able to run the ball is like Jeff Gordon not being able to drive, or Michael Phelps not being able to swim.  Running the ball is what the Steelers do.

The Steelers have historically subscribed to two key principles:

  1. Run the ball.
  2. Stop the run.

The Steelers’ defense seems to be having no problem in upholding their end of the deal.  They did a good job of stopping the run.  They held Tennessee’s talented tandem of Chris Johnson and LenDale White to a combined 85 rushing yards.

Contrarily, the Steelers’ offense didn’t quite get it done.  They delivered 36 total rushing yards.  Nope, you didn’t read that wrong.  I said 36 yards……total.  With a feeble offensive output like that, the Steelers may want to consider bringing back #36.  After all, it seems like the team has struggled in the running game since he retired.

So what’s wrong with the Steelers running game?  Why can’t they gain yards on the ground?

The easy answer is to point at the offensive line.  After all, they seem to be everybody’s whipping boys.  And to be honest, some of the blame does belong to the offensive line.  Their struggles are well-documented.

Following the game, Max Starks blamed the offensive line’s difficulties on the fact that the Titans play a 4-3 defense.  ”If we played a 3-4 team right now, we’d be great. We don’t play a 4-3 team that often, especially in training camp. All you see is virtually 3-4.”

Ummmmm Max, you’re kidding right?  You do realize that MOST teams in the NFL play a 4-3 defense, not a 3-4.  So if the Steelers can’t handle a 4-3 defense, then we are in for a loooong season.  Oh by the way, the Steelers happen to play the Chicago Bears next week.  They play a 4-3 defense.  Following the Bears, the Steelers face the Cincinnati Bengals, another 4-3 team.

As I said earlier, the offensive line played a role in the Steelers struggles to run the ball, but they weren’t completely responsible.  Another important factor was the Tennessee Titans.  They happened to have the 6th ranked defense against the run last season.  They allowed only 93.9 yards/game during the 2008 regular season.  That’s pretty good.

The Titans clearly came in with the idea that the way to beat the Steelers was to stop their running game.  The Titans often brought 8 men to the line to stop the run.  They seemed to be daring Ben Roethlisberger to beat them through the air (which he ultimately did).

The final factor that contributed to the Steelers’ difficulties was Willie Parker.  Parker has been nursing a hamstring injury that kept him out of most of the preseason.  Parker got no carries against the Arizona Cardinals in the first preseason game.  He got 4 carries against the Washington Redskins in the second preseason game.  Then he sat out the final two preseason games.  So Parker entered the regular season with a grand total of 4 preseason rushing attempts.  That’s not enough to get anyone ready for the NFL season.


In addition to Parker’s lack of carries during the preseason, he was also struggling at the end of the 2008 season.  In the Super Bowl, Parker rushed 19 times for a total of 53 yards.  Moreover, he got 15 yards on one of those carries.  When you subtract that lone long run, he got 38 yards on 18 carries.  That’s an average of 2.1 yards/carry.  Not good.  Not good at all.

In the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens, Parker gained 47 yards on 24 carries.  That averages out to 1.96 yards/carry.

So in the final 2 games of the 2008 season, Parker averaged approximately 2.0 yards per carry.  He then missed most of the 2009 preseason.

So as we can see, there are multiple factors contributing to the Steelers’ woes in the running game. 

While it is natural for fans to want to see drastic improvement by the Steelers, there really is no magic bullet.  We can’t make dramatic changes to the offensive line.  After all, they’re the only offensive line that we have. 

Willie Parker is also going to have to play better.  Fans are already starting to call for Isaac Redman to be called up from the practice squad.  However, with the limited number of carries that Parker got in the preseason, fans are just going to have to be patient as he plays himself back into mid-season form.

And of course, the opposition isn’t going to go easy on us despite our struggles.  Next week the Steelers face the Chicago Bears.  They were the #5 defense against the run last season.  That’s even better than the Titans’ defense.  I’ll bet the Bears have taken note of the Steelers’ difficulties running the ball, and will plan to exploit that weakness next week.

Steelers fans are a very knowledgeable bunch.  I’m sure that they’ve noticed that it was the passing game that won the Super Bowl for the Steelers.  Similarly, it was the passing game that won the game against the Tennessee Titans.

Until the Steelers figure out how to fix the problems in their running game, I recommend that they make a temporary  amendment to their key principles.  I suggest that the principles be altered to the following:

  1. Pass the ball.
  2. Stop the run.

All in favor say “aye”.


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Steelers Training Camp: Running Backs

August 12, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players, training camp

 August 12, 2009
By John DeWald

Editor’s note:  Prior to training camp, we started a series previewing all of the positions.  Our goal was to make fans familiar with all of the players who would be competing at training camp, and to give our best guess at who would actually make the 53-man roster.  Unfortunately, we did not complete the series prior to the start of training camp like we had originally intended.  We have decided to complete the series anyway.  We hope that it will make fans more familiar with some of the names that you will hear us mention in our regular training camp updates.

Also, please note that this installment is being written by John DeWald.  John is one of our regular readers who alway impressed me with the quality of the comments that he left.  I wanted to share his insight with my readers,  so I asked him to co-write this series with me.  See what happens when you leave quality comments?  Hint, hint.

This is Part 6 in a series.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

Part 1:  Defensive linemen

Part 2:  Linebackers

Part 3:  Safeties

Part 4: Cornerbacks

Part 5: Quarterbacks

Last season the Steelers carried 3 running backs and a single fullback on the active roster (and kept 1 back on the practice squad). The incumbents are Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, and Carey Davis.

Early in the 2008 season, Mendenhall was placed on IR (compliments of Ray Lewis) and Gary Russell was activated from the practice squad. Russell is gone but the rest of them are still on the team along with four new backs. So, unless someone really shines on special teams (and is kept primarily for that purpose) we are looking at 8 players fighting for 4 spots on the 53-man roster.

The Steelers appear to be in very good shape with the top 3 RB’s returning.  Of course, as we found out last year, injuries can change that outlook very quickly.  So let’s take a look at the running backs who will be competing at Steelers training camp.

Willie Parker - Parker is a good (although limited) back with blazing speed and good vision but mediocre elusiveness (he’s not going to make people miss unless he can run away from them).  He’s also not much of a pass catcher.  Parker had an off year last season due to injuries and an inconsistent line.  He expanded his off-season training regimen to try to avoid injuries this year.  This is a contract year for Parker and he is playing with a chip on his shoulder so expect him to put everything on the line to earn a new contract.


Rashard Mendenhall- Behind Parker is last year’s #1 pick.  Mendenhall is a more complete back than Parker but is very inexperienced after logging only 19 carries last year.  The Steelers are very high on him and would like to see him shoulder a significant amount of the load to keep both he and Parker fresh for the postseason.  Not to mention, to give them an idea of whether to give Parker a contract extension.

Mewelde Moore- Moore was signed last season as a 3rd down back/return specialist.  Proving that you can never have too many good backs, he logged some heroic performances filling in for the injured Parker and Mendenhall.  Over his 4 starts he carried 80 times for 360 Yards (4.5 YPC) and had 16 receptions for 89 yards.  He is a much better pass catcher than the other RB’s, logging 40 receptions last year (tied for 5th on the team).  His return game was not nearly as impressive but at least he was sure handed.

Parker, Mendenhall, and Moore are all locks to make the team.

Carey Davis- Unlike the other returning backs, Davis should probably brush off his resume.  Davis began last year as the starting FB until it was discovered that Sean McHugh (the 3rd TE) was actually a better blocker.  Given the de-emphasis of the FB in Bruce Arians’ offense, the competition from H-Back/TE players such as McHugh and Johnson, and the intriguing abilities of Summers and Logan, Davis will have an uphill battle to keep his job.  This year the hill will prove too steep.

Those fighting for Davis’s spot:

Frank “The Tank” Summers -  The Steelers’ second 5th round pick is quickly becoming a fan favorite before ever playing a down in the NFL.  The Steelers have been noticeably weak in short yardage situations over the past few years and, given his size, many fans are having visions of the “Tank” being the first effective replacement to “the Bus”.  Needless to say, this will be easier said than done.  Bettis was a unique talent with rare size and agility.  Frank has a lot of upside but, coming from a spread offense, it will take time for him to transition to the NFL.  Lucky for him, the Steelers will not ask him to be anything other than a short yardage back this year - anything else will just be a bonus.  Barring a horrendous camp, Frank is the front runner to take Davis’s spot.

Stefan “The Yugo” Logan- OK, the “Yugo” comment isn’t really fair but this guy is SMALL (5’7 and 185 - and that might be stretching it).  Logan, however, offers some intriguing capabilities.  While lacking the size of Mendenhall and Summers or the speed of Parker, he has great agility and elusiveness.

Logan walked on at South Dakota in 2003.  Four years later, he was the best running back in school history with 15 school records to his credit.  He was the 11th player in Division II history to rush for 5,000 yards (5,968) and surpass 7,000 all purpose yards (7,770).  In his first and only year in the CFL he registered 122 carries for 889 yards (an awesome 7.3 YPC) and had 52 receptions for 477 yards.  He was 6th in the league in combined yards from scrimmage as well as having a 10.5 average on punt returns and nearly a 30 yard average on kick returns.  He is a good receiver, returns punts and kicks, and could be Pittsburgh’s version of Darren Sproles (who is only listed at 5’6 and 185).  Logan has a good chance to make the team but it will be determined almost entirely by his special teams play.

Justin Vincent - Justin Vincent, a 4 year player at LSU, was first signed to the practice squad by Pittsburgh in 2007.  He faced stiff competition for playing time at LSU and never really distinguished himself.  He has spent parts of the last 2 years on the Steelers’ practice squad and has never been elevated to the active roster.  In all likelihood, unless he sets training camp on fire, he is only competing for a place on the practice squad.

Isaac Redman- Redman was signed this year as an undrafted free agent. He ended his college career (Bowie State) as the school’s All-Time leading rusher with 3,300 yards and holds the school’s single season rushing (1,512) record.  He has good size (230 lbs) and good overall skills, but is understandably a bit raw having played in Division II.  Given his upside, I predict that he beats out Vincent for a spot on the practice squad.

So, in summary, Parker, Mendenhall, Moore, and Summers are in. Logan is a possibility as a return specialist. Redman makes the practice squad and Davis and Vincent are out.  Agree?  Disagree?  Your comments are welcome.

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