NFL Playoff Predictions: Rashard Mendenhall Will Be a Big a Loss for Pittsburgh

Andrew McCluskeyCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions: Rashard Mendenhall Will Be a Big a Loss for Pittsburgh

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl this year, but it seems that injuries have dramatically decreased their chances.

    Their latest big loss was starting running back Rashard Mendenhall.

    The Steelers have placed Mendenhall on the injured reserved list with a torn ACL. The injury took place in Pittsburgh's last game of the year against the Cleveland Browns. Mendenhall only had eight carries before he was knocked out of the game.

    No matter how good your team may be, injuries to your starters can end anyone's run at a championship. The Pittsburgh Steelers are no different.

    Here are five reasons why Mendenhall's injury will end the Steelers' run at a Super Bowl.

They Have No One Else

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    Rashard Mendenhall was the Steelers' leading rusher by about 450 yards. 

    He had almost 120 more carries than backup Isaac Redman. Along with Mewelde Moore, Redman and rookie John Clay will take on the load of the rushing attack. 

    The Steelers' rushing attack was ranked 14th in the league during the regular season averaging about 119 rushing yards per game. That average is certainly going to take a hit with Mendenhall's absence. 

    Redman had a solid yards per carry average of 4.4 in the little playing time he had this season. He also had his best game of the year against the Browns after Mendenhall went down with his knee injury, but you have to imagine he won't perform as well against playoff-caliber opponents.

    Redman is by no means a terrible running back, but he is a huge downgrade from Mendenhall.

More Pressure on Roethlisberger

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    Ben Roethlisberger is used to having to make big plays in playoff games in order for the Steelers to win.

    However, there will be more pressure on him this year than ever before.

    Roethlisberger has been dealing with an ankle injury that limited him in the Steelers' matchup against the 49ers and kept him out of their Week 16 game against the Rams. "Big Ben" played in the Week 17 matchup against the Browns, but wasn't at the top of his game.

    Now without Mendenhall in the backfield to take the pressure of Roethlisberger, teams will be much more willing to send the blitz after the hobbled quarterback. One of his best assets has always been his ability to move around in the pocket. With that taken away from him, he will have to become more of a true pocket passer.

    Roethlisberger has the skill to carry the offense if he is completely healthy, but with the injured ankle the Steelers offense may be too weak to compete.

More Pressure on the Receivers

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    We know that without Mendenhall the majority of the pressure will fall on the shoulders of Roethlisberger.

    However, the Steelers wide receivers will face tougher coverage than they have all year this postseason.

    Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown have been the top receivers for Pittsburgh all year. Opposing defenses are going to be blanketing those two all game long.

    The lack of a running threat completely changes the way the Steelers offense will have to play. The teams they'll be matched up against this postseason will surely game plan accordingly. 

    Wallace and Brown will be responsible for trying to beat double coverage and give Roethlisberger someone to throw to. If they can't get open, the Steelers offense is in serious trouble.

Steelers Have Already Struggled Against Playoff Teams

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    The Steelers are 3-4 against playoff teams this year. 

    The only game against a playoff team that Pittsburgh didn't have Rashard Mendenhall was Week 4 against the Houston Texans. Pittsburgh ran for a 118 yards total in that game matching their yearly average per game. However, Redman only ran for 40 yards.

    The biggest impact was on the Steelers passing game. Without the threat of a rushing attack, Roethlisberger had one of his worst games of the year. 

    So this means that the Steelers were 3-3 against playoff teams with both Roethlisberger and Mendenhall starting. It is clear that Pittsburgh would have had their hands full in the postseason with Mendenhall, but now it'll be an even greater challenge.

They Don't Match Up Well with Patriots or Ravens

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    The two teams that the Steelers could be matched up against if they get past the Denver Broncos in the first round are the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.

    The Steelers lost both of their games against the Ravens this season and struggled mightily running the ball. They only ran for 66 and 67 yards in the two games against Baltimore with a healthy Mendenhall.

    As we've seen with the other games where the Steelers rushing attack has struggled, Roethlisberger in turn played some of his worst games against the Ravens. He threw only two touchdowns while throwing four interceptions over the course of the two games. 

    The Steelers had better success against the Patriots beating them 25-17 in their Week 8 matchup. 

    They were able to limit the Patriots passing game and dominated time of possession. The ability to pound the ball on the ground was a huge factor. The last thing the Steelers would want in a playoff matchup against the Patriots would be to have the game turn in to a shootout. 

    Regardless of which team the Steelers get in the second round, assuming they beat the Broncos, they are in for a very tough matchup without Mendenhall.