Eagles vs. Steelers: Injuries, Mendenhall's Return Mark a 16-14 Pittsburgh Win

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVOctober 7, 2012

Rashard Mendenhall returns, and so does the Steelers' run game.
Rashard Mendenhall returns, and so does the Steelers' run game.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers knew they were in for a fight against the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday—it was just what form that fight would take that was the big unknown.

Ultimately, it was a battle between the Steelers and themselves. The Eagles yet again were in their now-typical offensive form—quarterback Michael Vick found himself susceptible to pressure and had trouble with ball security, while Pittsburgh's defense spent much of the game carrying the team until injuries made things more difficult.

Safety Troy Polamalu, who returned after missing the last two games with a calf injury, re-injured the calf in the first quarter and was replaced by Ryan Mundy, whose impact—yet again—was mostly negative. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley also left the game with a hamstring injury, something that bothered him last season.

In the first half, most notably, the Steelers defense was impressive. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons was that unit's leader, with nine tackles (two for a loss) and two quarterback hits on the day. James Harrison, who made his regular-season debut after undergoing knee surgery during the summer, had a respectable pair of tackles and two hits on Vick. 

All told, the Steelers forced four fumbles on the day, with three of them recovered by Pittsburgh—two turnovers by Vick and one by DeSean Jackson. Vick was also sacked three times.

On offense, Pittsburgh mostly struggled. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't under duress—he wasn't sacked at all—but good coverage by the Eagles' secondary combined with poor accuracy resulted in him going 21-of-37 for 207 yards and no scores. 

Steelers receiver Mike Wallace was held to just two catches on eight targets for 17 yards; the receptions were confined to the first half. Emmanuel Sanders had seven targets and three catches for 22 yards, Antonio Brown was thrown to 10 times, with seven receptions and 86 yards and the ever-reliable Heath Miller caught four of the five passes tossed his way for a total of 41 yards.

On offense, Pittsburgh's star of the game was running back Rashard Mendenhall, who saw his first action since tearing his ACL in Week 17 of last season. Mendenhall had 81 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries as well as two catches for 20 yards. 

For the first time this season, a Steelers running back notched a legitimately good yards-per-carry average. At 5.8, he nearly doubled the efforts of Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer in the previous three games. 

Mendenhall looked decisive and fast, showing no sign of the injury that felled him in January. He was able to make something out of nothing—practically his career calling card—and made the Steelers' terrible run-blocking offensive line finally look like less of a liability. 

He even outshined his Eagles counterpart, LeSean McCoy. Pittsburgh, knowing full well that its defense hasn't been as strong as it's typically been against the rush, stepped up and held McCoy to only 53 yards on 16 carries; Vick, too, was contained, breaking off just five runs for 16 yards.

Stylistically, it wasn't the best showing for the Steelers, particularly on offense. Miscues resulted in Roethlisberger failing to hit his receivers, and there were few, if any, deep shots taken down the field despite finally having a successful run game and a reason to utilize more play-action passing. 

As such, the game came down not to Roethlisberger's arm and playmaking abilities, but the leg of kicker Shaun Suisham, who hit the game-winning field goal in the final seconds to lift the Steelers to a 16-14 win and a 2-2 record on the year.

While the concern about the Steelers' ability to run the ball has begun to wane after seeing Mendenhall's performance this week, it now rises again about their defense, with Woodley's and Polamalu's injuries taking center stage in a short week. The Steelers take on the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night and may easily be without the two important starters for that game and beyond.

If it's not one thing for Pittsburgh, it's another: The run game gets back on track, but the defense deals with more injuries; the defense still manages to step up, but Roethlisberger cannot capitalize. On and on it seems to go this season.

At the very least, the Steelers managed to hold on for a home win in Week 5 before having to very quickly prepare to leave town and face the one-win Titans. With the bye week behind them, there's only the next game ahead.