Rashard Mendenhall: Breaking Down Why Steelers RB Is a Must-Start vs. Bengals

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2012

Dec 4, 2011; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) runs the ball past Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker (92) during the second half of the game at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won the game, 35-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

Irritated. That's the word that described Rashard Mendenhall's Achilles and countless fantasy football owners last Thursday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back carried the ball just six times for six yards in his team's 26-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans on the road in Week 6. Mendenhall's nightmarish fantasy performance came just days after he racked up 101 yards and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in his first game back from offseason knee surgery.

Ah, any given Sunday (or Thursday). 

The good news is that Mendenhall expects to play this weekend in Cincinnati according to TimesOnline.com's Mike Bires:

It was just irritated, it’s a little tight. I'll just continue to work on it and get treatment. Hopefully, it will get better. But I’m planning on being able to play (against the Bengals).

With Mendenhall's status looking positive for Sunday, let's break down why the Steelers RB is a must-start for fantasy owners in Week 7.


Big Play Ability

Rashard Mendenhall's speed and agility in the open field make him a threat to score each and every time he touches the ball. The former Illinois star is averaging more than 4.1 yards per carry over the last four seasons and has recorded a run of at least 50 or more yards in each of the last three seasons not counting 2012. 

Mendenhall has 29 rushing touchdowns since the start of 2009 and 31 overall. Clearly, Mendenhall has a nose for the end zone and a knack for the big play. That's a major reason why he has been so successful over the years, rushing for over 3,000 yards from 2009 to 2011.

Sure, the Steelers boast the NFL's second-worst rushing attack this season. But you have to remember that Mendenhall has only touched the ball 23 times since returning to the lineup. 

Patience is key in the case of Rashard Mendenhall. He will return to form shortly, and when he does the big plays will return as well.


Suspect Bengals Defense

Pittsburgh's Week 7 opponent, Cincinnati is allowing more than 116 yards on the ground per week in 2012, ranking it 21st in the NFL defending the run.

In two home games this season, the Bengals have surrendered a combined 198 rushing yards and three scores on the ground. Just last week in Cleveland, the Browns rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati's front seven, proving that the Bengals' defense is flawed in that area.

Mendenhall rushed for 104 yards and four touchdowns in two games vs. Cincinnati in 2011. He scored just five touchdowns total in 13 other regular season games last season. This is simply a can't-miss matchup for fantasy owners. 


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