Ravens vs. Steelers: Predicting Rashard Mendenhall's Potential Impact

John RozumCorrespondent INovember 16, 2012

December 8, 2011; Pittsburgh,PA, USA: Pittsburgh Steelers  running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) carries the ball against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 14-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Anticipate the Pittsburgh Steelers to feed Rashard Mendenhall the rock early and often versus the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11.

Because according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"Rashard Mendenhall, who has missed the past four games with an Achilles tendon injury, is expected to return and start against the Ravens.

"However, wide receiver Antonio Brown did not practice all week and will miss his second game in a row with a high-ankle sprain. He will join quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines."

Another reason Mendenhall needs carries is regarding the obvious quarterback situation. Per Teresa Varley of the Steelers' official website:

"Quarterback Byron Leftwich will start Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, replacing injured Ben Roethlisberger."

As a result, Pittsburgh's best odds to win against Baltimore are by playing smash-mouth football between the tackles. Though, we must also expect the Ravens to adjust accordingly as well.

To that end, let's break down what the Steelers need to prepare for from Baltimore and how to attack the Ravens up front.

In addition, we'll get a look at Mendenhall's potential impact and how he is a competitive advantage for Pittsburgh's offense.

What to Expect From the Ravens Defense

Baltimore ranks No. 26 against the pass and run and allows 390.2 total yards per game.

Now, the Ravens have certainly improved over the past couple of games. Unfortunately for Baltimore, its past two games were against the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders.

Pittsburgh obviously fields a better offense than Cleveland and the Raiders have declined since Week 3. Here, the Ravens will need to blitz and stack the box to force Pittsburgh into being one-dimensional.

Although Leftwich has a strong arm, getting as much pressure as possible whenever he drops back is crucial for the Ravens.

At the same time, constant blitzing does extensively help versus the run and Baltimore definitely needs to improve at clogging gaps and squeezing the edge.

In short, Pittsburgh must anticipate an aggressive attack.

Faster quarterback pressure limits the time for receivers to develop routes and is better for shutting down the run. Therefore, how Pittsburgh remains balanced maintains the competitive advantage versus a suspect defense.

How to Keep Baltimore Honest

Obviously a balanced attack is required to keep any defense honest.

As for Pittsburgh in Week 11, it's quite a challenge considering the injuries and the Ravens being a 7-2 team.

One way to immediately catch Baltimore off guard would be sending Mike Wallace deep on the first few offensive plays.

Leftwich possesses the arm strength to rip one downfield and play-action is simply more evident with Mendenhall. Even if the pass falls incomplete, Pittsburgh showing no fear in attacking deep will get Baltimore to back out of the box.

Not to mention Wallace also possesses the explosiveness to consistently beat man coverage and draw a safety over the top.

Allowing the backup signal-caller to take some shots downfield also gets him comfortable in the pocket quicker.

The Ravens have struggled in coverage, even when healthy, and Pittsburgh has the depth at receiver to take advantage.

The intermediate level will also be consistently open, because the threat of Mendenhall and Co. on the ground forces the linebackers to honor the line of scrimmage.

And a strong rushing attack is needed from the Steelers as well: since Joe Flacco and Baltimore's offense has become more efficient.

Pittsburgh still fields a defense capable of slowing the Ravens down, but minimizing Flacco's possessions is just a favorable edge to the Steelers.

Impact of Rashard Mendenhall

For one, Mendenhall simply has to make his presence felt during the first quarter.

The good news is we saw his immediate impact against the Philadelphia Eagles. There, Mendenhall finished with 101 total yards and one touchdown—one fumble—while averaging 6.3 yards per touch.

The downside is that game being Mendenhall's sole legitimate playing time as he left early versus the Tennessee Titans.

Provided Pittsburgh attempts downfield early, though, there won't be eight stacked in the box to shutdown the Steelers' ground game.

Having Mendenhall then go off tackle and giving him a cutback lane allows for patient downhill running.

With a lead back and receivers blocking, any blitz will get negated and it keeps the play-action rollout a viable threat.

He's the rare combination of size, acceleration, explosion and top speed every team wants in a main ball-carrier.

And as the game progresses Mendenhall can takeover if the Steelers maintain control of the tempo.

Baltimore has allowed 100-plus rushing yards six times already this season. Two of which were losses and three of the other four were given up to the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns.

Backed by a defense like Pittsburgh's, the offense getting 100-plus from Mendenhall and Co. significantly increases the Steelers' odds of winning.


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