Rashard Mendenhall Demotion May Not Be the Last for the Steelers
On Tuesday, it was reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Steelers decided to demote running back Rashard Mendenhall, who had two fumbles on Sunday, from the first team to the third team. It was the first significant benching by head coach Mike Tomlin this season, outside of pulling DeMarcus VanDyke from the punt coverage unit.
But that move may not be the final coach Tomlin has in store for his team, who has dropped its last two games, both against division opponents. With a huge matchup looming in Baltimore this week and the Steelers' season on the line, I highly doubt Pittsburgh is finished shaking up its lineup.
Let's check out a few guys whose starting spots may be on the line in the coming weeks.
This might actually not come as a surprise to many Steelers fans who have watched the team this season.
Wallace is coming off two straight 1,000-yard seasons and a lengthy holdout in the offseason that didn't gain him much admiration amongst the Steeler faithful. Even so, most people came into the season expecting Wallace and the rest of Pittsburgh's "young money" receiving corps to be one of the best in football.
The season started out well for both Wallace and Antonio Brown, while the Steelers offense had success. But when Brown left the game against the Giants, most expected Wallace to step up and carry the load.
Despite making the play that eventually won the Steelers the game in the Meadowlands, Wallace has been less than spectacular without Brown opposite him.
Wallace's touchdown against the Giants was a beautiful 51-yard catch and run. Since that catch, Wallace hasn't even matched those 51 yards. He's totaled just 47 yards on eight receptions and scored only one touchdown in the three games since the win over New York. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette tweeted Tomlin's stance on Wallace:
But this isn't all just speculation.
Bouchette reported that the second starting receiver spot opposite Antonio Brown (who will reportedly start this week) was listed on the depth chart as "Mike Wallace OR Emanuel Sanders.
Sanders has played very well since being given the opportunity with Brown out. He's pulled in 10 receptions for 187 yards in the team's last three games.
You can't put all of Wallace's lackluster play on his shoulders, however.
One has to remember that Wallace has played two-and-a-half of the three games without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and gotten meager performances by Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. Leftwich and Batch missed on a lot of throws in the two games they've played, but a great receiver can make poor quarterbacking better. Wallace hasn't done much to help.
Sanders is, without question, going to start pushing Wallace for playing time, and deservedly so. He's out-performed Wallace without Brown in the lineup. The question becomes now, how does Wallace react and how much time does Sanders get?
There's no question that I haven't been the biggest fan of Ziggy Hood this year, and rightfully so.
Hood has been man-handled on the offensive front and just simply hasn't gotten the job done since being taken in the first round in 2009. He's compiled only 18 tackles in 11 games this season, and teams are targeting him with their running game.
There are some lofty expectations that come along with being a No. 1 selection, and there were high hopes for Hood in the city of Pittsburgh. This team had been known for its defense line prominence with guys like Aaron Smith and Kimo VonOelhoffen, but when it came time to replace them, only Brett Keisel has stepped up.
Cameron Heyward is another guy the Steelers have taken in the first round to be a future defensive end, and it might be time to give him a chance to show what he can do. In much more limited action, Heyward has 12 tackles and a sack this season.
Hood's not going to be completely bounced from the lineup, but it might not hurt the Steelers to throw a fresh face up front. Pittsburgh should at least see what it has in Heyward and possibly move forward with Hood as a rotation guy until the end of the season.
Another guy I haven't exactly been too high on throughout the course of the season has been nose tackle Casey Hampton.
There's no doubt that Hampton is an all-time legend in Pittsburgh and deserves recognition for what he's done in the past. But this season could very well be his last in the Steel City, and with diminished talents, Pittsburgh might be better off seeing what else it has up front.
Personally, I think Steve McLendon has done a much nicer job in the middle this season. He just doesn't get enough playing time.
The 26-year-old McLendon does a good job of handling double teams for an undersized nose tackle. He's been good at keeping guards off the linebackers and provides a better pass-rusher than Hampton may have ever been, even at the height of his career.
Like Hood, Hampton can be completely phased out of the defensive front, and could even play a 50/50 share with McLendon. But the Steelers need to do a better job of stopping teams up the middle. They're still fifth in the league in rushing defense, but the last few games haven't been great.
As far as I'm concerned, Ramon Foster should feel lucky to even have a starting job at this point. The Steelers drafted guard David DeCastro in the first round and intended on starting the former Stanford Cardinal right away.
But DeCastro ended up getting injured in a preseason game against the Bills and hit the Injured Reserve list with the six-game exemption.
Now, DeCastro has again begun to practice with the team and will battle in order to earn his starting job back. That's a battle DeCastro should win on pure talent alone.
Foster hasn't played poorly in DeCastro's absence, and it could be at least two weeks before he's ready to see some game action, but he should be able to beat out Foster for that right guard spot and instantly upgrade the unit.
One silver lining for Foster is the fact that Mike Adams is going to miss some time with an ankle injury. With DeCastro coming back, Foster has a shot to see some playing time right tackle with Adams out and Marcus Gilbert headed to IR. Rookie Kelvin Beachum may draw the start, but Foster will challenge.
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