Pittsburgh Steelers' Parker and Mendenhall: Should We Call Them Must And Bust?
We had perfect weather for viewing the game that everyone had waited to see.
The delicate, early evening breeze was the perfect compliment to the warmth of the radiant, late summer sun that shone down over the city of Pittsburgh.
The harmonious conditions that combined to form a beautiful evening were something to be enjoyed yet sadly, not a foreshadowing of a balance or a collaboration that we would observe among the Steelers' running backs.
There was no one, two punch. There was nothing.
The first quarter was abysmal.
The first Steeler possession, the one we had waited for so long to see featured a dreaded sight: Willie Parker attempting to rush to the right only to hit a wall and suffer a three yard loss.
On the next possession, Parker attempted another rush to the right resulting in a one yard loss.
Near the end of the quarter, Parker chalked up his first positive yardage, a run to the right again for one yard.
Rashard Mendenhall fared little better on the Steelers' third series taking the ball up the middle for one yard on first down, and two yards on second down setting up the predictable "3rd-and-long", ending with Ben Roethlisberger being sacked for a loss.
The next quarter was more of the same. Attempts made by Parker to skip out to the right resulted in minimal gains.
The fact that Troy Polamalu was responding to the Tennessee offense like a one man defense machine while the rest of the Steeler D played with solid determination almost seemed lost on the crowd.
We were focused on watching the improvement in our running game. A failure to resuscitate the philosophy of smash mouth football in Pittsburgh gave the stadium a feeling that we were beaten, though the scoreboard remained at 0-0 until late in the first half.
Mewelde Moore did a good job in the second half. A good job in that he did at least what we expect of him. His stats were no better than Parker's or Mendenhall's, but he converted a critical "2nd-and-1" in overtime.
Without irony, I felt that we all knew the gravity of that "2nd-and-1" because during the course of the game, a "3rd-and-1" became almost worse than a "3rd-and-12".
None of the Super Bowl highlights flashing periodically on the now malfunctioning jumbotron could convince the crowd that we had a running game, or an answer in short yardage situations.
Mewelde delivered on "2nd-and-1" but we remember his foiled attempts to punch it into the end zone against the Chargers late in the 2008 season.
Perhaps we were wishing we could see a little of the preseason phenom, Isaac Redman on 3rd downs.
Yet the solid but not dominant performance of preseason stand out Stefan Logan reminded us, training camp heroes can whither like the glorious blooms of summer once the cold wind starts to gust off of the icy rivers.
Isaac Redman can't save us next week. What can fix our running game?
A glaring statistic that lingers from the game is Parker's 13 attempts for 19 yards. Mendenhall fared no better, gaining a total of six yards after four attempts.
Parker and Mendenhall both finished the game averaging 1.5 yards per carry with Mewelde Moore also gained a total of just eight yards after five attempts and 1.6 yards per carry.
At the end of a game that lasted late into the night, the Steelers combined rushing yard total was an inauspicious 36.
The once proud tradition of Steeler football now looks truly to be a derelict concept.
Steeler fans, from the most learned well-versed super fan down to the casual observer, frequently cite Bruce Arians' refusal to use a full-back as a reason that the run has lost its power.
The offensive line and their inability to create running gaps is mentioned in the next breath.
Lastly, the talent level of the running backs themselves is called into question.
At the end of the day, the absence of the belief that we are pounding the opposition is leaving the fans feeling flat.
I have to agree. We all love the image of Bettis kneeing Urlacher's face and body out of his way as he storms into the snow covered end zone.
That brand of offense breeds a sense of dominance.
Its absence in real games in real time begins to shadow the fact that we have made improvements in our special teams.
It lingers as a weakness behind our proud, dominant defense.
It compromises the place where we remain effective on offense, Roethlisberger in the shotgun marching his team down the field.
I want to believe in Willie Parker. I loved the Bills game in 2004 where he gave his first real stand out performance. I felt for him last night as he pounded his clenched fist on the turf after being stuffed for no gain again and again.
My feelings for Rashard Mendenhall are less empathetic. I can't see any signs of true commitment. I want him to change my mind.
I like Mewelde Moore. His breakout performance by default in last year's regular season game at Heinz Field against the Ravens was solid. But he is best as a versatile weapon, not a starting back.
Even if we were playing perfect football in the other two areas of the game, football just doesn't feel like football for Steeler fans unless there is a strong running game.
I join the coaches in wringing my hands with few solutions to offer.
My remedy is my hope that they grasp the fan's feelings that alternate approaches, be it a fullback, the odd gadget, basically whatever isn't a run to the right or up the middle, must be taken to remedy the situation.
Failure to be truly innovative with our running game could erode much of the potential not only to be great, but to be the historical football team that we see possible with the 2009 Steelers.
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