Super Bowl XLV: Why Rashard Mendenhall is the Pittsburgh Steelers' X-Factor

Charles HoweCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23:  Running back Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the New York Jets during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers won 24-19. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Rashard Mendenhall had a pretty impressive regular season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He finished with the seventh most rushing yards in the league, and he had more yards than other premiere running backs such as Steven Jackson, Ray Rice, Darren McFadden and LeSean McCoy. His 13 touchdowns were bested only by Arian Foster.

In the AFC Championship game against the Jets, Mendenhall cut through New York's third ranked rush defense like a hot knife through butter. Even when New York seemingly had him stopped in the backfield, Mendenhall somehow made something out of nothing.

The Packers allowed almost 25 more rushing yards per game and more than one more yard per carry than the New York Jets. Green Bay did a good job bottling up Matt Forte in the NFC Championship game, but Mendenhall out-rushed Forte by 203 yards this season and scored seven more rushing touchdowns.

The Packers may have to drop a safety into the box to try to slow Mendenhall down. The problem is that this will make it easier for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh passing game.

The Steelers have a much more balanced offense than the Chicago Bears, averaging nearly 50 more yards through the air and 20 more yards on the ground per game.

Pittsburgh's balance will force the Packers to keep their defense honest, meaning Mendenhall may very well have a big day on Super Sunday. In particular, if the Steelers jump to an early lead, Mendenhall will grind out the tough yards and shorten the game for the Steelers.

It will not be an easy victory to come by, but the Steelers have the tools to get the win. Mendenhall may not end up as the MVP in Super Bowl XLV if the Steelers clinch their seventh championship, but his efforts will go a long way in making the difference in the game.