As almost any coach will tell you, you win football games by being able to run the ball and by stopping the run.
This philosophy will be on display in just under 12 days from now as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers are getting ready to face off in Super Bowl XLV.
It is a well known fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers rushing defense is the best in the entire NFL, as it led the league in the regular season in rushing yards against (only allowing a meager 68.2 rushing yards per game).
That play has continued during the playoffs as the Steelers have allowed opposing running backs to rush for 104 yards on 34 carries, good for a very low 3.05 yards per carry against them.
Not to just write off the Packers running game that has come to life with former University at Buffalo running back James Starks in the back field, but no one has run on the Steelers all year and I don’t see it happening in this game either.
The bigger question in the trenches is whether or not the Green Bay Packers are up to the task of stopping Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.
The Packers run defense finished up the regular season allowing an average of 114.9 rushing yards per game (18th best in the league).
However the unit has put up some good numbers in the post season, allowing just 69.7 yards on the ground per game, second only to that of the Steelers unit.
The only problem is that the numbers are a little skewed and the rushing defense of the Packers hasn’t really been tested well up to this point.
Their biggest test in the postseason was just this weekend in the NFC Championship game, where Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears was able to rush for 70 yards on 17 carries (with a very respectable 4.1 yards per carry average).
The week before in the divisional round they did an excellent job of holding Atlanta Falcon’s Michael Turner to just 39 yards rushing, but you have to remember this came on only 10 carries. The Falcons were not only behind in the game big (which made them resort to the pass often) but they were also greatly behind in the time of possession battle too.
In the Wild Card game against Philadelphia, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy fared a little better than Turner with 46 yards, but he also had a very limited workload, carrying the ball only 12 times in total.
In total, opposing running backs have had just 39 carries against the Packers for 155 yards.
So while the total number of yards looks good on paper, the Packers defense has only been able to hold opponents to a shade under four yards per carry throughout the post season.
This sets the stage for another breakout performance from Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who is very underrated throughout the league.
This is a player who rushed for over 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns over the past two seasons (with over 1200 yards and 13 touchdowns of that coming this season).
Mendenhall showed off not only his speed but his power too in the AFC Championship game against the very stingy New York Jets rushing defense, as he went off for 121 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries.
He ran like a man possessed on the biggest stage of his career, as he refused to go down after first contact and was able to show off his speed running through Jets defenders.
You have to remember that this is coming off a game in which he was slowed down by the great Baltimore Ravens defense (just 46 yards) but still managed to find the end zone twice for his team.
In a game that will be talked about for big time quarterback play and big offensive plays, this game is going to boil down into something much simpler—which team is going to win the battle between the trenches.
With the best rush defense in the NFL and running back Mendenhall at their disposal who is going to be hungry for more, expect the Steelers to win the all important battle in the trenches and greatly improve their chances of bringing home yet another Lombardi Trophy to add their record collection.
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