Bit More From Run Game

Mark Kaboly would like to see Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall run the way he did while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended. That, and more from the columnist.

The Super Bowl XL title run was made in large part because of the play of Ben Roethlisberger – well, at least the three games leading up to the Super Bowl.

Three years later, it was the play of one of the best defenses the league ever saw that propelled them to that title-game win over Arizona.

What will it take this year?

If the Steelers make it back to the Super Bowl for the third time in six years, it is not going to be because of the quarterback or the defense, it is going to be because of Rashard Mendenhall.

And for that to happen, all parties involved are going to have to perform a little better than they have – the offensive line, the tight ends, the receivers and especially Mendenhall.

Mendenhall had a pretty solid regular season rushing for 1,273 yards and an impressive 13 touchdowns during his first full year as a starter. But those numbers have drastically fallen over the past couple weeks, and especially since Roethlisberger returned from his four-game suspension a few months back.

When Roethlisberger was out of the lineup, the Steelers relied more on Mendenhall, and rightfully so. He averaged more than 100 yards per game without Roethlisberger and only 70 with him. He has two 100-yard games without Roethlisberger and only one with him. He hasn't had more than 19 carries in a single game over the final quarter of the season and had 20 or more in three of the four games Roethlisberger was suspended.

Also, his yards per carry dropped nearly an entire yard from the first half of the season to the second and his 3.9 yards per carry was the lowest of any AFC running back that topped 1,000 yards.

Mendenhall's biggest issue has been a lack of long runs. He broke off 11 runs of 15 yards or longer during the first half of the season. That number dipped to four runs of that same distance since.

Some of that has to do with the banged-up and somewhat under-talented offensive line. The line is just not good enough to consistently open holes for Mendenhall. Without the offensive line getting better anytime soon, that leaves Mendenhall to pick up the slack.

We all know that the Steelers are going to have to run better in the postseason to advance, and especially with the lineup of teams that could possibly stand in between them and another trip to the Super Bowl.

They are not going to be able to rely totally on Roethlisberger and the passing game to get things done on offense. And to beat teams like Indianapolis and New England, teams that are lurking down the road, the defense is going to need some help from the offense.

It's not so much points as it will be the Steelers' need to control the clock and limit the chances of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in order to be successful. And the best way to do that is with a consistent running game.

* The main reason the offensive line has been better this season despite a lack of talent is quite simple – the scheme Sean Kugler has employed mostly, if not all, out of necessity.

Simply put, there aren't many complicated blocking techniques the line takes part in. It's mostly dictated by the defensive lineman. If the defensive lineman goes left, the offensive lineman pushes him that way. If he goes right, he pushes him that way. This can create gigantic creases for the running back, which has led to some of Mendenhall's big runs.

To counteract that, the defensive linemen rush straight ahead forcing the offensive lineman to use his talent to win the battle. And as we all know, there's not much talent on that offensive line.

* Speaking of the offensive line, Trai Essex has to be better than Jonathan Scott at left tackle, right?

It just seems very strange to me that Kugler would keep Scott in the starting lineup despite his obvious shortcomings.

* If Mendenhall is going to be a key to the Steelers success in the playoffs, William Gay is running a close second, and that should scare all of you all.

Brady already made Gay look quite pathetic when he threw three touchdown passes to tight end Rob Gronkowski two months back. Teams know the way to beat the Steelers is by spreading them out and attacking through the air, mostly directed at Gay.

You better believe Manning would target Gay with either Pierre Garcon or Jacob Tamme. The Ravens went after him at times a few weeks back and you can guarantee the Chiefs would try as well.

* Call me crazy, but I feel the Steelers would have a much better chance of getting to the Super Bowl if they travel to New England for the AFC Championship Game rather than hosting Baltimore.

The me-against-the-world attitude and the disrespect card would help the Steelers a lot more than a home game against a team they've owned in the playoffs.

But that's just me.

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