Steelers' Run Game Flirts With 'Mendoza Line'

Rashard Mendenhall is off to a rotten start, but says he's never felt better and cited the need for all involved parties to fix the Steelers' run game together.

PITTSBURGH – A month ago, Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson said of Rashard Mendenhall, "there's nothing he can't do."

A few weeks ago, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called Mendenhall, "the lead dog, and everybody else feeds off him."

Yesterday, Mendenhall said of himself, "I'm the best player right now than I've ever been because I work at it and because of where I'm at experience-wise."

But after three games, Mendenhall has rushed for only 148 yards at a 3.0 average yards per carry.

It's quite a decline from last season when, at this point, he had rushed for 332 yards in three games at an average of 5.2 per carry.

As a team, the Steelers average only 3.3 per carry, or exactly what the 6-10 Steelers averaged in 2003.

In fact, in their 78-plus years, the Steelers have averaged 3.3 yards per carry or less 18 times, and didn't have a winning season in any of them.

You might call 3.3 the Mendoza Line of Steelers football.

Mendenhall said it's too early to worry, but has a notion about how the team will fix it.

"You work at it. You concentrate on it. You focus on it, just like the Texans," Mendenhall said of this week's opponent.

The Houston Texans are fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game and they average 4.1 per carry, or exactly what the Steelers averaged last season when the owner mandated that his team improve its running game.

But that urgency doesn't appear to be present. And Mendenhall said it has nothing to do with the lockout or injuries to the offensive line.

"It's a lot bigger than one person, than the offensive line, it's the whole mindset, it's the whole attack, starting from the top, the offensive coordinator, the plays that are called, the matchups we have. It's a collective effort of everybody. It has to be clicking for us to be productive," he said.

Mendenhall repeated this several times for the waves of reporters who showed up at his locker three days after he'd rushed for only 37 yards on 18 carries against the Indianapolis Colts.

Mendenhall sprinkled his comments with similar remarks about the play-calling, a renewed focus on details, and the offense needing a collective effort. One play that seemed to symbolize all of those problems was the play that turned the game around for the Colts on Sunday night.

With a 10-3 lead in the second quarter, the Steelers had the ball at the Indianapolis 42. The called play was a draw to Mendenhall "with a pass option," according to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"I saw something with Mike [Wallace]," Roethlisberger explained.

"I knew I didn't have time to really set too long and throw it, but I thought I had enough time to get a quick pump. We actually had a touchdown. But I probably held on to it."

And Dwight Freeney crashed down on Roethlisberger to force a fumble that was picked up for a Colts touchdown.

If it had been thrown for a Steelers touchdown, it likely would've been called back because guard Chris Kemoeatu was downfield blocking for the Mendenhall draw. Kemoeatu never heard the audible, if there was one called.

"I'm not exactly sure what Ben was doing with the signal or if it was supposed to be handed off," Mendenhall said. "It's on him to give it, and we'll take it if he does. If he doesn't, he must see something."

The Steelers' lack of attention to detail almost cost them the game. It's what Mendenhall's talking about.

"But we struggled in the run game before," he said. "This is so early in the season. Even in Baltimore we were pretty productive in the run game but we had to get away from it.

"It's so early. We're not panicking."

NOTES – Several Steelers missed Wednesday's non-contact practice: WR Arnaz Battle (knee), DE Brett Keisel (knee), G Doug Legursky (shoulder), and T Jonathan Scott (ankle). … LB James Farrior, DE Aaron Smith and WR Hines Ward were given the day off. … WR Mike Wallace's participation was limited by sore ribs. … Missing practice for the Texans were WR Andre Johnson (knee, toe) and two reserves.

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