In years past, I've typically gotten to these posts earlier in the offseason, but with 10 days still remaining before the Pittsburgh Steelers kickoff their 2010 regular season schedule against the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field, let's get to it.
Obviously quarterback play is paramount to success in the National Football League, but with Ben Roethlisberger set to miss between four and six games to start the regular season, it's going to be a bit tougher to project his statistical output for 2010. His absence also means that the Steelers will need a bigtime season from third-year running back Rashard Mendenhall in order to hopefully get back to the postseason, and then possibly make a run at Lombardi Trophy number seven next January.
2009 Season Statistics
242 carries, 1,108 yards, 4.6 Yards/Carry, 7 TDs
Things To Consider Before Projecting Mendenhall's 2010 season:
No Big Ben - Frankly, this factor could be looked at in multiple ways. On the one hand, Roethlisberger's absence for at least the first quarter of the season could mean increased carries for Mendenhall. On the other hand, without Big Ben and what he brings to the table, opposing defenses may be able to key in on Mendenhall and the running game more aggressively.
Offensive Line Competency - It's very tough for quarterbacks to excel without a solid offensive line. It's even harder though for running backs to post outstanding numbers behind a mediocre offensive line. It's too early to say if this year's O-Line will be mediocre, but I think it's safe to assume that they aren't yet ready to be a top five unit. I have high hopes for new O-Line coach Sean Kugler and what he'll be able to do with the Steelers' big eaters up front in future years, but it takes time to implement a new philosophy and way of going about one's business.
Red Zone Woes Remain? - The Steelers have looked pretty good in many facets this preseason. Red zone efficiency hasn't really been one of them. Part of that falls at the feet of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians; part of that may be attributed to the simple fact that teams don't want to show too much during the exhibition season. One has to also consider the possibility of someone other than Mendenhall seeing the lion's share of carries near or at the goal line. Might it be Isaac Redman who picks up 5 or so easy touchdowns that Mendenhall perhaps 'deserved' for his work earlier in the drive? Who knows? It's possible though.
There's other factors in play of course, namely, can he stay healthy over the course of the year if his workload does in fact increase significantly. But assuming he does remain unscathed for the better part of the season, here are my projections for Rashard Mendenhall's 2010 season.