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Steelers Found Themselves A Baller in Rashard Mendenhall

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vs Wisconsin / 10.6.07 Rushing Receiving
Rush Yards Avg TD Rec Yards Avg TD
Rashard Mendenhall 19 160 8.4 2 4 33 8.3 1


vs Minnesota / 11.3.07 Rushing Receiving
Rush Yards Avg TD Rec Yards Avg TD
Rashard Mendenhall 17 201 11.8 2 0 0 0 0


vs Ohio St. / 11.10.07 Rushing Receiving
Rush Yards Avg TD Rec Yards Avg TD
Rashard Mendenhall 26 88 3.4 0 1 4 4.0 0


vs Northwestern / 11.17.07 Rushing Receiving
Rush Yards Avg TD Rec Yards Avg TD
Rashard Mendenhall 27 124 4.6 2 3 29 9.7 0


vs Indiana / 9.22.07 Rushing Receiving
Rush Yards Avg TD Rec Yards Avg TD
Rashard Mendenhall 27 214 7.9 1 3 18 6.0 1


These are a handful of Rashard Mendenhall's performances in 2007. I wanted to include two of his games against stiff competition - Ohio State and Wisconsin - as well as a couple of games when he ran wild against lesser competition.

Now, the statistics against Ohio State may not jump out at you, but a couple of things: 1) Ohio State's run defense was good. VERY good. As in Top 5 nationally against the run good. 2) Mendenhall's ability to get tough yards here and there that afternoon kept Illinois' moderately suspect defense off the field just long enough to keep them fresh and playing well enough to win.

Mendenhall's yards per carry (6.4) were tops amongst the top ten leading rushers for the year. Higher than Ray Rice's, Jonathan Stewart's, and yes, even higher than Darren McFadden's, who we've been told for the past month straight is a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball.

Of the top 10 running backs in terms of yards gained, only Jamaal Charles had fewer attempts (258 vs 262). What's that mean? Several things. 1) Mendenhall could have won a rushing title if he had been force-fed the ball like Central Florida's Kevin Smith and 2) Mendenhall arrives in the NFL with minimal wear and tear on his body.

Finally, just let those performances against Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern sink in. Of the three, only Minnesota sported a truly abysmal rush defense. Indiana and Northwestern were certainly not elite, or even very good, but they weren't much worse than average. Yet, despite not having much of a passing game to take attention away from opposing defenses, Illinois and Mendenhall tore up those defenses.

I'm not sure it's particularly helpful to compare him to any one player in the League. Some say he's more Marion Barber than Willie Parker. I've seen the name LaDainian Tomlinson thrown out there. I'd caution against either proclamation. What I think we have is a unique, gifted runner that can pick up tough yards AND make guys miss. Remember, Mendenhall played in a spread option offense, which if you think about it, often requires the RB to make a chasing LB miss out on the edge. It also requires RBs to cut back inside when defenders overpursue on the perimeter. I think his experience at Illinois will come in handy when we watch him perform in the black and gold in 2008 and years to come.

Discuss.