PITTSBURGH – Mike Tomlin might’ve been happy to see the Steelers’ next opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, allow 144 yards rushing to Peyton Hillis last Sunday.
But he wasn’t.
“The fact that Cleveland had success a week ago doesn’t bode well for us,” said the Steelers’ coach. “It just doesn’t.”
Rashard Mendenhall, who’s had his shoulder blade broken trying to run against the Ravens, felt the same way.
“Yeah,” said Mendenhall. “You know defenses like that. They’re going to bounce back.”
That’s the thinking, but it’s not an historical fact. Last year, after Cedric Benson rushed for 120 yards against the Ravens in Week 5, Adrian Peterson ran for 143 against them in Week 6. The Ravens also allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushers in 2005.
Does that give Mendenhall any comfort?
“I really don’t pay attention to that,” he said. “Every Sunday’s a new Sunday. I’m not looking forward or expecting anything like that, I’m just preparing.”
The serious-minded Mendenhall understands the ferocity of this rivalry. He felt it as a rookie when Ray Lewis broke his scapula. He felt it last year when the Ravens held him to 36 yards on 17 carries in the Steelers’ 23-20 win in Game 15.
But Mendenhall did find success in last season’s first meeting between the two teams. He rushed for 95 yards in 24 carries when Dennis Dixon filled in for Ben Roethlisberger in a Steelers loss at Baltimore. It was the best performance by a Steelers back against the Ravens since Jerome Bettis rushed for 118 yards in 2004.
The Steelers, for whatever reason, felt confident they could run the ball against the Ravens last year, even though Dixon didn’t threaten the Ravens much with his arm.
“That was the only way to attack them,” said tackle Willie Colon. “You didn’t want to get into a passing match with them because they can be confusing. We felt we had to go right at them, and we felt good about it.”
The Steelers rushed for 153 yards as a team, but the Ravens won in overtime. It was the second Ravens win out of the last seven meetings between the teams, and Ben Roethlisberger missed both games.
Roethlisberger, or course, will miss Sunday’s game, but Mendenhall is running better than ever. In three games this season he’s rushed for 332 yards at a 5.2 per-carry clip. It’s the best three-game output of Mendenhall’s brief NFL career.
“He’s kind of showing glimpses of what he did in college,” said the Ravens’ Lewis. “Pittsburgh’s been looking for that back since they lost the Bus years ago. He’s a complete back now, and they’re really getting him involved in that package.”
“You get more confident and comfortable with experience,” Mendenhall explained. “You kind of know what to expect and how to go about it.”
Mendenhall also expects the Ravens to tighten up after Hillis became only the seventh back in the last 72 games to rush for 100 yards against them.
But in two of those seven instances, the Ravens served it right back up the following week. The Steelers hope the third time’s their charm.