Roethlisberger, Mendenhall Lead Steelers Past Chargers, 38-28

Ask a member of Steelers Nation to define “Steelers Football” you’ll likely get something like this:

  • Smash mouth, power running offense,
  • Stout, bone-crunching defense,
  • An ability to thrive under adversity

Against the San Diego Chargers Sunday, the Steelers offense fused power running with precision passing to deliver on the first. The defense did a better job than it is getting credit for in providing the second.

And just to keep everything interesting, the Steelers special teams made sure that the rest of the team experienced some genuine adversity.

Coming on the heels of very disconcerting 4th quarter collapses against the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers once again looked like the defending Super Bowl Champions in defeating the San Diego Chargers 38-28.

As Mike Tomlin likes to say, “They don’t add style points.” True enough. A win is a win. But beyond evening their record to 2-2, the Steelers laid some potential ground work for bigger things in the weeks to come. Below, Steel Curtain Rising examines what those might be in:

Chris Collinsworth Needs to Stop Reading My E-Mail
Rashard Running Out a Ticking Time Bomb?
In Defense of the Steelers Defense

Chris Collinsworth Needs to Stop Reading My E-Mail

Ben Roethlisberger opened up the game in flawless fashion, completing 4 consecutive passes for 65 yards.

By the time he threw his first touchdown pass, he was 6-9 for 110 yards.

Ben’s sterling opening performance led Chris Collinsworth to reflect on the Steelers inability to run out the clock against Cincinnati and Chicago, and reported to the effect that:

There’s a lot of discussion among the Steelers coaches who are asking themselves, ‘we’ve got a 102 million dollar quarterback with two Super Bowl rings, is it time to turn the keys of the offense over to him, and let him win games for us just as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning do?’ (paraphrase)

That was ironic, as on the Wednesday before the game, Neal Coolong, whose work you can read on Behind the Steel Curtain, wrote me this:

It’s also hard to rely on the running game when you have a $102 million two-time Super Bowl champion, Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, and the deepest receiving corps in team history, not to mention two very capable pass-catching tight ends. Arians is a new-school, balance/variety kind of game-caller, and I don’t have
much of a problem with him. Roethlisberger is the engine of the offense, and he should be the largest producer.

Regular readers know that Steel Curtain Rising has repeatedly argued that Ben Roethlsiberger established himself as an elite quarterback long ago.

But for any doubters, Ben displayed throughout the Chargers game that he was a quarterback in control of his offense, one capable of leading his team, and carrying it if necessary. The good news is, the Steelers may not need Ben to carry the team.

Rashard Running Out a Ticking Time Bomb?

This time a week ago it was open season on the Steelers 2008 draft class. Mendenhall’s mental mistakes in practice had landed him on the bench, and Limas Sweed dropped yet another gimmie touchdown – and this time he cost us the game.

The clock was ticking towards “BUST”on the Steelers top two 2008 draft picks, if not the entire class. Time allowing, Steel Curtain Rising will revisit this subject in greater depth later this week, but for now let’s focus on Mendenhall vs. the Chargers.

When the Steelers picked Mendenhall first in 2008, Bruce Arians said that Mendenhall reminded him of Egrin James.

Against the Chargers Steelers Nation saw why for the first time.

Mendenhall ran for 165 yards on 29 carries and scored two touchdowns.

The numbers do not do Rasshard Mendenhall justice.

  • Mendenhall ran decisively
  • He ran with no fear
  • Mendenhall ran with force
  • He protected his quarterback with two crushing blocks

For one night at least, Rasshard Mendehall gave the Steelers the kind of power running that they have not seen since Barry Foster’s days.*

It was a sight for sore eyes.

One game does not a sensation make. Nor is piling up a 5.7 yards per carry average against San Diego the same as doing it against the Ravens.

But if Mendenhall can build on his success against the Chargers, the Steelers offense has the potential to be truly lethal.

In Defense of the Steelers Defense

So your team racks up a 28-0 lead and the game ends with fans clutching Rosary beads hoping your kicker can boot a 46 yard field goal to make it a two score game.

The defense must have folded again. Right?

  • Not so fast

The Chargers got back into the game because the Steelers special teams got caught with their pants down. Twice.

Stefan Logan never should have fielded that punt, and someone from the Steelers return team should have been thinking “fumble” long before Logan had six guys on him trying to force the ball lose.

  • Special teams’ failure not only negated a fine defensive stand, but gave San Diego 25% of its points in the bat of an eye

Likewise the Steelers kick return team was caught totally off guard by the on-sides kick.

Philip Rivers, L.T. Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates give the San Diego Chargers one of the highest octane offenses in the NFL.

  • Spotting San Diego the ball at their own 46 on a momentum-shifting play like an on-sides kick may not be akin to yielding them a touchdown, but the Steelers special teams certainly extended the Chargers offense an extremely a generous helping hand

The Steelers defense neutralized L.T. Sproles, and Vincent Jackson throughout the game.

Rivers and Gates had good games and led the team to three touchdowns, although they only went the length of the field twice.

21 points is more than you like to see a Steeler defense give up, but it is 3 less than the defense allowed against the Chargers in the playoffs, and unlike last night, the Steelers had Troy Polamalu during the playoffs.

The Chargers game certainly wasn’t a statement game – the special teams saw to that. But the Steelers made a step toward regaining their championship form. For more on that, check back later in the week with Steel Curtain Rising.

*Zero disrespect to Bettis intended. For our purposes, Bettis was not a “Power Back,” but “Big Back” albeit a powerful one.

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