Monday, August 23, 2010

Postmortem Preseason Week 2: Paging Mr. Mendenhall

I had hoped to post something about the Steelers defense, about the likely starters and the guys who would see a good bit of action, but once again, circumstances dictate that I look to the offense.

Suspect Mendenhall is clearly a talented player, a potential game-breaking player, but his game is far from complete and he continues to be a work in progress. In the NFL, in the 21st century, impatience rules to day: nobody wants to wait three years for a guy to grow into his job.

In this, his make or break season, he looks so close, but he still hasn't put it all together. He dances less than he did when he arrived, which is good, because when he doesn’t dance, he’s dangerous.

But there are still those lingering fumble problems. We already saw him being careless with the ball last week. Last year, he had three fumbles in just 242 attempts, approximately one fumble for every 81 carries. Compare that to Chris Johnson (three fumbles in 358 attempts -- once every 119 carries), or Steven Jackson (two fumbles in 324 attempts -- once every 162 carries) or Maurice Jones-Drew (two fumbles in 312 attempts -- once every 156 carries.) No matter how you do the long division, Mendenhall's numbers are unacceptable for a feature, starting back.

Again, he is an obvious and tremendous talent, so when he doesn't dance and he also holds onto the ball, he teases us with flashes of greatness. He’s got a scary burst of speed and equally awesome balance.

Still, he spins more often than Ginger Rogers or even these guys.

He was at that again on Saturday. With the ball on the Giants 9 yard line, Mendenhall went over right tackle, picked up three yards and then turned his back to the on-coming traffic. I just have to wonder what he's thinking there. A runner, any runner, has a better chance of making a play if he's looking upfield. Turning his back to a hit is something we saw way too much of from him last year. Like this:

The Steelers ended up settling for a field goal there. Disappointing. It was made more glaring when, just a couple of plays later, Ahmad Bradshaw lowered his shoulder to run over Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark and pick up an extra three to four yards.

A running back cannot shy from contact, particularly not when he’s between the tackles, so if Suspect continues to turn or spin in those situations rather than lower his shoulder and try to run people over, he has no business being on the field in short yardage or goal line situations.

Is there any question that Issac Redman is the guy for goal-lines situations? Suspect cannot be trusted inside the 10 -- either he goes down like a potato bug or he drops the ball. The other option, Mewelde Moore, is great at what he does but he's just too small for ramming the ball in at the goal line. Redman looks like the viagra to cure the Steelers impotence in the redzone.

Before anybody gets their panties in a twist, I'm not suggesting that Redman be the starter, merely that he comes in for short yardage or goal line plays.

Random other thoughts from the New Meadowlands:

-- Missed tackles, whiffed tackles and bad angles. There are periods of this preseason that are like watching the five game losing streak last year. At times, the defense looks like the Lebeau defense we've all grown to know and love while at other times, the first string linebackers and db's continue to take bad angles to the ball and tackle lackadaisically. (Even a bad sinker of a miss by Troy on the Giants' second series.) I know, I know, the defense is ultra-vanilla right now, but missed tackles have zip to do with scheme.

-- You know what doesn't look like last year's ugliness? Aaron Smith anchoring the line. It's good to have that guy back.

-- The Double D debate rages on. Should he start games 1 through 4 (or 1 through 6, depending on Goodell's mood)? He can run like an antelope whereas Leftwich runs like my grammie after her first hip surgery. But Leftwich can throw a ball a country mile and then a few more feet on top of that, a skill that comes in handy when you have Mike Wallace on the field. More to the point, Leftwich has played in about 50 regular season games. Double D, just one. That kind of inexperience makes coaches more jittery than a case of Red Bull and a jumbo pack of chocolate covered espresso beans. (Although you have to wonder what such a seasoned vet was doing at the goal line at the end of the first half?)

-- A couple of years ago, I dubbed Anthony Smith “the stupid.” Since he’s gone, let’s just give that title to Ike Taylor, shall we?

-- While we're here, Daniel Sepulveda made the best tackle of the night on a punt return, fighting off a blocker who was holding his jersey the whole way. Dear Jeff Reed, please take note of Sepulveda's efforts in coverage.

-- Meanwhile, Sepulveda's kickoffs weren't great, so the issue of short kick offs are going to stick around, at least for a while. Oh, and again, while we're still here, Skippy, please STFU.

-- When the Steelers let the Jets have Santonio Holmes for a used chin strap and deck of playing cards, a lot of fans were understandably unhappy, but after two preseason games, it looks like the Steelers are loaded at wide out. Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antwan Randal El, rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, and veteran pick up Arnaz Battle. Add Heath Miller, and that's a ton of weapons for whichever quarterback is on the field. The Steelers cannot be serious about Brown not making the final 53, can they? Particularly given:

-- Based on what we saw of Antonio Brown in the return game, I think it's safe to say the Stefan Logan era is officially over. Brown is positively fearless and runs endzone to endzone, not sideline to sideline.

-- I'm not the first one to say this, but Maurkice Pouncey needs to start in Denver at center. They're giving him plenty of snaps, but they need to see what he does against a first string defense. If he's even close to what I think he is, he's already an enormous improvement over Justin Hartwig. That makes Hartwig obsolete. He can't or won't play guard and he's a subpar center. Meanwhile, Doug Legursky can do a little bit of both guard and center. If Pouncey is the starter, Legursky would be a more handy, multi-tool back up than Hartwig.

-- Hotel Flozell has always been good for about three penalties per game, but at his age and given his move from the left to the right side of the line, he might hit double digits every game with the Steelers.

-- Good to see Jason Worilds on the field, although I didn't notice him much - either good or bad.