As impressive as Charlie Batch was last week in the Steelers victory over the Bucs, perhaps more impressive was this stat: Total Rushing Yards - 201.
In the last few years, the Steelers have been mediocre at running the football and seemingly indifferent to the idea of running the football. Either they were unable to do it. Or they were unwilling to do it. Or, more likely, some combination of the two.
That five game stretch of putritude in 2009 was punctuated by a marked inability to pick up first downs on the ground, punch the ball in from short yardage and maintain offensive possessions even when they had a lead. In short, they threw so much that other teams always had lots of chances on offense late in the game, a fact that came back to bite them in the butt numerous times. Like this time:
But if last week was a fair indicator of what's to come for the remainder 2010 season, the bad old days of ignoring the running game or being completely inept at it are behind them.
Rashard Mendenhall ran for 143 yards last week but the best part was that he picked up 103 yards of those in the second half. Somewhere, the Bus is wiping away tears of joy.
The whole team picked up 67 yards rushing in the 1st half and another 134 in the second half. No doubt, Bill Cowher is flashing those terrifying new choppers over that stat.
What does it mean for the immediate future?
Heading into the big game this Sunday versus the Ravens, we all know that both defenses are going to try to hit the quarterback, and hard, every chance they get. Ray Lewis will probably try to break Mendenhall's shoulder again, if given the chance. Coach Tomlin is always saying that football is a violent game and no two defenses personify that better than these two. They are built to intimidate other teams. Most of the time, they succeed at doing just that.
Pittsburgh's defense ranks first in average points allowed per game, even with the two garbage touchdowns they gave up late in the Tennessee game and Tampa game, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Ravens defense ranks first in the league in total yards allowed and first in the league in total passing yards allowed.
But where the Ravens have shown a chink in the armor is their run defense. They have allowed 383 yards on the ground in the first three games, about 125 per. They allowed the Browns Peyton Hills to rumble for 144 yards last week, all of which bodes well for the Steelers game plan.
Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey has been solid and, at times explosive in the middle of the line. On the right side, Hotel Flozell is still good for two pre-snap penalties per game, but he's also a dominating steam roller when run blocking. If those guys can get Mendenhall going and, if the defense can pick off Flacco (he threw four ints. versus the Bengals two weeks ago ...)
At the start of the season, with Pig Ben out, Leftwich hurt and only Dennis Dixon and Batch holding down the fort, who would ever have thunk it that a 4-0 start was even a remote possibility? So, sitting on a 3-0 record, they're already playing with house money.
Even better, I don't see this game as a must win for the Steelers, but it's closer to a must win for the Ravens. Somebody pinch me.