Back when the NFL held its draft last spring, a lot of people questioned the Pittsburgh Steelers drafting running Rashard Mendenhall with their first round pick.
Although Mendenhall enjoyed a great career at Illinois and many thought he wouldn’t be around by the time the Steelers drafted, it had been a foregone conclusion that the Steelers would draft an offensive lineman in the first round since that was their weakness coming off last season. After all, the Steelers had alllowed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked 47 times last year and they had lost their All-Pro guard Alan Faneca to free agency.
The debate over whether the Steelers should have drafted an offensive lineman or Mendenall has heated up over the first three games of the season as Mendenhall has done little to prove his value as a first-round pick and the offense line hasn’t exactly shined, especially last week when it allowed nine sacks against the blitz-happy Philadelphia Eagles.
But the debate takes front and center stage Monday night when the Steelers host the red-hot Baltimore Ravens as Willie Parker is out with a knee sprain and Mendenhall will be expected to take over for the all-pro running back.
It’s a tall order and the pressure will be on Mendenhall to prove that the Steelers were wise in picking him over an offensive lineman.
Of course, Mendenhall won’t be expected to win the game by himself. It will be important for the offensive line to protect Roethlisberger and provide some holes for Mendenhall. The Steelers defense will also be expected to put pressure on the Ravens offense, especially its rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.
But this game means much more to the Steelers than the Ravens. Lose and suddenly the Steelers will be 2-2 and three games behind Baltimore in the AFC North. They also have tough game at Jacksonville next week before the bye week. With the tough schedule ahead, the Steelers could be looking at an 8-8 season and possiby out of the playoffs. That will shift the all the attention to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who will be on the hot seat if they don’t make the playoffs.
It will come down to the decisions made by Tomlin, including the pick of Mendenhall over an offensive lineman. Was it a good pick or not? I guess we should be able to answer that question a lot better after Monday night.