Bills would love to just be concerned with backup RB, punt returner
August 30, 2009 4:00 AM
Peter Diana / Post-Gazette
Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass against the Bills last night at Heinz Field.
Patrick Bailey takes down Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Mike Wallace picks up a first-half first down.
For a team with only marginally compelling questions regarding marginally compelling issues, the defending Super Bowl champions had to come away from last night's (caution: oxymoron dead ahead) biggest game of the preseason only marginally satisfied with the answers provided by Rashard Mendenhall and Stefan Logan.
On a night when Dick LeBeau's championship defense crumpled the Buffalo Bills "attack" in a painful mismatch, when a Big Ben-orchestrated passing game fired at will in 30 minutes of total dominance, it just didn't seem to matter much that not a lot got resolved on the margins.
When you're as good as these Steelers, minor flaws turn into summer long story lines that will be filed mostly backstage when the real games begin Sept. 10.
Afforded another robust opportunity owing to the spectator status of starter Fast Willie Parker, Mendenhall came up with a performance that was -- what might be the term -- classically Mendenhallian?
He carried 16 times for 48 yards, 25 of them on two carries, meaning it took him 14 carries to achieve the other 23. He scored a second-quarter touchdown on a 4-yard run, but it escaped no one's attention that the hole provided by Willie Colon, Trai Essex and Justin Hartwig at the point of attack was big enough to drive a backhoe through.
He also fumbled to abort the Steelers' initial possession and engaged in a dizzying series of panicky spin moves with all the quick twitch aptitude of a piano mover.
Mendenhall might be emerging as an acceptable first responder to a Fast Willie emergency, but everyone wearing the same colors would feel a lot better about his worthiness if he'd break free and run for half the field or more. That's what Parker does, and it is pretty clear, at the beginning of the former No. 1 draft pick's second year, that that's what Mendenhall doesn't.
"I thought it was solid," coach Mike Tomlin said of the running game. "We were eliminating negative runs, which is good."
Mendenhall eliminated three of them himself with runs of zero, zero and zero yards.
"We wanted to emphasize the run tonight," Roethlisberger said. "Even when I got in the no-huddle I called out a run. It was good Rashard did a good job."
Tomlin appeared pleased with Mendenhall's effort against Washington last week, crediting him with running downhill when it appeared to some observers he enjoyed no topographical advantage. If Big Ben thought Rashard did a good job, I guess he did, at least for Mendenhall.
"I think I did pretty good," Mendenhall said after the Steelers had left a 17-0 footprint on Buffalo's forehead. "I felt like it was a pretty good night. Those kinds of things [the fumble] are going to happen."
Yeah, don't say that too loud.
If Tomlin got a slightly more definitive answer to anything last night it was probably from Logan, the refugee from the Canadian Football League with the commanding return instincts. A week after running up 205 return yards in the nation's capital, Logan flashed some promise again, zipping 17 yards with a punt in the first half, then 27 in the second.
"Coaches are going to evaluate the film and see what's what here in the next two days," said Logan, who at 180 pounds is actually less than half the size of Bills' tackle Langston Walker (366). "I don't know what they're thinking but we'll find out soon which way they want to go with it."
Logan's an issue at the moment mostly because he knows where he wants to go with the football the second he catches it, and that's something that's been missing from the Steelers' roster since the departure of Antwaan Randle-El.
Rosters have to be cut to 75 players by Tuesday, and it should be noted that Tomlin steered most of this roster to a sixth Lombardi Trophy with virtually no return game at all; the league might shudder at what he'd be able to do with an extra home run threat.
But if the potential contributions of Mendenhall and Logan remained unclear, the immediate future of the Bills seemed plainly evident.
"There wasn't a whole lot good to say about that," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "I guess I can say we punted it well and recovered it well. It was not a good night. We've got a lot of issues that we've got to solve. We've got to solve them very quickly."
The Bills open at New England in prime time Sept. 14. How they wish all they had to worry about was the backup running back and the potential punt returner.