The Steelers keep saying there's nothing wrong with Rashard Mendenhall, that their running game is fine. That defies what everyone can see on the field on Sundays.
Maybe Isaac Redman (207 yards, 4.4 ypc), Mewelde Moore (69 yards, 5.8 ypc) and Jonathan Dwyer (115 yards, 8.8 ypc) have been productive when given the chance, but Mendenhall has not.
He has had one good game, 146 yards Oct. 16 against Jacksonville. He also missed the Oct. 9 game against Tennessee. His other games: 45 yards, 66, 37, 25 and 32.
This is the back coordinator Bruce Arians called "the lead dog and everybody else feeds off of him" before the season opener. Those numbers suggest some sort of dog, but "lead" is not one of them.
Good backs, such as Mendenhall was in 2009 and '10, do not generally take such a dip without an injury or age catching up to him. Mendenhall, in his fourth season, is only 24 and while he did not play Oct. 9 because of a hamstring injury, he had his most productive game the following week against Jacksonville when he gained 146 yards and was AFC offensive player of the week.
That one game accounts for 42 percent of his season's total yards.
Mendenhall has 351 yards on 94 carries in six games. If he plays the rest of the season, he is on pace for 878 yards on 235 carries. Last season, he ran for 1,273 yards on 324 carries, for 13 TDs and a 3.9-yard average per carry. His average is 3.7 yards and he has scored only three touchdowns.
It's also not a good time for Mendenhall to be having his worst season. His rookie contract runs through 2012, and the team normally would be negotiating an extension before the final season began.
But why would the Steelers want to extend his contract based on what they've seen this season, at least a contract that would reflect the value of a top back? Unless Mendenhall shows more consistency and more production over the second half of the season, they probably won't.
The starting offensive line today will be the same as last week, the only time this season they will start identical lines in any two games. Through the first seven games, they had seven different starting offensive lines.
"Continuity is the most important thing for an offensive line vs. any other position," said Max Starks, who has stabilized the left tackle spot since his return. "You have to have five guys on the same page. We have a room of players that's close together to where we can interchange guys. But when you have a steady line, a steady group and a steady five, that makes things even better.''
Here's the scene Thursday, Steelers locker room: Left tackle Marcus Gilbert is stretched out on the floor, his head inside his open locker. Next to him, right tackle Max Starks sits on his stool, scrolling through the messages on his phone. In walks Ben Roethlisberger, whose locker is in the corner near those of the two tackles.
The quarterback has what looks like two WWE championship belts slung over his shoulders. Indeed, they are made of plastic to look just like that. Roethlisberger has just won two shuffleboard tournaments among his teammates in the locker room, which looks more and more like Dave & Buster's with the pingpong table, the pool table, the makeshift basketball court and the shuffleboard, new this year.
One of Roethlisberger's belts is for the individual title, the other for a tag-team championship. Now, he's sitting at his locker, one belt slung over each shoulder, and he's trying to take a photo of himself with his cell phone.
He said he will send it to pro wrestler Triple H, aka Hunter Hearst Helmsley, with whom he has become friends and has won many of the real WWE belts himself.
• Bill Belichick hasn't had the phenomenal success against the Steelers that many think he has. Oh, he's had it while coaching the Patriots since 2000, a 6-2 record against them. Before that, however, he coached the Browns and in Cleveland from 1991-95, his teams were 3-8 against the Steelers. Thus, today Belichick will try to raise his record against the Steelers to the .500 level. He is 9-10 against them.
• The Steelers, at plus-3 as of Friday, were the biggest underdogs in 10 years at home.
• Kansas City coach Todd Haley dug deep to try to inspire his team after the Chiefs were whacked in their first two games by a combined score of 89-10. He looked back to the 1989 Steelers, who began that season losing to Cleveland, 51-0, and Cincinnati, 41-10 -- a combined 92-10 crushing start. The Steelers went on to make the playoffs that season with Todd's father, Dick Haley, as their personnel director. So, after those first two games by the Chiefs, young Haley got a copy of the Steelers highlights film from 1989 and showed it to his team. Kansas City won three of its next four and is 3-3 today.
• For the most part, the Steelers this week stayed away from talking about Spygate, even though they were asked often about it. That story was pursued hot and heavy before last season's Steelers-Patriots game and the one before that (2008) and the one before that (2007).
But Roethlisberger did work in a subtle shot when asked about the Patriots.
"There's a reason that they're consistently a very good football team. You can say what you want, whether it's the spy thing, whatever it was, or just them being a good coach and a good team."