Steelers, Mendenhall find success with '22 Double'
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall has scored three of his six rushing touchdown this season on a play called 22 Double.
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Move over Counter 34 Pike. Make way, Boss play. The Steelers have a new quick-strike, big-play running play, even though it is as old as the franchise itself.
It has a variety of different looks and can strike at anytime -- second quarter, fourth quarter, even overtime. There is nothing intricate in its design, nothing fancy about its execution. But, make no mistake, it strikes with the rapidity of a viper and the vengeance of a samurai warrior.
And the results look so frighteningly similar every time that it looks as though you're watching the same play over and over again.
"It's our bread and butter right now," rookie center Maurkice Pouncey said.
It might be a stretch to call "22 Double" the most significant running play the Steelers have used since the tackle-trap days of Franco Harris.
To be sure, no one running play changed a game more dramatically for the Steelers than "Counter 34 Pike," the play on which Willie Parker scored on a 75-yard run in Super Bowl XL -- the longest run in Super Bowl history.
And maybe the most reliable running play the Steelers have used in the past two decades is the Boss play, a Jerome Bettis staple. Boss stands for back on the strong side, and that's exactly what the Steelers rammed at opponents with great frequency with their 250-pound Bus.
But, when you consider the success it has achieved, the big plays it has produced, the explosive manner with which it unfolds for Rashard Mendenhall, it is hard to find a running play that has impacted a seven-game stretch as much as "22 Double."
"It's kind of weird how it's been working out," said tight end David Johnson, one of the key components of the play. "It's one of our best plays because we get a bunch of yards. And Rashard is just busting by defensive backs."
Indeed, Mendenhall has scored three of his six touchdowns this season on the play -- from 50 yards in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, 7 yards against the Baltimore Ravens and 38 yards in a 20-10 loss a week ago to the New Orleans Saints. And that doesn't count a 34-yard run in Tampa, Fla., in which he got tripped up on the sideline and stepped out of bounds at the Buccaneers' 14.
Even though the play has several different looks and options, all three touchdowns came out of the same formation with Johnson, the third tight end, lined up in the backfield. And all three accomplished the intended goal -- get Mendenhall one on one in the open with either a safety or cornerback.
"That's a play we hang our hat on," said Mendenhall, the NFL's 10th-leading rusher with 603 yards. "There are other plays called that, at the right time, depending how the defense plays it, can come out the front door. But we hang our hat on that one."
If there is a team ripe to gouge for a long run, it is the Cincinnati Bengals.
One year after leading the NFL by allowing just five runs of 20 yards or longer, the Bengals are surrendering long gains on the ground with much greater frequency. After seven games, they already have allowed eight runs of 20 yards or longer, including four of 30 yards or longer.
Only the Chicago Bears (10) and Dallas Cowboys (9) have allowed more 20-plus runs at this point in the season. By comparison, the Steelers are the only NFL team that hasn't allowed a run of 20 yards or longer in 2010. The longest run against them is 14 yards.
The Steelers (5-2) do not go into any game, even the one at 8:30 p.m. today against the Bengals (2-5) at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, thinking they are going to break a long run. But, if it happens, and it occurs on "22 Double," nobody will be surprised.
"When you block it up right and you put [Mendenhall] on the unblocked guy, one on one, we think if he has his feet underneath him and he's able to put a move on the defensive back, he's going to beat him all the time," tight end Heath Miller said. "It's a very hard tackle to make."
A brief synopsis of what has transpired with "22 Double:"
• The Steelers used the play to beat the Falcons in overtime in the season opener, watching Mendenhall run between blocks by Johnson and wide receiver Hines Ward and beating safety Erik Coleman to the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown.
• Two weeks later, from the same formation, Mendenhall got to the sideline and was tripped up just enough by Tampa Bay safety Cody Grimm that he stumbled and stepped out of bounds after a 34-yard gain.
• A week later, Mendenhall beat the defense to the edge and dived inside the pylon for a 7-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
• Sunday night in the Superdome, running out of the same formation and getting the same big blocks from Johnson and Ward, Mendenhall darted to the right sideline -- sounding familiar -- for a 38-yard touchdown. At the time, the run cut the Saints' lead to 13-10 and looked as though it was going to propel the Steelers to a comeback victory.
"We really just want to hit it up there for 4 yards, but, if they really want to smash it, then you got to make the tackle [on Mendenhall]," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "It was the same play Mewelde [Moore] went for 34 yards against the Giants a couple years ago. The same play, but from a different formation."
There is no great secret to the concept of "22 Double." Rather, Arians referred to it as "one of oldest football plays ever," a play he ran when he was a wishbone quarterback at Virginia Tech. Back then, Arians said the play was known as 26H.
Why "22 Double?"
Because, Arians said, the play requires the linemen and tight ends to double-team everybody at the line of scrimmage.
"A lot of teams run the same play where they pull the guard and call it power, which allows a few gaps to open up," Arians said. "We have no gaps open. It's full man-on-man blocking with a kick-out block and here we go."
The scheme begins with right tackle Flozell Adams blocking down on the defensive tackle and Miller blocking down on the end, creating a "wall" effect that is designed to seal off backside pursuit from the weak-side linebacker.
Johnson, who is lined in the backfield, is supposed to block the strong-side linebacker. But against the Saints, strong-side linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar charged the line, leaving Johnson to block middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
The final piece involves Ward, who blocks the cornerback to the outside, leaving Mendenhall one on one with the safety.
"Hines just adds to it because not many teams have a receiver who can block a safety or corner on the edge of the line," Arians said.
The rest is up to Mendenhall.
"As a running back, it gives you a chance to slide and pick any gap you want on that side," Mendenhall said. "A really big key for me is looking to see how they play, see how they set it up, see if they will press [the line of scrimmage]. If it's one on one, or if they pick a gap and they choose the wrong one, it opens up for me."
The Bengals have played the Steelers more times than any other opponent in their franchise history. They have faced all their top backs, seen all their top plays. But they better beware of "22 Double," an old play that is having new-found success for the Steelers.
"It's hard to argue against it," Miller said.
First Published November 8, 2010 12:00 am