Even though they boast a 6-3 record, it hasn't exactly been a wave of great news for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2012 NFL season. But in the wake of the team's gravest injury situation yet, the Steelers will gladly welcome back typical starting RB Rashard Mendenhall in time for Sunday night's showdown with AFC North rival Baltimore.
Although the home team will be without its valuable, clutch quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—who is 9-4 all-time against the Ravens—expect the game plan to center around Mendenhall. And expect him to respond with a monster game.
With wide receiver Antonio Brown still nursing a hamstring injury that will keep him out in Week 11 (h/t ESPN), the Steelers' passing game will suffer that much more. But veteran QB Byron Leftwich and his big arm will still be able to stretch the defense with speedster Mike Wallace, and tight end Heath Miller will provide him with a security blanket over the middle.
Mendenhall himself is a viable receiving option and will likely get a few opportunities on check down plays.
After overcoming an ACL injury at the end of 2011, Mendenhall has been on the mend from an Achilles injury in recent weeks. If he is indeed healthy enough to be listed as probable on the injury report, then there's reason to believe he will be very close to 100 percent.
This also isn't the Ravens defense of years past. Although they rank 13th in points per game allowed, Baltimore is 26th in the league against the pass and run. That lends itself to an extremely favorable matchup for Mendenhall.
Without Ray Lewis patrolling the middle of the field and Ed Reed dealing with a torn shoulder labrum, the Ravens are definitely hurting. Not to mention, No. 1 CB Lardarius Webb tore his ACL last month.
Despite the pain that the Steelers defense has had to endure—most notably without star safety Troy Polamalu—coordinator Dick LeBeau has managed to keep them among the NFL's elite.
Putting the ball in Joe Flacco's hands—which Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seems to have a penchant for doing anyway—will bode well for Pittsburgh. That should get the Baltimore offense off the field and allow the Steelers to control the clock by perpetually pounding Mendenhall.
A new scheme from Steelers OC Todd Haley will also take away some of the familiarity that the Ravens have in stopping the Pittsburgh ground game, which should only help the fourth-year back.
While the team should exercise some caution due to the vital areas of each of his past two injuries, Mendenhall should still get a rather heavy workload in Sunday's prime-time affair in Heinz Field. Expect some Steelers throwback football that legendary coach Chuck Noll would be proud of, resulting in somewhere between 20 to 25 carries, over 100 yards and at least one trip to the end zone for Mendenhall.
Projected Numbers: 23 carries, 120 yards, 1 TD; 3 catches, 20 yards