The Baltimore Ravens most likely couldn't care less that the Pittsburgh Steelers' Willie Parker will miss the Monday Night Football contest coming up. Parker and the Steelers running game never did much in the way of damage in their recent games against the Ravens and don't figure to do any this week either. Without Parker, who is nursing a knee injury, the Steelers turn to first round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois). Mendenhall has only 10 carries for 28 yards in the Steelers first three games, although he stands to at least double that against the Ravens. He's a little bigger (225 pounds) than Parker (209 pounds), although both are listed at 5'10". Parker is the faster of the two and a better receiver out of the backfield, and most likely knows the schemes and blocking assignments better. Mendenhall had trouble holding onto the ball in the last two preseason games, fumbling three times, which may be part of the reason for the limited carries so far in the regular season.
This is not good news for the pass protection of the Steelers' hurting Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens most likely will gameplan to blitz on every passing down, although the Steelers pass protection hasn't stopped the rush on non-blitz packages as well. Mendenhall will have his head spinning trying to figure out who's coming and who's dropping into coverage for the always moving Ravens defensive front seven. I'd be very surprised to not see Ben running for his life all evening and therefore planning a lot of draws, screens, three step drops and other quick plays. Expect the Steelers to sub in both RB Mewelde Moore (1 carry, 6 yards) or FB Carey Davis (2 carries, 3 yards) for pass protection, although neither figures to carry the rock much at all.
No matter who gets the handoff, especially Mendenhall, expect Ray Lewis and company to welcome them with vicious hits and pay the price for the few yards that they might gain. However, this will play right into the Ravens' hands, as the lack of a running game will force the Steelers to go to the air and allow the Ravens ferocious pass rush to pin their ears back and zero in on Roethlisberger.
Rashard Mendenhall will not be any more of a factor than Willie Parker would have been. As you will hear all week, the deciding factor for a Ravens victory will most likely lie with their offense's success against a good Steelers' defense, which we will review in our next posting.