Mendenhall, who hadn't played since tearing his ACL on Jan. 1, provided a much-needed boost for what was the NFL's second-worst rushing attack. He gained three yards more than what the Steelers had averaged as a team in the first three games.
What Mendenhall brought was fresh legs and speed. He averaged 2.64 rush yards before first contact Sunday against the Eagles, according to ESPN Stats & Information. All other Steelers running backs have averaged 0.76 rush yards before contact this season. Mendenhall wasn’t hit once in the backfield Sunday, something that rarely happened to Isaac Redman, who has been hit in the backfield on 28.9 percent of his rushes this season (the worst in NFL for backs with a minimum of 30 carries).
"I thought he not only ran well and hard and caught the ball, but he was a source of enegery for the unit," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's what great players do. They inspire those around them. I thought he did that for the group."
Now that Mendenhall has lessened the concerns about the running game, maybe he can fix Pittsburgh's problems on the road. The Steelers have lost four of their past five since last season on the road, including their past three trips. Pittsburgh is looking to avoid its second 0-3 start on the road in the last 20 years (started 0-3 on the road in 2006, Bill Cowher’s final season).
Another factor is the quick turnaround for a Thursday game, which is more of a disadvantage to visiting teams. This season, the road team has gone 1-3 on Thursday night games.
The key to winning at Tennessee is running the ball. The Titans have the league's fifth-worst run defense and have been missing lots of tackles. Tennessee is coming off a game in which it gave up 175 yards on the ground to the Vikings. The Titans have also given up 100 yards to New England's Stevan Ridley and Detroit's Mikel Leshoure. That's not exactly Arian Foster or Ray Rice.
But Mendenhall was a different runner away from Heinz Field last season. He averaged 3.2 yards per carry on the road, which is much lower than his 4.9-yard average at home.
The Titans are hoping to limit what Mendenhall does after contact.
"He’s got the big-play capability," Titans coach Mike Munchak said in a conference call. "He’s a guy that can take a run that looks like it’s like a two or three-yard gain and turn it into a much bigger run. That’s the thing that they have going for them. Like last week, they found a way to win a tough football game against the Eagles, and they’re doing things like that. He falls forward, he gets the extra couple yards and it’s a lot more manageable for the offense to do a lot of things when you can do that, and he’s that kind of running back."