Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas Have Important Job Setting the Edge in AFC Championship Game

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19: Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs by Calvin Pace #97 of the New York Jets during the game on December 19 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been very good running the ball outside to the right this season. Their top running back Rashard Mendenhall, is a complete runner. I think he is one of the most unheralded runners in the game, which is why I grabbed him in both of my fantasy football drafts. He is big enough to grind yardage after contact. He is shifty enough to make people miss, and he is fast enough to get to the outside.

As Football Outsiders notes, the Steelers are in the top ten in the league running it outside left and outside right. They are in the bottom half of the league everywhere else. This makes sense as their line is hardly in an elite category. It is worth noting that only 8% of their runs go outside, but I am a bit concerned.

Why am I worried? In the first meeting, Mendenhall had 51 yards on 5 carries running outside. Some of these came as a result of the Jets getting a push up front and losing contain as the back bounced things outside. The Jets during the season were good defending runs to the outside right and bad on the outside left, about the only weak spot in the run defense. They were bad period against the Steelers in Week 15.

Part of the game goes on other guys. Shaun Ellis and particularly Mike Devito were losing their assignments, which put a ton of stress on the other guys. Ultimately, though, the guys outside, Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace need to do a better job this time to keep Mendenhall from breaking big gains.

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