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RB Mendenhall ready to return for Steelers

RB Mendenhall ready to return for Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) Insisting he feels well with no setbacks after a full week of practice, running back Rashard Mendenhall is set to return for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Because of an Achilles injury, Mendenhall has missed all four games of a winning streak that the Steelers (6-3) carry into their Sunday showdown with the Baltimore Ravens (7-2).

Mendenhall had not been through a full practice in more than a month, but made it through complete workouts Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He is officially listed as probable.

``He looks like he's back to his old form,'' running back Isaac Redman said. ``He's making all the cuts, it looks like he has his burst. So he looks good.''

With former 1,200-yard rusher Mendenhall back, the Steelers have to decide how to split carries between he, Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Redman and Dwyer each had 100-yard rushing games while Mendenhall was out.

``All three of us are going to play,'' Redman said. ``And we're just going to keep it rolling throughout the game and try to keep a fresh running back in there at all times. We're going to try to pound them.''

With Mendenhall unavailable to play the first three games of the season because of his recovery from a torn ACL sustained Jan. 1, the Steelers running game struggled. Pittsburgh averaged 65 rushing yards per game in starting 1-2.

Since Mendenhall returned with a 68-yard performance in a win over Philadelphia Oct. 7 - to that point, the most yards by a Pittsburgh back this season - the Steelers have improved their NFL ranking in rushing yards from 31st to 20th.

After being deactivated for the two previous games, Dwyer had consecutive 100-yard efforts in victories over Cincinnati and Washington. Then Redman had 147 rushing yards in a 24-20 win at the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants Nov. 4.

``We were able to get those 100-yard games and able to kind of pound teams out,'' Redman said, ``and kind of make them quit in the fourth quarter.''

After a mediocre, Dwyer-led, 95-yard rushing performance in a lackluster 16-13 overtime win over the last-place Kansas City Chiefs on Monday, the Steelers will have the choice of three feature backs when first place is on the line Sunday.

``We're ready, and we have all three guys - the first time all three of us are going to suit up at the same time,'' Redman said. ``So we're really looking forward to this running game.''

Whether on marching orders from the coaching staff or simply because even they aren't aware of coordinator Todd Haley's intentions, the backs insist they don't know the plan for sharing carries. Counting fullback Will Johnson, rookie speedster Chris Rainey and special teams stalwart Baron Batch, it's likely the Steelers will dress six running backs against the Ravens.

``Good thing I'm not the offensive coordinator,'' Mendenhall said with a smile. ``For us, our focus is winning first and foremost, and we want to do well as an offense with whatever helps us to do that. It's a long season, and we're going to need everybody.''

Dwyer and Redman have been steadfast in maintaining that, when healthy, Mendenhall - a 2008 first-round pick - is the first-team back. A free agent after the season, Mendenhall said he feels 100 percent healthy.

``I wouldn't step out there if that wasn't the case,'' he said. ``I feel good with where I'm at.''

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out with his shoulder and rib injuries, Pittsburgh will lean on the run game against a Ravens defense that ranks 26th in the league in rushing yards allowed. Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich is making his first NFL start at quarterback in more than three years.

``If (yardage) comes in chunks, if it comes in dink-and-dunk, it doesn't matter,'' Leftwich said. ``We don't care. We're just trying to win the football game. ``We all understand the importance of this football game. Let's not try to act like it ain't. This is an important football game for both teams.''

Roethlisberger isn't the only prominent Steelers player ruled out of Sunday's game. Receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) will miss his second consecutive game, All Pro safety Troy Polamalu has played only once since the season opener because of a calf injury and starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) has missed four straight games.

Free safety Ryan Clark is probable to play six days after sustaining his second concussion in a 16-day span against the Chiefs.

``Nothing is wrong,'' Clark said on Friday. ``No sensitivity to light, no headaches, no extra fatigue and no problems sleeping. Everything is fine. I'm good to go and excited to be out there on Sunday.''

Also probable for the Steelers are defensive end Brett Keisel, cornerback Ike Taylor, left tackle Max Starks and cornerback Curtis Brown.

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Online:http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Ravens rank higher than expected in preseason rankings

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Ravens rank higher than expected in preseason rankings

Kick off your Wednesday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including a high preseason ranking for the Ravens.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The Ravens ranked higher than expected in Peter King's preseason rankings. King ranked the Ravens at No. 12, surprising for a defense that is working on development during this offseason. However, with the Ravens' signing of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, maybe he will bring the fire the Ravens need on defense.

2. With day 2 of OTAs in the books, the focus has been on quarterback Lamar Jackson. Ravens writer, Kevin Eck noted that during the offseason, Jackson had been working out with Ravens quarterbacks coach, Joshua Harris along with receivers Jordan Lasley and Jaylen Smith, so it remains to be seen throughout the summer on whether or not he has improved namely his passing game. 

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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Reaction: Peter King picks Ravens 12th in 2019 Power Rankings

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Reaction: Peter King picks Ravens 12th in 2019 Power Rankings

With OTAs underway, Peter King has released his 2019 NFL preseason power rankings and of the biggest surprises is the Baltimore Ravens landing at No. 12 on the list. Although stud Lamar Jackson surprised people last season, given the substandard state of their defense and the burden on Jackson to shoulder the load offensively, King may have the Ravens ranked a few spots too high. 

Let's start with the defense; it's got more holes than a slice of swiss cheese. Most notably they lost linebacker Terrell Suggs, the heart and soul of their defense for the past decade. Although past his prime, Suggs is still a productive player and they will undoubtedly miss his leadership. They released defensive back Eric Weddle, who was coming off two straight Pro-Bowl appearances. Their justification was that he's 34 and by releasing him, they could allocate the money to re-signing All-Pro linebacker C.J. Mosley. Solid reasoning, if Mosley didn't sign with the New York Jets in the offseason.

Credit must be given, however, to the four-year, $55 million contract given to former Seattle Seahawks All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. Coming off a broken leg, he is easily the biggest X-factor for this defense. If he produces like the Earl Thomas of old, it'll more than makeup for the loss of the Weddle. They'll also be getting back defensive tackle Willie Henry from injury, who's young and hungry.

Although last years' defense was one of, if not the top unit in the NFL, all anyone could manage to talk about was the dynamic offense led by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. Coach John Harbaugh threw caution to the wind and handed the reins to Jackson in Week 10, and the Ravens proceeded to win six of their next seven games behind a run-dominated offense.

It's a toss-up if they'll be able to replicate that success this season. On the one hand, the unconventional attack took the league by storm last year and one could argue the league just needed time to adapt to this new-look offense. On the other hand, the Ravens did add some electric new pieces to the offense to replace the losses of wide receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown. 

They added Mark Ingram who is one of the best dual-threat running backs in the league when healthy. Their first-round pick, wide receiver Marquise Brown, is one of the fastest players Todd McShay has ever evaluated. Third-round pick wide receiver Miles Boykin was one of the 20 fastest players at the draft and fourth-round pick  Justice Hill registered the fastest 40 time for running backs at the combine. Adding young, electric talent will enhance Jackson's already stellar playmaking ability. 

At tight end, they're one of the deepest teams in the NFL, headed up by Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst. Keep in mind, however, that this is the NFL: it all starts with the quarterback. Jackson completed passes at a 58.2% clip last season. If the Ravens are serious about building around him, he'll have to improve as a passer. 

Taking the defensive deficiencies and questions on offense into account, and 12 is too high for the preseason power rankings; 16 is more appropriate. In his article, King writes about the Ravens saying, "They could win 11. They could win six." If I had to choose one outcome I'd take the latter. 

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