Sunday, November 25, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Fast Willie Parker leads the AFC with 925 yards rushing.
Something's wrong with Fast Willie Parker. Oh, he's still fast, so fast that tomorrow night he could reach 1,000 yards rushing, two games faster than he did last season.
Yet there are grumblings that even though he leads the AFC with 925 yards rushing, second in the league only behind sensational but injured rookie Adrian Peterson of Minnesota, that there's just something missing from Parker and the Steelers ground game this season.
Those grumblings start within the mind of Willie Parker.
"I'm having some bad games, man," said the back who leads the league with six 100-yard games this season.
Parker is rarely satisfied, but he's particularly perturbed by recent games. In his past three games, he rushed for 42 vs. Baltimore, 105 vs. Cleveland and 52 in a loss against the Jets. He was happy with none of them, saying he left a lot of yards on the field at home against Cleveland.
So, despite leading every running back in the NFL but one, Parker said he will change his style starting tomorrow night against Miami. He said he will return to his old style of last season, when he ran for 1,494 yards and became the only back in Steelers history to top 200 twice.
"I'm just going back to playing like I used to play, taking more chances," Parker vowed. "I think it's better off for me and the line. I'm not going to press it, I'm just going to free my mind and play ball."
Parker said he became more of a disciplined runner this season, hitting it up between the tackles and not trying to make a break for the corner when he thought something might be there. It's why, he believes, his long runs have diminished.
Last season, Parker had runs of 76 and 72 and, all together, six longer than 35 yards. This season, his longest run is 32. Backup Najeh Davenport has the team's longest runs of 45 and 39 and wide receiver Cedrick Wilson has one longer at 37.
"This year, it's more scheme," Parker said, "and more like -- I wouldn't say I'm not confident in taking the corner, but I'm more hitting it up the middle and reading it. Instead of taking that chance like I used to take last year, I don't take as many chances."
Of course, there may be tradeoffs to the different approaches Parker takes. Last season, while he had more long runs and bigger games, he also had games of 20 yards rushing, 47, 46, 22 and 29 and his team finished 8-8. This season, he has topped 100 in six of 10 games and the Steelers are 7-3.
Particularly galling for them, however, was their performances at Denver and at the New York Jets. At the time they played them both teams ranked dead last in the NFL against the rush, yet the Steelers managed only 119 and 112 yards against them with Parker getting 93 and 52.
It was a stunningly poor performance for an offense that ranks second in the league in rushing.
"I wouldn't even think we're still No. 2," guard Alan Faneca said. "It just seems for some reason some games we get the job done, some we don't. It's inconsistent play."
Tomorrow, in a statistical anomaly, they will play the No. 32 defense against the rush again in Miami, and they want to avoid a similar outcome.
Parker thinks they have lost to such teams because of the attitude they've brought into those games.
"We go and play at these guys' level, man. We think they're below average and we play below average. It's the tale of the tape.
"We were supposed to beat all three of those teams and we didn't. That's just how it is, but we didn't. We didn't go out and take care of business. That's our downfall, that's why we're not a great team right now. That's why we're not getting everything done, we're not handling business when we're supposed to handle business."
Parker hopes to help change that tomorrow night, and he'd like to hit 1,000 as well, something he did not do until his 13th game last season.
"It means a lot, coming back home, in Heinz Field, in front of your fans, in front of your family and it's Monday night."
He also would love to lead the league in rushing, something that no Steelers back has done since Bullet Bill Dudley in 1946. Peterson, who will miss at least one more game today, has 156 yards more than Parker.
"You know leading the league would mean a lot to me," Parker said. "That would be a big step for me, another line on my resume. But I'm not going to dwell on it. That's a big steppingstone. But we just have to get our stuff together. Right now we ain't playing worth a crap