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Old 09-18-2007, 03:50 PM   #1
The Duke
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Default Big change, huh? Parker still getting Steelers' tough yards

PITTSBURGH ? Willie Parker must be wondering what's happened to the new system that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was supposed to bring to the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.

With Parker following up his 1,494-yard season of a year ago with 235 yards in two games, this must feel much like that same old predictable Steelers offense to one of the AFC's top offensive players.

Maybe there are more four wide receiver sets this season, more alignments with three tight ends, yet Parker is still getting the tough yards - the yards that are putting the Steelers (2-0) in the lead and keeping them there.

"I felt like this was a big game for me," Parker said after running for 126 yards and a touchdown as Pittsburgh beat Buffalo 26-3 on Sunday. "I wasn't satisfied at all (with the opener)."

In that game, Parker gained 109 yards in a 34-7 rout of Cleveland, but he was disappointed that he didn't gain a lot more yardage. He tripped once with an open field in front of him and fumbled another time.

Against Buffalo, Parker's running helped the Steelers control the ball as they built a 12-0 lead on four Jeff Reed field goals in the first half, and he ran for a score in the second half.

"Willie opens it up for us when he has 100-yard games," wide receiver Nate Washington said. "Teams have to try to stack the box (to slow Parker), but when we're making plays as receivers they have to respect us, so they can't stack the box anymore."

Coach Mike Tomlin agreed that it's unusual to push a player who is coming off a 100-yard game, yet that is exactly what the coaching staff did last week with Parker.

"We challenged him a little bit," Tomlin said. "He challenged himself to bounce back because he ran for 100 yards last week but he wasn't pleased with his performance. He came back this week and read blocks and had nice (running) tracks and did a good job of running the ball and taking care of it."

Wasn't it only a couple of years ago that the Steelers were worrying where NFL No. 5 career rusher Jerome Bettis' replacement would come from?

Parker cost the Steelers almost nothing as a undrafted rookie free agent from North Carolina in 2004. Since then, he has had two 1,000-yard seasons and helped them win a Super Bowl with a 75-yard touchdown run against Seattle in February 2006.

Parker has three consecutive 100-yard games going back to last season and five in his last six games. He ran for 753 yards in those six games, an average of nearly 126 yards, despite being held to 29 yards against Baltimore on Dec. 24.

Through two games this season, the Steelers are averaging 195 yards rushing.

"But I'm not satisfied," Parker said. "I can't say I'm satisfied."

An example?

Parker said he should have scored on a second-down play from the Bills 1-yard line in the third quarter. On the next play, Ben Roethlisberger threw his second touchdown pass in as many games to rookie tight end Matt Spaeth.

Parker, sixth in the league in rushing a season ago, is third - 32 yards behind leader Travis Henry of Denver. He has 3,117 yards in his career despite having started for only two-plus seasons and already ranks 10th in Steelers career rushing.

Notes: The Steelers remain home Sunday to play the 49ers (2-0). Frank Gore, third in the league a year ago with 1,695 yards, has 136 yards this season. ... The Steelers offered no injury update Monday on LB James Harrison, who hurt his neck on the final play of the first half Sunday. ... The Steelers have already led the AFC North longer this season than they did all of last season, when they won their opener but then dropped six of their next seven.
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