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Old 12-01-2006, 06:58 AM   #1
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Default Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground
Friday, December 01, 2006

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


The paradox of the Steelers' running game might be summed up by these statistics: Willie Parker is the No. 3 rusher in the AFC, yet the team is ranked just 17th in the league.

Parker entered this season with virtually everyone saying he could not carry the load the way Jerome Bettis did. He's not -- he's carrying more of it.

A second-year starter, Parker might not be built like a Bus at 5 feet 10, 209 pounds, but he has 75 percent of the Steelers' carries this season. In 10 years with the Steelers, Bettis never had more than 67.4 percent of the carries.

In other words, Parker is running more and the Steelers are enjoying it less. Their No. 17 ranking is the second lowest under coach Bill Cowher to the 2003 season, when they ranked 31st.

That might be no reflection on Parker, a strong candidate for the Pro Bowl if he keeps it up, but a statement of what has become of the Steelers' ground game.

The Steelers have run just 39.7 percent of the time, which would be the lowest in their modern history that dates to 1969 if they maintain that pace the next five games. Not only is that down from 57.2 percent last season, it's lower than the disastrous 2003 Air Cowher campaign when they ran 43.7 percent of the time and prompted the coach to swear off that kind of offense.

It might not be that they've fallen in love with the pass the way they did when Tommy Maddox was flinging the ball in 2002 and '03; it might be that they have less confidence in a ground game that can hit home runs but does not grind out consistent gains.

"It would be good, getting back to running the ball," guard Alan Faneca said. "Not even really getting back but putting ourselves in situations where we can stay running the ball. If you're down 17 points, 21 points, it's hard to stick to the run in this league because you know they're still getting the ball on offense and you have to play catch-up. You have to close the gap somehow. And closing the gap quickly is about throwing the ball."

That's correct, in theory, but in reality the Steelers have not fallen behind by that many points except in one game, Sunday in Baltimore. Cowher noted this week that they have been close in every loss in the fourth quarter except to the Ravens. Even in that one, Cowher said about the running game that "we probably abandoned it a little too soon the other day."

No one will say the coaches lack confidence in the ground game, but it's become obvious by the play selection.

The Steelers trailed only 7-0 early in the second quarter in Baltimore when they got the ball to start a drive on their 14. On the first play, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked for a 9-yard loss by Terrell Suggs. The next two plays were incomplete passes.

By the time they got the ball back, it was 14-0 and the quarterback dropped back to pass three consecutive times -- one complete for 2 yards, a sack that forced Roethlisberger out with a chest injury, and a 10-yard completion by Charlie Batch.

Two weeks ago, Cowher noted that more NFL teams are using two running backs to share the load and throw different styles at defenses.

"I think you're seeing more than one back. It's hard to have one back last in this league for 16 weeks. Is it good to have the two guys who can complement each other? Yeah. But I think if you have two quality backs, I think you'll find that's what a lot of teams are going to.

"That's the one thing, even people with one back realize that you need two, particularly if you want to take that kind of approach."

Yet Parker has 75 percent of his team's carries -- 210. Next is 255-pound Najeh Davenport, who has been with them since the second game of the season, with 25 carries. Only Edgerrin James of Arizona (84.9), Steven Jackson of St. Louis (81) and Rudi Johnson of Cincinnati (79) have a higher percent of their team's runs from scrimmage.

"Willie's a guy, if you get that one play that's blocked perfectly, he's got a chance to take it farther than bigger backs," Cowher said. "At the same time, there's a lot to be said for bigger backs. That's why it's kind of nice to have that complementary guy like Najeh who can maybe move a pile when there's 10 guys in there and those seams are not going to be quite as big and you're going to have to use your weight to move that pile forward and make a 3-yard run a 5-yard run and make a 1-yard run a 3-yard run.

"All of sudden you're down to third-and-1, not third-and-5. They're different styles, but I don't think that there's any one you want to pick. It's nice to have both."

It might even be nicer if they used both.

Carrying the load

The Steelers' top ball carriers for the past 10 years (since Jerome Bettis joined the team).

Year / Player / Carries / Team Carries / Percent of Total carries

2006 - Parker - 210 - 280 - 75.0
2005 - Parker - 255 - 549 - 46.4
2004 - Bettis - 250 - 618 - 40.5
2003 - Bettis - 246 - 446 - 55.2
2002 - Zereoue - 193 - 512 - 37.7
2001 - Bettis - 225 - 580 - 38.8
2000 - Bettis - 355 - 527 - 67.4
1999 - Bettis - 299 - 495 - 60.4
1998 - Bettis - 316 - 490 - 64.5
1997 - Bettis - 375 - 572 - 65.6
1996 - Bettis - 320 - 525 - 61.0

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06335/742653-66.stm
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Old 12-01-2006, 09:31 AM   #2
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Default Re: Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

Quote:
That might be no reflection on Parker, a strong candidate for the Pro Bowl if he keeps it up, but a statement of what has become of the Steelers' ground game.
I dont think there is any question that it is a reflection on Parker.

I think its an indictment of the whole Steelers team, rather than just its running game.

As has been pointed out in other articles, the team is running less because it is behind by relatively large margins most weeks.

Its interesting to read Cowhers opinion on Willie and Davenport -


Quote:
"Willie's a guy, if you get that one play that's blocked perfectly, he's got a chance to take it farther than bigger backs," Cowher said. "At the same time, there's a lot to be said for bigger backs. That's why it's kind of nice to have that complementary guy like Najeh who can maybe move a pile when there's 10 guys in there and those seams are not going to be quite as big and you're going to have to use your weight to move that pile forward and make a 3-yard run a 5-yard run and make a 1-yard run a 3-yard run.

"All of sudden you're down to third-and-1, not third-and-5. They're different styles, but I don't think that there's any one you want to pick. It's nice to have both."
Its almost like he is still talking about the 2005 version of Home Run Willie - i've seen plenty of ability from Parker this year to make the short loss into a short gain.

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Old 12-01-2006, 09:35 AM   #3
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Default Re: Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

I have also seen "home-run" Willie quite a few times this year too, bad thing is though, he isn't finishing off those 70 yard runs with touchdowns.
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Old 12-01-2006, 09:38 AM   #4
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Default Re: Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

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I have also seen "home-run" Willie quite a few times this year too, bad thing is though, he isn't finishing off those 70 yard runs with touchdowns.
Oh his two 70 yard runs did end in a TD both times. True Willie was caught from behind on both on long runs. But Willie still punched in for the TD both times. I don't care how he gets in the endzone just as long he gets it in.
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Old 12-01-2006, 09:42 AM   #5
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Default Re: Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

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Originally Posted by Livinginthe past View Post
I dont think there is any question that it is a reflection on Parker.

I think its an indictment of the whole Steelers team, rather than just its running game.

As has been pointed out in other articles, the team is running less because it is behind by relatively large margins most weeks.

Its interesting to read Cowhers opinion on Willie and Davenport -




Its almost like he is still talking about the 2005 version of Home Run Willie - i've seen plenty of ability from Parker this year to make the short loss into a short gain.

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I read this article to LITP and I must say Cowher proved he has been a dolt again like all year long with his opinions on Parker and Davenport. Bill Cowher I'm a fan of his but I sick of him to. I don't hold emotional attachment to players and coaches like alot of Steelers fans do. Hey pro sports is a business and players/coaches come and they go. Its time for Cowher to go. I want to see a change in Pittsburgh. I think it will do the team alot of good.
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Old 12-01-2006, 09:43 AM   #6
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Default Re: Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

peter king wrote about the ball being taken out of tiki barbers hands during a giants loss a few weeks back:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/200...ceivers/4.html

Quote:
Entering Sunday's games, nine times in 11 NFL weeks had a back been held to 30 yards or fewer on his first 10 carries ... and then finished with a 100-yard rushing day. Runners like Barber pound and pound, then start to hit the soft spots as the game goes on. Plus, the Giants should be trying to put Manning in less-pressurized situations. Why ask the struggling Manning to go back to pass 42 times out of 56 offensive plays in a game that didn't get out of hand until 12 minutes remained?

Here are the nine backs who recovered from lousy starts to run for 100 yards or more in a game through Week 11:


Slow Starters
Player Date Opponent First 10 carries Game totals
Frank Gore 9-17 vs. Rams 10-30 / 29-127
Chester Taylor 9-24 vs. Panthers 10-30 / 24-113
Reuben Droughns 10-1 at Raiders 10-30 / 25-100
Cadillac Williams 10-8 at Saints 10-28 / 20-111
Brian Westbrook 11-19 vs. Titans 10-27 / 22-102
Willie Parker 11-12 Saints 10-26 / 22-213
LaMont Jordan 10-1 Browns 10-24 / 20-128
Willie Parker 9-7 vs. Dolphins 10-20 / 29-115
Larry Johnson 10-1 vs. 49ers 10-20 / 30-101
willie parker has done it twice out of 9 times.
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Old 12-01-2006, 09:43 AM   #7
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Default Re: Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

I'm with you BGF. As long as we get the seven at the end, I don't care how Willie get's there. For playing on a team who's o-line has looked like the Maginot Line all year long, it's amazing the guy doesn't get tagged with more negative yardage. Unlike last season Willie has shown me that he is also capable of running strong picking up yardage that he has no business picking up.
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Old 12-01-2006, 09:46 AM   #8
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Default Re: Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

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I'm with you BGF. As long as we get the seven at the end, I don't care how Willie get's there. For playing on a team who's o-line has looked like the Maginot Line all year long, it's amazing the guy doesn't get tagged with more negative yardage. Unlike last season Willie has shown me that he is also capable of running strong picking up yardage that he has no business picking up.
Nice post 83.
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Old 12-01-2006, 09:46 AM   #9
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Default Re: Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

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I have also seen "home-run" Willie quite a few times this year too, bad thing is though, he isn't finishing off those 70 yard runs with touchdowns.
mike vick didnt finish off a couple of long runs last weekend cause the defenders had the angle on him, and hes one of the few offensive weapons quicker than parker
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Old 12-01-2006, 10:05 AM   #10
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Default Re: Running game paradox: Other than Parker, Steelers not getting much on the ground

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I read this article to LITP and I must say Cowher proved he has been a dolt again like all year long with his opinions on Parker and Davenport. Bill Cowher I'm a fan of his but I sick of him to. I don't hold emotional attachment to players and coaches like alot of Steelers fans do. Hey pro sports is a business and players/coaches come and they go. Its time for Cowher to go. I want to see a change in Pittsburgh. I think it will do the team alot of good.
Stubborness is something I have always accused Cowher of - a rigid inability to change whats not working and to hell with the ego's involved.

Davenport wasn't courted by any other teams than the Steelers (I don't think) and just because he is 'big' doesn't mean he is 'effective'.

Surely its not possible that Cowher underestimates the balance of shiftiness that Bettis' quick feet allowed him - to glide into a crease then hit the hole hard.

I dont care how big you are, you aren't going to run into the back of an o-line/d-line melee and push the lot of them upfield for a 4 yard gain.

It has been noted that, for whatever reason, Parker doesn't have the complete confidence of the coaches - which is demonstrated by how quickly they have abandoned the running game at times.

The strange loyallty that has been shown to Staley is confusing to say the least.

I called BS on his statement last year that he took a back seat in the playoffs/SB because Bettis was the main man - what a pile of crap - no player should ever want to give up his place for another.

Maybe that was an early indication of Staley's mindset for the upcoming season.

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The Patriots didn't bother with swagger to start this NFL season; they went straight to defiant. Either you're one of them or you're about to get crushed.
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