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Old 01-12-2009, 10:04 AM   #1
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Default San Diego failed to contain Parker, running game

San Diego failed to contain Parker, running game
Monday, January 12, 2009
By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


These Chargers will be closely monitoring Willie Parker next week.

Because some wonder if he'll have the same success against big, bad Baltimore.

Because others wonder if he shouldn't have had as much success yesterday against them.

"Guys who are there who are supposed to make the tackle didn't get the tackle," linebacker Shaun Phillips said, referring to a San Diego defense that allowed 146 yards rushing -- a season high and the third most in the storied Steelers' grind-it-out, playoff history -- to Willie Parker in a 35-24 AFC divisional playoff loss yesterday at Heinz Field. "It was 10 guys getting the job done, and one guy not getting the job done."

"I think if they stay with it, Willie Parker is obviously fresh and he's running well, and that offensive line is jelling, and they're doing a good job running the football," countered all-galaxy running back turned spectator LaDainian Tomlinson, out yesterday with a pulled groin tendon. "You can see that Baltimore gets run on. So it can be done." Such as Saturday at Tennessee by the same brand of fleet back as Parker, Chris Johnson.

Parker hadn't rushed for two touchdowns in a game since the opening half of the opening game this season, against Houston. No Steelers runner had garnered as much playoff ground since Franco Harris rumbled for 153 yards against the original Baltimore -- the Colts -- in December 1975. Then this.

True, Parker compiled 115 against these same Chargers two months ago in the same snowy, cold conditions, but they felt they had shored up their defense since then.

"Oh, no, we knew they were going to come running the ball," said linebacker Stephen Cooper. "They had success with it [early], then we put the clamps on it."

Apparently, those clamps came undone early in the second half, when Parker churned for 92 yards on 17 rushes. Handing him the ball their first four plays from scrimmage and 11 of their first 18, the Steelers embarked on an eternal drive that gobbled up almost the entire third quarter. Or, as Chargers receiver Chris Chambers put it, "Ate it up the whole way" -- all but one San Diego offensive play and 17 seconds of the quarter. Fifteen running plays, a dozen by Parker, were called on the Steelers' 25 snaps that period. They scored one touchdown on the first drive and put themselves at the Chargers' 1 at quarter's end.

"Those were the two biggest drives of the game," Phillips, the game's leading tackler with 13, said of the Steelers' scoring drives to end the first half and jump-start the second. "Those two drives gave them a bit of confidence and gave us a lack of confidence."

Defensive end Igor Olshansky credited Parker, not so much his blockers: "I got a lot of respect for their running back. Great vision. He kind of makes his line better."

But, Olshansky added, Parker shouldn't find as much running room against Ray Lewis and the fellas Sunday in the AFC championship game.

"I don't feel they'll run as well on them," he said. "If they do, it'll take pressure off Ben [Roethlisberger]. The running game is key. Not too many quarterbacks can do it all. You saw what we did with Peyton [Manning a week ago in a wild-card victory against Indianapolis]. You need to be able to run the ball."

That's what the Steelers did to San Diego, which, of course, finished the season as the NFL's No. 25th overall defense, but 11th versus the rush. Olshansky preached balance against Baltimore.

"They're a ball-control team. Kept our offense off the field. I think that was the right idea," he continued. "It took some pressure off Ben, and he made some great passes. They played well offensively."

Coach Norv Turner concluded, "I'm sure over the bye week. ??? they put a lot of effort and thought into their running game. It's going to help them over the next week and, if they win next week, to have a chance to win a world championship."


http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09012/941277-66.stm
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