Coach Mike Tomlin said he doesn't think Willie Parker is uninformed and selfish. But he said the comments the two-time Pro Bowl running back made about the Steelers' offense could be construed that way, and he angrily reminded Parker and all the players about it in a team meeting.
"The issue for us has been, is and hopefully will continue to be winning -- that's my interpretation of Steelers football," Tomlin said yesterday after practice. "Every morning, I come to work I walk past five Lombardis, not five rushing titles. The issue is winning."
Tomlin was not happy that Parker said the offense, which ranks 20th in the NFL in rushing, has gotten away from "Steelers football." Or that the two-tight end offense used by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, which does not usually employ a fullback, is not effective for running the ball. Parker, who carried 12 times for 25 yards against the Dallas Cowboys, said opposing teams even know when and where the Steelers are going to run the ball. Parker made the comments Wednesday afternoon after practice.
"He needs to be a little more careful with things he says and how he says it because it can be misinterpreted as uninformed or selfish, of which he is neither," Tomlin said.
Tomlin did not allow Arians to speak with the media yesterday.
Asked how the two-tight end offense is performing, Tomlin said: "It was working pretty good last year when he was leading the league in rushing before he was hurt. It's not working as well right now. But we're in a better position than we were a year ago."
Parker was leading the NFL in rushing with 1,316 yards last season when he broke his leg in Week 15 in St. Louis. He also began this season with back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances before spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Week 3 in Philadelphia -- an injury that caused him to miss four games and still limits his effectiveness.
"Do we need to get better in terms of running the football? Absolutely," Tomlin said. "And the reason is this -- because it increases our chances of winning.
"I talked to the football team. We're a 10-3 team trying to be an 11-3 team, and the issue and singular focus we should have is on winning."
Tomlin wasn't the only one critical of Parker's comments.
Hines Ward, who has caught one pass in two of the past three games, said the Steelers have to be concerned about winning, not about personal accomplishments.
"There's only one ball to go around," Ward said. "Yes, we all want the ball, but right now we don't need to have distractions. It's all about the team. We're 10-3, and whatever we rank in offensive stats, we got to put all that aside with egos.
"Willie wants the ball more, we all want the ball. But, for me, I don't care how we do it. Let's just be more balanced. If we got out there and were pounding it down Baltimore's throat, then let's continue to do that. If we can't get the ball going in the run game, then we have to go out there and pass it."
McFadden to start vs. Ravens
Cornerback Bryant McFadden, who returned but did not start against Dallas after missing six games with a broken arm, will replace William Gay in the starting lineup against the Baltimore Ravens. Gay started the past four games and played very well, allowing the Steelers to maintain their ranking as the No. 1 pass defense in then league.
"He was playing great football before he was injured," Tomlin said. "We acknowledged he was missing some time, but he played at a high level for us, which is what we expected. So we're moving on, and he's back in the lineup."
Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison did not practice yesterday because he was given the day off. Also, Tomlin said it will be determined today if defensive end Brett Keisel (knee), who has missed the past two games, and fullback Carey Davis (calf) will play against the Ravens.
Marvel Smith update
Offensive left tackle Marvel Smith, who has missed the past eight games with a back injury, has not resumed practicing and will not play against the Ravens.
But, speaking for the first time in nearly two months, Smith said yesterday he is feeling better and is waiting for the team doctors and coaches to clear the way for him to play.
"I'm doing everything I can every day to get better," Smith said. "That's all I can do. "
Smith said he is not allowed to discuss the exact nature of his injury but said it is unrelated to the back surgery he had last year that caused him to miss the final three games of the season, including playoffs.
"It's definitely frustrating, being injured in any fashion, not being able to help team out, especially when you have a good team," Smith said. "You sit back and watch how well they're doing, you wish you can get out with the team."
One of the reasons the team has not placed Smith on injured reserve is because they are holding out hope he can return this season, especially because it appears the team will get into the postseason.