Parker pushes for change back to 'Steeler football'
Gary Russell might have worked his way into increased playing time with his effort Sunday against San Diego.
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Willie Parker wants the Steelers to get back to what he calls "Steeler football." Except for one final, victorious drive against the San Diego Chargers, he said that wasn't it Sunday, not unless you count the cold and snow at Heinz Field.
Ben Roethlisberger threw 41 passes, most of them of the dink and dunk variety and none of them for a touchdown in an 11-10 victory. The Steelers ran 28 times and averaged 4.4 yards per carry with Parker gaining 115 on 25 chances.
"We have to capitalize more on the run so we can take out the passing," Parker said afterward.
The Steelers have attempted more passes than they have runs this season. The only time they've done that and had a winning record in this century came in 2002, when Tommy Maddox replaced Kordell Stewart at quarterback.
They passed more than they ran in 2006 and were 8-8. They passed more in 2003 and were 6-10. They ran more often every other season and had winning records.
It reflects the evolution of the Steelers' offense under coordinator Bruce Arians, who de-emphasized the fullback when he took over last season and put more on Roethlisberger's shoulders.
Also, Parker has missed half of the games this season with two different injuries and the man they drafted in the first round to help him, Rashard Mendenhall, played only four games before his season ended because of a broken shoulder.
Parker returned in grand fashion with his third 100-yard game of the season, but he wants more. He was not used at the goal line when Mewelde Moore ran from the 1 and lost a yard. He ran twice on third-and-1 plays in the first half, picking up the first down on one and failing on the other.
Gary Russell took over on two third downs in the second half and picked both of them up with runs of 4 and 6 yards.
"The game plan was to not put me in bad situations," said Parker, who wore a harness to protect his injured shoulder. "We didn't do that in goal line, and in a lot of short-yardage they kind of pulled me out. That was the game plan for my first game back.
"I think that was the best thing for the first game back. It's up to me if I want to keep it that way or make a change, and I'm going to make a change."
Coach Mike Tomlin may have other ideas. He liked how Russell ran on his two third-and-short tries, and it sounds as though he will give him more chances.
"Maybe we found something with Gary Russell," Tomlin said. "We will see. I think that based upon what he showed us in this football game, he is a strong candidate for that.
"Just like when given the opportunity to return kickoffs for us, he has shown us that he is a fighter in that regard. He has done some nice things for us over the past couple of weeks in expanded roles."
Parker thought only one series looked to him like "Steelers football" Sunday, and that was the last one. They drove 73 yards to put Jeff Reed in position to kick a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to win it.
"That's the drive that really like -- just keep calling run plays, keep calling run plays," Parker said. "The defense knows we're about to run and they just can't stop it. That's Steeler football to me.
"It was really important. I think we came together for once in the game. We just made plays."
There weren't many running plays on that drive, though, until the Steelers reached reasonable field-goal range at the 21 after Roethlisberger completed a 13-yard pass to Santonio Holmes.
To that point, Roethlisberger had completed all six of his passes, and Parker ran twice, although a third run was called back by a penalty.
With the ball at the 21, Parker ran four consecutive times to the 4 and then ran for a touchdown that also was nullified by a penalty before Reed kicked the winner.
"I'm a running back so I love getting the ball, especially in crucial situations," Parker said. "When the pressure's on, I want the ball."
The ball, though, has been put in Roethlisberger's hands more than those of his running backs this season. And during the past two games, he has thrown mostly short passes. His average per attempt of 7.1 is a full yard below his career average.
Tomlin did not mention Roethlisberger's right shoulder -- reinjured Nov. 3 in Washington -- as a reason for those short passes, but credited the defenses the Indianapolis Colts and Chargers used.
"It was very similar to last week in the Indianapolis game because they were playing a lot of Tampa-Two," Tomlin said. "We were taking what they were giving us and playing pitch-and-catch. I thought that we did a very nice job of that."
The Steelers rank 25th in total offense in the NFL, 23rd rushing and 18th passing. Their defense today is 1-1-1 -- No. 1 overall, No. 1 stopping the run and No. 1 against the pass.
First Published November 18, 2008 12:00 am