Steelers Inside Slant

Pittsburgh needs to win its final two games in order to make the playoffs, but a little side drama will occur as Willie Parker tries to become the first Steeler to rush for 1,000 yards since Jerome Bettis in 2001.

Parker is a second-year pro who played little as an undrafted rookie in 2004 and entered training camp this year fourth on the depth chart. He's a native of Clinton, N.C., who played at North Carolina but never did nail down a starting job with the Tar Heels. Now he needs just 63 yards in two games to get 1,000 in the pros.

"I really don't want to talk about stats but I can say I haven't rushed for 1,000 yards since high school," Parker said. "It would be an accomplishment, a long time coming. I don't want to dwell on it, but I think it would be real special."

Fellow backs Bettis, who has done it eight times with the Steelers and Rams, and Duce Staley, who did it three times with the Eagles, are pulling for him.

"That would be big," Bettis said. "That would be definitely good to see." Said Staley, "That's what a running back dreams of. He definitely will get that. I want to see him get that."

The Steelers have a long history of 1,000-yard rushers: John Henry Johnson (twice), Franco Harris (eight times), Rocky Bleier (once), Barry Foster (once) and Bettis (six times) have done it for Pittsburgh. Bettis, who topped 1,000 yards eight times with the Steelers and Rams, came close to number nine in his career last season when he had 941. He was rested in the meaningless season finale at Buffalo.

Bettis and Staley shared the running back duties last season but both were injured in training camp and that allowed Parker to move up. He led the NFL in rushing with 272 yards after two games. He missed one game with an ankle injury that also held him to five carries in another.

The Steelers like Parker's breakaway ability, and at 5-foot-10, 209 pounds, he has shown he can take a hit and also has been durable. Sunday in Minnesota, he had only 5 yards on four carries in the first half, but he burst off guard, changed directions and sprinted to a 49-yard run that led to a field goal.

"Everyone says he's fast," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said, half-joking. "I wish he'd score instead of getting run out of bounds. I'm waiting to see that 'fast' from Willie. But he does give you that element."

Staley rarely dresses for games anymore because of Parker's emergence. He had knee surgery Aug. 3 to remove part of his meniscus cartilage. Staley said he won't be completely healthy until next season but expects to come back strong in 2006.

"I really think I have a chance to come in here next year and get back to the old Duce," Staley said. "That's a promise I can make to myself and can make to this team.

"I'm biting at the chops. As soon as this season is over, the next two days, I'm back working out, back in South Carolina training and getting back to the old Duce."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Steelers won their first game in a dome since 1996 last week at Minnesota, ending a three-game losing streak indoors. Coach Bill Cowher raised his dome record to 6-7.

--The Steelers improved to 7-0 against NFC teams the past two seasons. They went 4-0 against the NFC East in 2004. They are 3-0 against the NFC North this season with a game left against the Detroit Lions Jan. 1 in Heinz Field.

--The Steelers, in their own way, have honored Joseph Pokorny, a Pennsylvania State Trooper who was murdered last week near Pittsburgh. Pokorny's brother, Frank, played for the Steelers in 1985. QB Ben Roethlisberger saluted the dead officer last week, as did Larry Foote after the game. Joey Porter wore a state police hat in the locker room after the game.

"I appreciate the work he did and the sacrifice he made for all of us," Foote said.

--The Vikings (13) and Steelers (12) combined for more penalties than points.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--LB Clint Kriewaldt injured an ankle in the fourth quarter Sunday. The injury was not serious, but his status for Saturday's game in Cleveland is unknown.

--DE Kimo von Oelhoffen is claiming rights to at least half a sack from Sunday that was given fully to LB Joey Porter. NFL statisticians are reviewing it.

--WR Hines Ward caught just two passes for 11 yards against the Vikings, his fewest yards of the season. He has 61 receptions and is headed for his lowest production in five seasons.

--T Marvel Smith, who has missed four of the past five games with injuries to both ankles, has improved to questionable this week.

REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS

PASS OFFENSE: B - It was another typical Steelers/Big Ben passing day as QB Ben Roethlisberger completed 10 of 15 for 149 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns. The quarterback did run 3 yards for the game's only TD on a third-down scramble. He was sacked four times, taking the sack a couple of times rather than passing in a dangerous situation. His long pass of 50 yards went to tight end Heath Miller. Roethlisberger ran six times for 7 yards, most of them on scrambles.

RUSH OFFENSE: B-minus - Willie Parker ran 14 times for 81 yards but 49 of them came on one run. The Steelers ran 39 times for 142 yards for a 3.6 yards per carry average. Their rushing TD was a 3-yard scramble by their quarterback. Their draws on third downs did not work well and Jerome Bettis, used mostly in short yardage, managed just short yardage - 7 on six carries.

PASS DEFENSE: A - Minnesota QB Brad Johnson completed 16 of 30 for 143 yards and no touchdowns. He was intercepted twice, both in the second quarter. Linebacker Joey Porter stopped one drive by picking him off at the 5, and cornerback Deshea Townsend intercepted Johnson in the end zone. The Steelers sacked Johnson twice and linebacker Larry Foote nailed RB Michael Bennett for a five-yard loss on another completion.

RUSH DEFENSE: A - The Vikings managed only 54 yards rushing, low of any Steelers opponent this season, on 17 carries. Michael Bennett had one run of 18 and the other 10 for a total. LB Larry Foote nailed rookie running back Clatrick Fason for a 1-yard loss on third down at the 1. Foote and LB Joey Porter also dropped Bennett for a safety in the fourth quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A - K Jeff Reed made all three of his field goals plus hit perfectly two pop-up kickoffs that went to the Steelers' advantage. One was returned just 2 yards, the other was fumbled and recovered by the Steelers' Verron Haynes. Chidi Iwuoma also downed a Chris Gardocki punt at the two that led to a safety on the next play. Three of Gardocki's punts were downed inside the 20 and he also had a long of 58 yards.

COACHING: A - Coach Bill Cowher successfully challenged a spot on the ball that moved it 1 yard and gave the Steelers a first down instead of having to punt. Kevin Spencer had K Jeff Reed pooch two pop-up kickoffs that worked both times exceptionally. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau introduced some new schemes that confused the Vikings.


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