PITTSBURGH – Steelers running back Willie Parker became just the third running back in team history to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, a mark he eclipsed with a team-record 223 yards in last night's 27-7 victory here at Heinz Field over the Cleveland Browns.
Yet to listen to some people, Parker is part of what is wrong with this year's Pittsburgh Steelers.
Parker isn't the big back that the previous guys who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons – Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris – were.
OK, so Parker isn't a big, pounding running back. He isn't a guy who's going to wear a defense down. But he sure is a guy who can wear a defense out if they have to chase him around all night.
Just ask the Browns who couldn't catch him as he became the first running back in team history to eclipse 200 yards twice in his career. And Parker has done it twice this season.
You think maybe there's something to be said for that?
"Willie Parker is going to help us change this offense," said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "We're going to be a faster, slashing kind of offense. We'll be able to throw the ball, be an offense that can stretch the field when we need to. Willie's able to pound it when he has to, but he's also able to get to the outside when he feels that's necessary."
But Parker isn't what Steelers fans are used to in their running backs. They'd rather have a plodder, a big back who is going to get three yards and a cloud of dust.
However, if you take a look at the top five leading rushers in the NFL going into this weekend, those kind of running backs are few and far between.
Outside of Kansas City's Larry Johnson, the vast majority of top backs in the NFL aren't guys who would be considered big backs.
Nobody says those guys are too small.
Could the Steelers use a complimentary runner to Parker?
Given how much they like to run the ball, they could use somebody to take some of the pressure off him.
Tomlinson has Michael Turner. Barber has Brandon Jacobs. Even Johnson has Michael Bennett.
The Steelers just don't have a capable compliment to Parker, with all due respect to Najeh Davenport.
Parker has largely been asked to be a one-man wrecking crew in the running game this season. Sometimes he's been able to carry that load. Other times, he hasn't.
But make no mistake about it. The kid who couldn't even crack the lineup at North Carolina is pretty special.
And for that, the Steelers have the recently released Duce Staley to blame, or thank, as it were. Had Staley not showed up in training camp last season with a knee injury, Parker may never have gotten the opportunity to become the Steelers' starting running back – at least not until this season.
Parker spent last season and much of this one still learning to be an every-down running back.
He's proving to be a quick study.
And he's proving that his critics really don't know what they are talking about when they say he is the problem with this football team.
© You knew that pass interference in the first quarter had to be on Sean Morey before it was announced. How else could Morey have gotten that much separation?
Then again, that was Walter Young and Morey converting long third downs on the Steelers' third drive, so what do I know?
© From the sublime category: One colleague mentioned that it was quite appropriate that a guy named Droughns would be playing in a game in which Bryant Gumbel was the announcer.
© Anthony Smith played an inspired game in his first career start, breaking up two passes with big hits and intercepting another. But his youth was displayed on the long touchdown catch-and-run by Braylon Edwards when Smith missed a tackle attempt on the mouth from Michigan to allow Cleveland's only score.
© Not only did the Browns give up 303 yards rushing, they didn't lay a hand on Ben Roethlisberger all night long. Good thing they scored, though. We wouldn't want them using this game as a reason to fire themselves up when they face the Steelers next season.
If the Browns were embarrassed in this game, it should be because they tackled like a midget football team.
© OK, the Steelers are now 6-7, one game out of a playoff spot heading into this weekend's games. There's a good chance they could head to Carolina next week to face a Panthers squad led by Chris Weinke.
Boy, that loss at Oakland sure looks big now. So does Bill Cowher's boneheaded decision to send Ricardo Colclough out to field a punt against Cincinnati. Win one of those games and the Steelers are right in the middle of the playoff hunt. Win them both and they would be a favorite to not only be a wildcard, but to possibly win the division.
As it is now, they are more than likely a team that will have to settle for playing a spoiler role – first knocking Carolina out of the playoffs; then keeping Baltimore from having a first-round bye; and finally, by ending Cincinnati's playoff hopes.
Take the little victories when you can get them.
© During the broadcast, color commentator Chris Collinsworth said that Cowher told him, "If I go to Carolina, I'm going to get away. I'm not going there to be Mr. Football. If I do that I want to be with the Pittsburgh Steelers."
When asked about that after the game, Cowher said that Collinsworth was interpreting what he told him.
When asked if he had made up his mind about whether he wants to coach next season or not, he simply replied, "No."
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.