Willie Parker's dancing problem

Willie Parker rushed for almost 1,500 yards last season, but he also was second-worst in the league in lost yardage. Do Parker's gaudy rushing totals mask a bigger problem? SCI's Ryan Wilson goes all Carl Monday and investigates.

Last week, Scout.com's Ed Thompson wrote an article about "the six teams who racked up the most negative yardage last season and what they've done during the offseason in hopes of correcting the problem." Thompson argued that going backwards on offense correlated to losing football games. That's hard to dispute, but there's more to it than just gross yards lost. We'll get to that, but first, Thompson's take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were sixth worst in the NFL in negative yards:
While rushing for 1,494 yards last year, Willie Parker lost 80 yards, second-worst in the league amongst running backs. The Steelers' offensive line yielded 49 sacks last, all but three weathered by Ben Roethlisberger. But you can't credit the Steelers' passer for taking hits instead of interceptions. He tossed 23 turnovers, three more than his first two seasons combined. Pittsburgh added former Bucs G/C Sean Mahan while center Jeff Hartings retired. Former Rutgers guard Cameron Stephenson has been favorably compared to Mahan, and the two could eventually end up playing shoulder to shoulder in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers finished 8-8, so there's something to this, but that should be obvious to anyone with one good eye and only a passing interest in football: it's harder to score points when the team is moving away from the opponent's end zone. Still, it's not clear who Thompson is blaming, or if Pittsburgh has done enough to improve, which I thought was the whole point of this exercise. No worries, though: it's the middle of June, training camp is about six weeks away, and I've got nothing but time on my hands. I'll pick up where Thompson left off.

Yes, Parker was second-worst in lost yards among running backs, but that's kinda taken out of context. This doesn't account for situational factors like down, distance, time of game, field position, etc. Luckily, the Good Lord invented Football Outsiders for just this purpose, and with a little help from the nerds over there, maybe we can better explain exactly what's going on (it's okay, I'm one of the "nerds," so I can say that).

First, out of the 53 running backs with at least 75 rushing attempts last season, Parker ranked 14th in total value (DPAR), and slightly worse than that -- 24th -- in value per play (DVOA). He ranked 35th in success rate, which measures consistency. Looking at both his DVOA and success rate shows that Parker would occasionally mix in long runs but also had a knack for getting stuffed near the line of scrimmage. In terms of comparisons, Parker's style of play was closest to that of Fred Taylor and Travis Henry.

But it's slightly more complicated than that. Football Outsiders also ranks offensive lines, and in 2006, the Steelers' front five were 22nd in Adjusted Line Yards. (ALY, using a little math, "takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line.") This, coupled with the percentage of 10-plus-yard runs from scrimmage, gives us a sense for how much of a running back's success is due to the offensive line, and how much is due to his ability to break long runs.

In 2006, Parker ranked third in 10-plus-yard runs. This, together with the o-line's 22nd-place ALY finish, suggests that the running game's success was more a function of Parker's downfield elusiveness than the offensive line's ability to control the line of scrimmage. Anybody who watched a handful of Steelers' games last year would attest to as much.

So yes, technically Parker wasn't particularly successful -- at least as defined by Football Outsiders' metrics -- but a lot of that had to do with the five fat guys assigned to block for him. More importantly, though, Parker's inconsistencies -- of which he had little control; if no one blocks, he's on his own -- were outweighed by his ability to break long runs.

To put things in perspective, we can compare Parker's 2006 totals to other recent Pittsburgh running backs Specifically, by looking at a back's ability to bust the long one, his success rate, and the line's run-blocking proficiency:
        Year    DVOA   Suc Rate   ALY  10+rank

Parker 2006 24th 35th 22nd 3rd

Bettis 2001 16th 19th 6th 4th

Bettis 2005 7th 8th 12th 15th

Zereoue 2002 41st 46th 23rd 22nd
Some things to note: Parker tops this list for several reasons, none of which may be obvious. Remember, that his DVOA rank is better than his success rate indicates that he's able to make defenders miss after he gets past the line of scrimmage. That he did it with such frequency (3rd in the 10-plus statistic) while the o-line was a mediocre run-blocking unit (22nd ALY) is all the more impressive. In Bettis' case, he had the benefit of good o-lines, but he wasn't much for breaking long runs. Alone, Zereoue's numbers are unspectacular, but when considered relative to his front five, he garners a mention on this list.

So what's the takeaway? It's certainly not that Willie Parker was the second-worst back in the league in lost yards; that's an interesting fact, but not much else. Instead, it's Parker's propensity for big gains last season despite playing behind a decidedly bleh offensive line. An o-line, by the way, that was partially responsible for a lot of zero, one, and two-yard runs.

If you're the Steelers, Parker's knack for backfield dancing shouldn't be a concern; as was pointed out on the SteelCityInsider message board, his battle with Mr. Fumbles, and sometimes struggling to pick up the blitz, those are things to worry about. In a sentence, the problem with the running game isn't Willie Parker, it's who will block for Willie Parker. But Steelers fans already knew that.


Steel City Insider Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\nLast week, Scout.com's Ed Thompson wrote an article about \"the six teams who racked up the most negative yardage last season and what they've done during the offseason in hopes of correcting the problem.\" Thompson argued that going backwards on offense correlated to losing football games. That's hard to dispute, but there's more to it than just gross yards lost. We'll get to that, but first, Thompson's take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were sixth worst in the NFL in negative yards:\r\n
While rushing for 1,494 yards last year, Willie Parker lost 80 yards, second-worst in the league amongst running backs. The Steelers' offensive line yielded 49 sacks last, all but three weathered by Ben Roethlisberger. But you can't credit the Steelers' passer for taking hits instead of interceptions. He tossed 23 turnovers, three more than his first two seasons combined. Pittsburgh added former Bucs G/C Sean Mahan while center Jeff Hartings retired. Former Rutgers guard Cameron Stephenson has been favorably compared to Mahan, and the two could eventually end up playing shoulder to shoulder in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers finished 8-8, so there's something to this, but that should be obvious to anyone with one good eye and only a passing interest in football: it's harder to score points when the team is moving away from the opponent's end zone. Still, it's not clear who Thompson is blaming, or if Pittsburgh has done enough to improve, which I thought was the whole point of this exercise. No worries, though: it's the middle of June, training camp is about six weeks away, and I've got nothing but time on my hands. I'll pick up where Thompson left off.

Yes, Parker was second-worst in lost yards among running backs, but that's kinda taken out of context. This doesn't account for situational factors like down, distance, time of game, field position, etc. Luckily, the Good Lord invented Football Outsiders for just this purpose, and with a little help from the nerds over there, maybe we can better explain exactly what's going on (it's okay, I'm one of the \"nerds,\" so I can say that).

First, out of the 53 running backs with at least 75 rushing attempts last season, Parker ranked 14th in total value (DPAR), and slightly worse than that -- 24th -- in value per play (DVOA). He ranked 35th in success rate, which measures consistency. Looking at both his DVOA and success rate shows that Parker would occasionally mix in long runs but also had a knack for getting stuffed near the line of scrimmage. In terms of comparisons, Parker's style of play was closest to that of Fred Taylor and Travis Henry.

But it's slightly more complicated than that. Football Outsiders also ranks offensive lines, and in 2006, the Steelers' front five were 22nd in Adjusted Line Yards. (ALY, using a little math, \"takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line.\") This, coupled with the percentage of 10-plus-yard runs from scrimmage, gives us a sense for how much of a running back's success is due to the offensive line, and how much is due to his ability to break long runs.

In 2006, Parker ranked third in 10-plus-yard runs. This, together with the o-line's 22nd-place ALY finish, suggests that the running game's success was more a function of Parker's downfield elusiveness than the offensive line's ability to control the line of scrimmage. Anybody who watched a handful of Steelers' games last year would attest to as much.

So yes, technically Parker wasn't particularly successful -- at least as defined by Football Outsiders' metrics -- but a lot of that had to do with the five fat guys assigned to block for him. More importantly, though, Parker's inconsistencies -- of which he had little control; if no one blocks, he's on his own -- were outweighed by his ability to break long runs.

To put things in perspective, we can compare Parker's 2006 totals to other recent Pittsburgh running backs Specifically, by looking at a back's ability to bust the long one, his success rate, and the line's run-blocking proficiency:\r\n
        Year    DVOA   Suc Rate   ALY  10+rank

Parker 2006 24th 35th 22nd 3rd

Bettis 2001 16th 19th 6th 4th

Bettis 2005 7th 8th 12th 15th

Zereoue 2002 41st 46th 23rd 22nd
Some things to note: Parker tops this list for several reasons, none of which may be obvious. Remember, that his DVOA rank is better than his success rate indicates that he's able to make defenders miss after he gets past the line of scrimmage. That he did it with such frequency (3rd in the 10-plus statistic) while the o-line was a mediocre run-blocking unit (22nd ALY) is all the more impressive. In Bettis' case, he had the benefit of good o-lines, but he wasn't much for breaking long runs. Alone, Zereoue's numbers are unspectacular, but when considered relative to his front five, he garners a mention on this list.

So what's the takeaway? It's certainly not that Willie Parker was the second-worst back in the league in lost yards; that's an interesting fact, but not much else. Instead, it's Parker's propensity for big gains last season despite playing behind a decidedly bleh offensive line. An o-line, by the way, that was partially responsible for a lot of zero, one, and two-yard runs.

If you're the Steelers, Parker's knack for backfield dancing shouldn't be a concern; as was pointed out on the SteelCityInsider message board, his battle with Mr. Fumbles, and sometimes struggling to pick up the blitz, those are things to worry about. In a sentence, the problem with the running game isn't Willie Parker, it's who will block for Willie Parker. But Steelers fans already knew that.\r\n

","mobileBody":" \r\n\r\nLast week, Scout.com's Ed Thompson wrote an article about \"the six teams who racked up the most negative yardage last season and what they've done during the offseason in hopes of correcting the problem.\" Thompson argued that going backwards on offense correlated to losing football games. That's hard to dispute, but there's more to it than just gross yards lost. We'll get to that, but first, Thompson's take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were sixth worst in the NFL in negative yards:\r\n

While rushing for 1,494 yards last year, Willie Parker lost 80 yards, second-worst in the league amongst running backs. The Steelers' offensive line yielded 49 sacks last, all but three weathered by Ben Roethlisberger. But you can't credit the Steelers' passer for taking hits instead of interceptions. He tossed 23 turnovers, three more than his first two seasons combined. Pittsburgh added former Bucs G/C Sean Mahan while center Jeff Hartings retired. Former Rutgers guard Cameron Stephenson has been favorably compared to Mahan, and the two could eventually end up playing shoulder to shoulder in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers finished 8-8, so there's something to this, but that should be obvious to anyone with one good eye and only a passing interest in football: it's harder to score points when the team is moving away from the opponent's end zone. Still, it's not clear who Thompson is blaming, or if Pittsburgh has done enough to improve, which I thought was the whole point of this exercise. No worries, though: it's the middle of June, training camp is about six weeks away, and I've got nothing but time on my hands. I'll pick up where Thompson left off.

Yes, Parker was second-worst in lost yards among running backs, but that's kinda taken out of context. This doesn't account for situational factors like down, distance, time of game, field position, etc. Luckily, the Good Lord invented Football Outsiders for just this purpose, and with a little help from the nerds over there, maybe we can better explain exactly what's going on (it's okay, I'm one of the \"nerds,\" so I can say that).

First, out of the 53 running backs with at least 75 rushing attempts last season, Parker ranked 14th in total value (DPAR), and slightly worse than that -- 24th -- in value per play (DVOA). He ranked 35th in success rate, which measures consistency. Looking at both his DVOA and success rate shows that Parker would occasionally mix in long runs but also had a knack for getting stuffed near the line of scrimmage. In terms of comparisons, Parker's style of play was closest to that of Fred Taylor and Travis Henry.

But it's slightly more complicated than that. Football Outsiders also ranks offensive lines, and in 2006, the Steelers' front five were 22nd in Adjusted Line Yards. (ALY, using a little math, \"takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line.\") This, coupled with the percentage of 10-plus-yard runs from scrimmage, gives us a sense for how much of a running back's success is due to the offensive line, and how much is due to his ability to break long runs.

In 2006, Parker ranked third in 10-plus-yard runs. This, together with the o-line's 22nd-place ALY finish, suggests that the running game's success was more a function of Parker's downfield elusiveness than the offensive line's ability to control the line of scrimmage. Anybody who watched a handful of Steelers' games last year would attest to as much.

So yes, technically Parker wasn't particularly successful -- at least as defined by Football Outsiders' metrics -- but a lot of that had to do with the five fat guys assigned to block for him. More importantly, though, Parker's inconsistencies -- of which he had little control; if no one blocks, he's on his own -- were outweighed by his ability to break long runs.

To put things in perspective, we can compare Parker's 2006 totals to other recent Pittsburgh running backs Specifically, by looking at a back's ability to bust the long one, his success rate, and the line's run-blocking proficiency:\r\n
        Year    DVOA   Suc Rate   ALY  10+rank

Parker 2006 24th 35th 22nd 3rd

Bettis 2001 16th 19th 6th 4th

Bettis 2005 7th 8th 12th 15th

Zereoue 2002 41st 46th 23rd 22nd
Some things to note: Parker tops this list for several reasons, none of which may be obvious. Remember, that his DVOA rank is better than his success rate indicates that he's able to make defenders miss after he gets past the line of scrimmage. That he did it with such frequency (3rd in the 10-plus statistic) while the o-line was a mediocre run-blocking unit (22nd ALY) is all the more impressive. In Bettis' case, he had the benefit of good o-lines, but he wasn't much for breaking long runs. Alone, Zereoue's numbers are unspectacular, but when considered relative to his front five, he garners a mention on this list.

So what's the takeaway? It's certainly not that Willie Parker was the second-worst back in the league in lost yards; that's an interesting fact, but not much else. Instead, it's Parker's propensity for big gains last season despite playing behind a decidedly bleh offensive line. An o-line, by the way, that was partially responsible for a lot of zero, one, and two-yard runs.

If you're the Steelers, Parker's knack for backfield dancing shouldn't be a concern; as was pointed out on the SteelCityInsider message board, his battle with Mr. Fumbles, and sometimes struggling to pick up the blitz, those are things to worry about. In a sentence, the problem with the running game isn't Willie Parker, it's who will block for Willie Parker. But Steelers fans already knew that.\r\n

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