Parker still wants to run behind a fullback

Willie Parker won't keep quiet about the Steelers' problems with their running game, and justifiably so, with the playoffs in sight.

PITTSBURGH – Six games ago, in the locker room following the Monday Night win over the Washington Redskins, Steelers running back Willie Parker complained about his team's changing philosophy regarding the run game.

Parker lamented the lack of a fullback and said, "I want to sit down with B.A. (Bruce Arians) and Coach (Mike) Tomlin because when I'm all the way back, I expect to get the ball. I'm a running back. I want to run the ball. We've got to get back to Steelers football."

Parker never did sit down with the coaching staff. "It's hard to when you're beat up," he said. But his frustration lingered, and yesterday, three days after the Steelers mustered only 70 yards on 26 carries in blustery December conditions at Heinz Field, Parker spoke up again.

"We get in two tights now, without a fullback, they definitely know what's coming and they know where it's going," Parker said of opposing defenses. "I don't know what it is, but it's not been effective."

Parker, like Jerome Bettis before him, craves a fullback, but team's offensive philosophy changed two years ago upon the promotion of Arians to offensive coordinator.

In the ensuing draft, the Steelers picked a second tight end, Matt Spaeth, in the third round and passed on the draft's top fullback, Le'Ron McClain, in the fourth round in favor of punter Dan Sepulveda and since-cut defensive end Ryan McBean. The Ravens ended up with McClain, their leading rusher, five picks after McBean was selected.

The Steelers now do most of their running out of a one-back set with two tight ends, and it's not working. The Steelers are 29th in the NFL at 3.6 yards per carry.

"If you go to the statistics," Parker said, "two tights have been least effective for me as a running back."

Parker, in fact, had one of his longest runs out of the set. He ran for 31 yards against New England. It was the longest run out of the formation in the last six games.

In that time, the Steelers have rushed 56 times out of the two-tights, one-back set for 173 yards, a 3.1-yard average. Without Parker's 31-yard run, the Steelers have averaged 2.6 yards per carry out of the alignment in the last six games.

"I definitely love a fullback," Parker said, before adding with resignation: "I'm just a running back. Call a play and I'm just going to show up."

The Steelers used fullback Sean McHugh to successfully close out the Cincinnati game, but have done little with the position since. Against New England, the only fullback used in non short-yardage sets was Heath Miller, and the Steelers lost three yards on the carry. Last week, McHugh was used on fourth-down and goal-line runs only. One was stuffed for a loss and the other gained four yards. The stats support Parker's stance.

"It's definitely a concern," he said. "I definitely think about it all the time: Why can't we run the ball? What's the difference in now and two years ago? So it's definitely a big concern, me being a running back."

Still, the Steelers are 10-3 with their 40-60 season-long run-pass playcalling ratio.

"But this is when you've got to grind it out," Parker said. "These are the dog days. When you're going into the playoffs, the team that can run the ball is going to win."

NOTES – The Steelers would clinch the AFC North Division and a first-round bye with a win Sunday at Baltimore … The Steelers would clinch a playoff spot (regardless of Sunday's outcome against the Ravens) with losses by two of the following teams: Patriots, Jets, and Dolphins. … Missing Wednesday's practice were RB Carey Davis (calf), DE Brett Keisel (knee), S Troy Polamalu (calf) and LT Marvel Smith (back). Given the day off were Parker, Aaron Smith, Deshea Townsend and Hines Ward.


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