Smizik: Steelers, Parker run into trouble
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Anyone expecting an angry Bill Cowher after the Steelers' 9-0 loss last night to the Jacksonville Jaguars was in for a surprise.
Cowher was calm and cool despite an awful offensive performance that ended a nine-game winning streak.
He just didn't have much to say, which was as it should be because there wasn't really anything to say.
Asked if he could remember when his team was so thoroughly dominated on offense, Cowher simply said, "No."
Asked if there was any explanation for the team's normally superb running game picking up only 26 yards on 14 carries, he said, "I don't have any right now."
Offensive tackle Max Starks might have put it best. "We just didn't execute."
At least no one was worrying any longer about whether the Steelers could find someone to successfully handle the job as the team's No. 2 running back.
For the moment, the Steelers have to be concerned about the No. 1 running back.
No one expected them to move easily against the massive Jaguars' defensive line, which last season held the Steelers to their second-lowest rushing total, 70 yards on 30 carries, in an overtime loss. But nor did anyone expect the total lack of success of the running game.
With defensive tackles Marcus Stroud, 6 feet 6, 312 pounds, and John Henderson, 6-7, 325 pounds, leading the way, the Jaguars gave starting running back Willie Parker absolutely no running room.
Parker gained 20 on 11 carries.
He carried eight times for 9 yards in the first 30 minutes, when his longest run was 4 yards. He barely was used in the second half, where his longest run was 8 yards.
The futility of the running game was never more obvious than on the team's third possession of the game when Parker carried four consecutive times and gained only 6 yards.
It was a far cry from the often dominating running game that led the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship last season.
At one point in the second quarter, with the Steelers operating near their goal line, Cowher inserted Verron Haynes into the game. It made no difference. Haynes carried twice for 6 yards.
Cowher continued to show his dissatisfaction with veteran running back Duce Staley, who was deactivated before the game. Najeh Davenport, who was signed after the team's season opener against Miami, dressed instead of Staley. Davenport did not play.
One of the concerns about the need for a solid backup to Parker was the fear he would get worn down. That was particularly true after he carried 29 times in the opener against the Miami Dolphins, a figure considered too high for someone of his size. Cowher had let it be known he did not want Parker carrying the ball that often.
There were no concerns along those lines last night. The Jaguars dominated time of possession and Parker never had the chance to get worn down. That was particularly true in third quarter when Jacksonville took a 3-0 lead. The Steelers had only two possessions in the third quarter and Parker didn't get a carry.
The Steelers tried to go back to the run in the fourth quarter but with no more success. Parker got the ball on the team's first possession and gained 3 yards on two carries. After an 11-yard pass to Hines Ward gave the Steelers a first down, Parker had his best run of the game, 8 yards. But on third-and-2, Roethlisberger threw incomplete and the Steelers had to punt.
Parker never carried the ball again.
"We had nothing in the running game," Cowher said.
Offensive guard Alan Faneca said, "We never got in a situation where we could pound the ball. We never got in a rhythm. They were doing a good job of disguising things."
When the Steelers fell behind, 6-0, with 6:15 remaining, Cowher, understandably, gave up on his running game and put in his third-down offense with Haynes at running back. The strategy resulted in an interception by Roethlisberger, which led to a third Jacksonville field goal.
The Cincinnati Bengals present a less formidable rushing defense next week and perhaps Parker, who most certainly shouldn't be tired, and the rushing offense can return to form. One thing is for sure: It can't get any worse.
(Bob Smizik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org