Steelers Fever – A Better Running Back Duo This Year?

A Better Running Back Duo This Year? – By Robert Rousseau

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, every time I hear that we’re going to be fine without Jerome Bettis, my ears perk up. After all, even in the last year of his career he was still a very good short yardage and change of pace back, and previous to that he was so much more. Bettis was a true leader and credit to the sport, characteristics that won’t be replaced very easily. Still, when I see it written that the Steelers could have a better rushing attack with the new Duce Staley – Willie Parker combination, I am hopeful, yet skeptical. From a talent standpoint alone, I buy into the possibility. Staley, when healthy, is an excellent mixture of quickness and power, and last year Bettis was clearly on the last legs of a brilliant career. In the four years he was with the Eagles, Staley started 10 games or more, rushing for over 1,000 yards three times (and at the end of his time there, the Eagles were a team primarily concerned with the pass).

Thing is…

I’m having a hard time believing that someone who has only competed in 15 of 32 regular season games for the Steelers (and started a mere 11 of those games), is going to actually play.

Hopeful, but skeptical.

Fact is, we don’t know what Willie Parker will be able to accomplish without a change of pace back. Everyone has seen Parker’s worth debated on the message boards at Steelers Fever, and yes he did have a very nice first year starting in the NFL from a holistic standpoint. But a lot of what he’s shown thus far seems to indicate that he may need some help carrying the load. For example, against teams with winning records during the regular season, he only rushed for over 85 yards once (he had a 131 yard effort at Cincinnati on Oct. 23).

Parker is definitely a viable home run threat. sometimes he simply explodes – such as on opening day against Tennessee, in that regular season game against Cincinnati, and during the 75 yard run in the Super Bowl. But it’s hard to ignore the fact in three AFC road playoff games he only averaged 2.8 yards per carry and 44 yards per game. Adding in the Super Bowl, his rushing statistics improve to 3.9 yards per carry, but if the 75-yard run is taken out, he’s only at 2.7.

Willie Parker may mature into the back we need to consistently carry the load on his own, but despite the 1,202 yards last year, he just isn’t there yet. He seems most impressive against poor defenses that lend to large holes.

It also doesn’t help he’s not a force in the red zone, something every team could use. ‘Fast’ Willie Parker may simply need a change of pace guy (as Falcons RB Warrick Dunn has had throughout his career), and Staley is the best option, but only if healthy.

And I am skeptical.

If Staley is able to come back and play somewhere near the potential we saw briefly in 2004, we will probably be better off this year in the rushing game than last (a scary proposition for the rest of the NFL). If not, then things are about to change drastically. In short, we’ll have to put our faith in a combination of Willie Parker and the somewhat untested Verron Haynes (a man that has never started an NFL game during his 4-year career).

Possible success there? Yes. A sure thing? In my opinion, no. If that doesn’t work, we’re in for a whole lot of passing. Ben, Hines, and the gang are certainly capable, but that’s simply not how Cowher and Steelers fans are used to doing business.

So come on Duce. We’re counting on you to suit up. Hopefully his soon-to-be 10-year-old NFL body is in agreement. If not, our inability to pull off a deal for T.J. Duckett and the decision to not draft a running back is going to put the Steelers’ glowing front office track record to the test.

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