32 Questions: Pittsburgh Steelers By Eric Karabell ESPN.com (Archive) July 25, 2007, 7:11 PM
With Bill Cowher retired, will the Steelers running game philosophy change?
It's not that the Pittsburgh Steelers don't deal with change well, it's that the franchise has seldom had to find out. The Rooney family has owned the team for all 75 years of its existence. Mike Tomlin enters the fray as the new coach, but he's merely the third coach the franchise has had since 1969. While organizational stability is a beautiful thing, the Steelers have also shared this philosophy on the field, in a blue-collar city that thrives on beating opponents up on both sides of the ball.
The Steelers have been running the ball confidently and successfully for more than a generation. So, all the talk of a new playbook and spreading out the offense shouldn't change the effectiveness of the running game, but expand the offense into new areas unfamiliar to Steelers fans. To me, the real question isn't about the change in the offense, but how the new offense will change Willie Parker, Ben Roethlisberger and others you will need to think about on fantasy draft day, because it's clear the base philosophy in Steel Town is different.
In truth, the Steelers opening up their offense with new bells and whistles could be a good thing for everyone, including the quarterback, the running back and the defense. Fantasy owners should consider the changes positively. New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians doesn't intend to come in and turn the speedy Parker into a Jerome Bettis-type bruiser, but then again, Cowher wasn't using Parker as a power back either. Instead, we might see Parker catch more passes, and turn more innocent running plays into larger gains. Wouldn't that be nice for his already tremendous fantasy value?
Tomlin brings a defensive approach to the Steelers, so he's not going to forget what works for him. He drafted outside linebackers in the wake of Joey Porter leaving town, and he's not going to let Arians turn this team into the Saints -- a team whose wide-open play can produce wild, high-scoring affairs. But why shouldn't he and Arians experiment offensively, even going so far as to let Roethlisberger have a role in changing the playbook?
Parker rushed for nearly 1,500 yards last season, the third-best total in franchise history. He topped 100 yards rushing seven times, and 200 yards twice. He scored 16 touchdowns, registering more than one in six games. Is he a rugged running back? Of course not, but he's fast and will surely enjoy the vacated patches of field with this new spread offense. Parker wasn't utilized much in the passing attack last season. It's uncertain whether that will change much with Najeh Davenport healthy, but from a fantasy aspect, it's not like Parker will be as forgotten as Shaun Alexander and Jamal Lewis are in their team's passing game. Kevan Barlow could steal some of the goal-line carries, but Parker remains the feature back and a serious breakaway threat. I think the change in offense could help his statistics.
Roethlisberger's fantasy value could skyrocket in this offense; he should play a larger role in directing the team. Remember his rookie year, when his job was merely to avoid mistakes? Now he gets more receivers to look at in the spread formation, he'll see more work from the shotgun, call more plays, utilize the no-huddle and, most importantly, he will do this all as a healthy man. Last offseason wasn't exactly a good one for him.
While Roethlisberger stands to gain from the new offense, it hardly means Parker has to suffer.
"When you spread out the defense, there's less guys in the box, and Willie can make guys miss," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I think it will help in the run game when we spread them out and get him out of the backfield, catching some balls and getting him in some open space on linebackers."
For as much as the Steelers are known for a bruising run game, few backs starred in Pittsburgh between the Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis eras. Barry Foster once went off for 1,690 yards, but he was out of the league three seasons later. Other players to lead the team in rushing since the mid-'80s include Earnest Jackson, Erric Pegram, Merril Hoge, Frank Pollard and Amos Zereoue, but their numbers came from the system. Now the system appears to be gone. Will that matter?
Probably not. Parker has proven to be a special player, so have confidence selecting him in the first round.
Its possible the coaching change doesnt hurt FWP, but there's no way he benefits more from it. Cowher was one of the most run-heavy coaches in football. He wouldn't abandon the run even if Parker was getting only 2 and 3 yard per carry because he wanted to wear the defense down, and eventually he would. A strong passing threat can certainly help a RB, but knowing your guy is going to get his carries even if he's facing Jacksonville, and Stroud/Henderson are having career days, gives him an edge in fantasy he wouldnt under other coaches.
I think the steelers proved in a few games last year that they have the talent to be a wide open offense. They put up some big scores (New Orleans and Atlanta come to mind). It's like the Steelers have been afraid of the playbook since their failed attempt at a passing offense with Tommy Gun, Ward, and Burress. What led up to that year is key to understanding a more open playbook. They had a solid running game and talented WRs. The problem is, they over compensated with too much pass. If the new coaches can open up the passing game, but lean on the run, i think they'll be able to open the passing game and that will benifit everyone, including Parker.
OC Bruce Arians doesn't have a problem running Willie until he drops and using him on 3rd downs and RB coach Kirby Wilson agrees:
Willie Parker's goal is to be like LaDainian Tomlinson, only better
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Now that he has shown he's no fluke, Willie Parker wants to reach for the stars and not the twinkle-twinkle little ones, either. He has set his sights on the North star of the NFL, the brightest of the bright.
They don't come any more luminous than San Diego halfback LaDainian Tomlinson, the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player after he set league records with 31 touchdowns and 186 points last season.
"I want to be better than L.T.," Parker proclaimed yesterday between the Steelers' double practices at Saint Vincent College. "L.T. can do all that stuff. He's like a role model to me. I look up to this guy. I just want to do what he does."
The goals don't get much bigger, but then Parker backed up his 1,202-yard season in 2005 with 1,494 yards last season, third most in a franchise history that includes Franco Harris, John Henry Johnson and Jerome Bettis.
He did so by carrying the ball 337 times, fourth most in Steelers history. Now Parker wants more, much more. He does not want to leave the playing field this year; he wants to not only be their starting halfback, he wants to stick around for third downs as well.
"I want to do it all," Parker said. "I wouldn't be no running back if I say I want to come off the field in certain situations. I want to do all the situations."
His coaches are inclined to let him do it, too. New coordinator Bruce Arians believes in running his best players until their tongues hang out, and Parker might be the odds-on favorite to take over the role as third-down back, something Tomlinson does rather well.
"L.T.'s had a lot of touches, and if Willie has those kinds of touches, his yards could be the same," Arians said. "I like the fact he wants to be better. I don't ever want him on the bench unless he's tired."
And, as new running backs coach Kirby Wilson noted, why take your best players out of the game?
"Any time your best player is capable of playing [downs] one through three, you want him out there, especially with all the chips on the line."
Tomlinson ran for 1,815 yards on 348 carries for the Chargers last season. He also caught 56 passes for 508 yards. Parker caught 31 passes for 222 yards, many on first down. His 16 touchdowns set a Steelers record but were barely half Tomlinson's total.
Also, if Parker were the third-down back, he'd have more opportunities to run against defenses that are spread out to defend against the pass.
"That's something I'm beginning to love, it's something I'm taking a lot of pride in right now," Parker said of the third-down role. "I want to be on that field catching screens on third down."
Receiver Hines Ward talked to Parker before training camp and advised him to work on his blocking and receiving this summer. He did it in the spring and has continued it in Latrobe because you can't play on third downs if you can't block the blitz.
"Willie Parker has a chance to be great because he's willing to identify what he needs to work on, and he's doing it," coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's doing a heck of a job."
The L.T. goal is a lofty one, but Parker's story already has a can-you-top-this feel. Undrafted mostly because he was a backup at North Carolina, Parker played little as a rookie and then burst into the NFL consciousness in his second season, 2005, when he won the starting halfback job. He rushed for those 1,202 yards and then set a Super Bowl record by running 75 yards for a touchdown.
A fluke, a scatback who only runs outside, a one-hit wonder -- Parker heard it all, then carved out his niche near the top of the Steelers' record book last season.
Like Pittsburgh and its smoky image that won't go away, people thought of Parker as an outside runner. Even Tomlin, coaching the past six years in the NFC, thought that of him. He changed his mind after watching video of him from last season, saying he did not realize he was such a good runner inside.
"Everybody looks at my speed and says he's just so fast. They look at me as an outside runner," Parker said. "I'm always going to carry that. But I'm always banging inside too. I'm going to get the yards whatever it takes."
In fact, Parker prefers to run between the tackles.
"I'd rather have the hole inside; you can spring them into a big play. Outside, you don't usually go too far."
And, to be sure, Parker wants to go far, not so much to Tomlinson's level, but higher.
"That's a long goal and a big one, but that's what drives him," Wilson said. "He wants to be considered in that category and on that level."
willie parker as a 3rd down back.. what a novel concept i was pining for this all last season (along with throwing to heath miller on occasion). it seemed like they just used someone else on 3rd down to do it. parker has good hands and is certainly more explosive in the open field than verron haynes or najeh davenport ever were/will be, and it's really where he does his best work. i like this move a lot, but it seemed/seems like an absolute no-brainer to me
maddog60 wrote:Its possible the coaching change doesnt hurt FWP, but there's no way he benefits more from it. Cowher was one of the most run-heavy coaches in football. He wouldn't abandon the run even if Parker was getting only 2 and 3 yard per carry because he wanted to wear the defense down, and eventually he would. A strong passing threat can certainly help a RB, but knowing your guy is going to get his carries even if he's facing Jacksonville, and Stroud/Henderson are having career days, gives him an edge in fantasy he wouldnt under other coaches.
FWP will still be worth his ADP though.
I'm sorry, but if you actually watched the Steelers last year it was quite obvious that there was plenty of room for improvement. The offense was somewhat predictable and the offensive formations allowed defenses to clog the middle much moreso than they will be able to with the new spread offense being implemented. Making it so defenses can't put 8 men in the box on 1st and 2nd downs will undoubtedly open up more running lanes for a speedy back like Parker. A more open offense really does end up fitting a quicker back's style because there is more room to work and more room to be used in the passing game as well.
They have made it quite clear thusfar that the new coaching staff is still quite intent on running it plenty because Tomlin is very much a smash mouth football kind of coach. He wants to play defense and run the ball and if it helps the running game to spread out the offense more then so be it. I think we'll end up seeing a more efficient offense next year for Pittsburgh because they will be less predictable and therefore tougher to stop.