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fordfixer
01-26-2009, 11:49 PM
Steelers Offense: Parker Helps Drive Pittsburgh

By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

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(Sports Network) - To a younger generation of Steelers fans, the team's most iconic Super Bowl images have nothing to do with Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, or the Steel Curtain.

For these folks, two electrifying offensive plays come most quickly to mind when considering the team's only Super Bowl win of the past three decades.

One is the trick-play touchdown from wide receiver Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward that helped seal Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

The other - the one that has the best chance of being replicated at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII, is Willie Parker's February 2006 dash to glory.

Though Jerome Bettis was the Steelers running back on that team to garner the larger share of the headlines, it was the former undrafted free agent Parker who placed his name in the NFL record books in the Super victory.

Parker's 75-yard rush to paydirt on the team's first possession of the third quarter set an NFL record for longest TD run in a Super Bowl, sent the pro- Steelers crowd at Ford Field into a frenzy, and established the North Carolina product's name in the memory banks of every Black and Gold fan who witnessed the game either live or via the mass media.

Parker, who finished with 10 carries for 93 yards in that win, will be seeking a suitable encore on Sunday.

The back experienced a largely frustrating 2008 season in which he missed five games due to ankle and knee injuries.

A Pittsburgh team that had long made its offensive bones running the football ranked a distant 23rd in NFL rushing offense (105.6 yards per game) during the regular season, and 29th in yards per carry (3.7). The Steelers were third (135.5 yards per game) and seventh (4.2) in the same respective categories last year, and the sharp decline had much to do with Parker's unavailability and occasional ineffectiveness.

Upon his return from injury, the three-time 1,000-yard rusher rarely looked like the same back that had earned two previous Pro Bowl citations, but began to snap out of his funk by topping triple-digits against Cleveland in Week 17.

Then, in the AFC Divisional Round against San Diego, Parker posted his best performance in more than two years, carrying 27 times for a season-high 146 yards with two touchdowns to keep the pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh passing game.

Parker was unable to replicate the performance against a strong Baltimore run- stopping group in the AFC Championship, managing just 47 yards on 24 totes, but with an extra week of rest and a favorable Super Bowl history on his side, the NFL record-holder figures to have a major impact in the team's quest for Super Bowl number six.

"I'm not struggling anymore," said Parker after the San Diego win. "It's real hard for a running back to make plays when he's struggling, and you're out there trying to make plays instead of going out and playing confident."

"At this time of year, you are either a team on the rise, or you are not," remarked head coach Mike Tomlin. "The same probably goes for individuals. [Parker] has had a tough go of it at times from a health standpoint during the season, but he weathered it early and he appears to be rising at the appropriate time. It is great for him and even better for us."

Below is a capsule look at the offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, with regular season statistics in parenthesis:

Quarterback: Roethlisberger (3301 passing yards, 17 TD, 15 INT) will be trying to erase the memory of his poor performance in Super Bowl XL, when he completed just 9-of-21 passes for 123 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Roethlisberger did rush for a (controversial) touchdown in the game, but his 22.6 passer rating remains the worst for a winning quarterback in Super Bowl history. The former Pro Bowler has made several big plays in this postseason, and has thrown a pair of touchdown passes without a turnover in the 2008 playoffs. In his last meeting with the Cardinals, in Week 4 of the 2007 season, Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes to Santonio Holmes but also threw two picks and was sacked four times on a 17-of-32, 244-yard passing day.

Running Backs: Though Parker (791 rushing yards, 5 TD) has played good football of late and can point to a strong Super Bowl history, his work last time out against the Cardinals left much to be desired. Arizona held him to 37 yards on 19 carries in Week 4 of last season, and Parker will look to improve on that performance in this installment of the series. Since Parker has returned to the lineup, offensive touches for backups Mewelde Moore (588 rushing yards, 40 receptions, 6 TD) and Gary Russell (77 rushing yards, 3 TD) have all but evaporated. Moore had two touches totaling 15 yards in the AFC Championship. Fullback Carey Davis (35 rushing yards, 5 receptions) also had a 20-yard catch.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: The most notable Steelers injury heading into Super Bowl XLIII is the knee sprain suffered by Ward (81 receptions, 7 TD) against Baltimore, though the ailment is not expected to keep him out or limit his availability at practice in the week leading up to the game. Ward, who caught three passes for 55 yards before exiting against Baltimore, was huge in Super Bowl XL, catching five passes for 123 yards including the aforementioned big blow, the 43-yard fourth quarter TD catch on a trick play from Randle El. Ward did not play against the Cardinals in Week 4 of the 2007 season due to a knee injury. Holmes (55 receptions, 5 TD), who has made giant plays in each of the team's 2008 playoff games, will complement Ward. Holmes has scored on a 67- yard punt return and 65-yard touchdown catch in these playoffs. As mentioned, Holmes scored a pair of TDs against Arizona last year. Elsewhere in the pass- catching game, wideout Nate Washington (40 receptions, 3 TD) and tight end Heath Miller (48 receptions, 3 TD) should be a factor. Miller had three catches for 62 yards against the Ravens in the AFC Championship. With Ward slated to play, the much-maligned rookie Limas Sweed (6 receptions) probably won't see much offensive time. Versus the Ravens, Sweed dropped a perfectly- thrown would-be touchdown pass down the left side to elicit jeers from the normally supportive Heinz Field crowd.

Offensive Line: Much of Pittsburgh's offensive inconsistency in 2008 can be laid at the feet of a struggling line that neither showed a great push in the running game nor managed to keep Roethlisberger upright for any length of time. Tackles Max Starks (left side) and Willie Colon (right side) were at the forefront of a pass-blocking group that surrendered 49 sacks on the year. The Steelers allowed four sacks to Baltimore in the AFC Championship. On the interior, guards Chris Kemoeatu (left side), Darnell Stapleton (right side) and center Justin Hartwig will have to enable Parker to find some room between the tackles.

01/26 17:59:01 ET