PITTSBURGH (AP) -Willie Parker is urging the Pittsburgh Steelers to go back to being the Steelers. To do that, the Steelers need Willie Parker to go back to being on the field rather than the sideline.
More surprisingly, LaDainian Tomlinson wants the San Diego Chargers to go back to being the Chargers, even if that means less of the very effective Philip Rivers and more of ... yes, you guessed it, LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Chargers (4-5) and Steelers (6-3) traditionally are two of the NFL's most run-driven teams. Last season, Pittsburgh was No. 3 in rushing and San Diego was No. 7, but each is getting away from its old reliable, and with mixed results.
To Parker and Tomlinson, it makes perfect sense for the Chargers and Steelers to regain their personality when they meet Sunday in frosty Heinz Field, where predicted wind gusts could make it hazardous for throwing.
``Football is a running game,'' Tomlinson said.
lined him for five of the last six games, one reason the Steelers averaged only 70 yards rushing in their last three. For the season, they are down to 24th in rushing, one year after Parker was leading the league until breaking a leg in the season's next-to-last game.
Parker's absence is putting considerable stress on Ben Roethlisberger, and not just because of the quarterback's slightly separated right shoulder. Throwing more than usual while under a consistently heavy pass rush, Roethlisberger has eight interceptions and one touchdown pass in his last 10 quarters.
Coach Mike Tomlin said that simply won't do, so he pushed Roethlisberger to practice more despite his achy shoulder to regain the timing in the passing game. Parker said that won't do, either, because the Steelers - on pace for their fewest rushing attempts since 1991 - simply aren't being the Steelers.
The Steelers dropped their last two home games, to the Giants (21-14) and Colts (24-20), as Roethlisberger had a combined seven interceptions and the running game was held to 3.1 yards per carry.
``We've got to go back to running the ball,'' said Parker, whose only two 100-yard performances came in his first two games. ``We're a running offense and when you think about the Pittsburgh Steelers, you always think about how heavily we run the ball.''
Parker is wearing a protective harness on his injured shoulder - Tomlin won't confirm he has a torn labrum - yet he expects to get his usual 20 to 25 carries, pain or no pain.
``I want to play. I love to play. I'm a competitor,'' Parker said. ``And not playing, I feel like ... I just don't want to talk about it. The second half of the season, hopefully, will be a lot better.''
Tomlinson feels much the same way.
Several Steelers players said they still consider him to be the NFL's top running back, yet Tomlinson ranks 11th in rushing with a 69.9 yards per game average and San Diego is No. 25, one spot behind Pittsburgh. Like Parker, Tomlinson has only two 100-yard games.
The Chargers' offense is becoming increasingly reliant upon Rivers, who leads the AFC with a 106.3 passer rating and is fifth with 2,354 yards passing.
With a less-diverse offense and a defense that has slipped to No. 26, the Chargers already have as many losses as they did while finishing 11-5 and winning the AFC West last season. They are 1-4 on the road and have lost four of their last five in the Eastern time zone, including both games there this season.
``We want to have balance and we want to run the ball,'' coach Norv Turner said. ``There is a combination of things (for the falloff in rushing). We played good defensive teams that are capable of stopping the run. We played in games on the road where people have scored a lot of points and we had to do what we could to try and win the game.''
Naturally, the Chargers head out on another long road trip - they played in London only three weeks - to face a defense that is No. 1 against the run.
``It will be one of those grind-it-out games, not necessarily in the sense of pounding the ball,'' Rivers said. ``You don't see many games in Pittsburgh that are high scoring. The weather can be an issue.''
The Chargers probably won't like this forecast: cloudy and breezy, with a high of 38 and possible light snow flurries. No wonder they have never won in Pittsburgh in 12 regular-season games, although they are 2-0 in the postseason.
Tomlinson would like the conditions better if he knew he would be getting the ball more. With the Steelers missing injured cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend, the Chargers may be tempted to put the game into Rivers' hands. Again.
``I think in order to really be successful and to do what you want to do, you have to able to run the football,'' Tomlinson said. ``That's the way it's always been.''
Tomlinson echoed Parker's very words. Averaging 97.1 yards rushing per game, the Steelers are on pace for 1,507 yards, their second-lowest total in 18 seasons.
de in our running game,'' Parker said. ``We've definitely got to get it back to where it was.''

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