|Steelers almost in playoffs but won't have Parker|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 21 December 2007 13:45|
Recent history should tell the Steelers that change is inevitable and unavoidable.
The Steelers had their worst victory of the season on Thursday - they beat the St. Louis Rams 41-24 in their first game in that city since 1979, but lost franchise running back Willie Parker for the season.
The Steelers (10-5) were desperate to win after dropping two in a row, and they did - but at a potentially terrible cost. The NFL's leading rusher with 1,316 yards, Parker broke his right fibula on his first carry and won't carry the ball again until offseason workouts begin.
By winning, the Steelers are all but certain of being in the postseason; a loss by either Tennessee or Cleveland the next two weekends would assure that, as would a Steelers victory in Baltimore on Dec. 30.
Parker's absence, however, may force the Steelers to greatly alter their offensive approach during the postseason, even though backup Najeh Davenport ran for 123 yards and scored two touchdowns against St. Louis.
Despite Tomlin's declaration, ``We don't want to change our personality. We didn't change our personality (Thursday),'' reality often changes when the quality of the opponent also does. The Steelers won't be playing any three-win teams in the playoffs.
What might have been the best Steelers team in history, in 1976, lost to Oakland in the AFC championship game when journeyman back Reggie Harrison (11 carries, 44 yards) couldn't imitate injured 1,000-yard rushers Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. The week before, when Terry Bradshaw threw when he wanted to rather than out of the necessity, the Steelers beat the Colts 40-14.
Without an injured Barry Foster, the 1993 Steelers lost to Kansas City 27-24 in a wild-card game. With running back Jerome Bettis barely able to walk on a badly injured groin, the 1996 Steelers lost to the Patriots 28-3 - a week after routing the Colts 42-14.
Five seasons later, Bettis returned from an eight-week injury layoff to gain only 8 yards on nine carries in a 24-17 upset loss to the Patriots in the January 2002 AFC championship game.
Two seasons ago, however, a change in offensive personality from the run to the pass largely carried the Steelers through their streak of three road playoff wins in as many weeks.
Using Roethlisberger's throwing to set up the run, rather than vice versa, led to fast starts against the Colts and Broncos. This time, the Steelers might have to employ the same strategy out of necessity rather than innovation.
Roethlisberger was 16-of-20 for 261 yards and three touchdowns against St. Louis, with Santonio Holmes making four catches for 134 yards and Hines Ward six for 59 yards.
``We didn't change anything when Willie went down in this game,'' Roethlisberger said.
Remember, though, when Tomlin said the Steelers would run Parker until the wheels came off? The wheels are off, and it may be time for Plan B.
One advantage to playing on Thursday is that the Steelers will have 10 days to rest up before their next game. With Roethlisberger and Davenport both hobbling on sore ankles when the Rams game ended, the extra time might prove to be a major benefit.
``Now we have a long week,'' Tomlin said. ``He'll get treatment. Ben is a competitor. I am hopeful it won't keep him out of action, but we'll see.''
There's one other benefit to the extended layoff: Tomlin now has time to go Christmas shopping for wife Kiya and their three children.
What he's not likely to find in the bargain bin is a running back in the Willie Parker line.
Parker's injury also might quiet the talk that the Steelers will change the Heinz Field surface from grass to artificial turf next season.
Even before Parker was hurt while cutting on artificial turf, several players all but pleaded with ownership to keep the grass, bad as it, because of the injury risk of playing on turf.
The one player who favored artificial turf? Willie Parker.
Notes: Rookie LB Lawrence Timmons apparently broke a hand Thursday, but he might be ready for Baltimore. ... The Steelers beat the Rams on the road for the first time in a series that began in 1938, when the Rams were based in Cleveland. The Steelers previously were 0-11-1 on the road against the Rams, including an 0-9 record in Los Angeles, where the Rams played from 1946-94. However, the Steelers beat the Rams 31-19 in the L.A. suburb of Pasadena in the January 1980 Super Bowl.