Willie Parker may have lost an ounce of speed following his broken leg injury, but I don't find this to be the most troublesome aspect of his declining performance.
Tape review shows that his first step has slowed by a tangible amount, while more importantly, he's been giving away play direction. There is a hidden reason he seems to have lost his game-breaking ability.
On most of the runs where he was stopped for negative yardage, his first step was long and directed toward the gap he was charging.
A good card player bluffs, a great runner uses a half step, side step or misdirection. This gives the offensive line the time to open the gap and momentarily freeze the inside linebackers. That moment is all a fast back needs to fire into the hole.
Parker had his most productive yards-per-carry when he was mentored by a future
Hall-of-Fame runner. To the contrary, his YPC dropped when Jerome retired. Watching game tape unequivocally proves one rarely mentioned yet intangible truth...
Jerome Bettis had an immeasurable impact on Parker's game. Parker himself admitted such through interviews.
Bettis openly gave sideline insights and experience, which would prove to be invaluable. Game day found him explaining the nuances of defense to Willie.
Jerome could coach a particular teams philosophy, assignments of individual defensive players as well as learned tendencies of each opponent. He told Parker how and where to hit the gap, what player to be aware of, and what his second option would have to be if no hole opened up.
For a relatively unknown and untested running back having little to no playing experience in the college ranks, the mentorship overshadowed Parker's weakness.
"Fast" Willie Parker was just that. He was not a skilled and honed running back. He was a fresh-legged speed-demon with no mileage, great character, and a hunger to succeed.
Parker tended to break his game, changing runs as games wore on. Some would say it was due to their previously superb offensive line, or maybe how a defense tends to wear down over the course of game play.
I propose Willie performed well later in the game due Bettis's coaching. The knowledge of each opponents weaknesses and tendencies would prove invaluable.
Parker, to his credit, listened, acted upon, and achieved tremendous recognition through the knowledge that Bettis freely bestowed.
The last couple years have demonstrated that without Jerome coaching on game day, Parker's still fast, defenses still tire, yet Parker is not effective as the feature running back versus a superior opponent.
After the retirement and loss of Bettis, Parker is not the same game-breaking player he once was. Parker's multiple injuries have been credited for production loss. His struggles have been blamed on an inadequate offensive line. I find something else explains the decline.
You cannot discount the knowledge gained from a Hall-of-Fame running back. The truth behind Willie Parker's declining play as of late, falls to one major influence. Bettis was more important to the growth and welfare of Parker than maybe any other contributing factor.
Then again, Parker may come out this year and surprise Steeler Nation. Maybe Mendenhall wasn't a bust and maybe, just maybe, the offensive line will improve with maturation, gaining the cohesiveness to excel.
An improved offensive line, a healthy Parker, and a short yardage back spelling Willie just might show one of two things.
"Fast" Willie Parker isn't just fast, he's a premier NFL running back with top-notch skills. Or, Jerome Bettis should be given some credit where credit is overdue.
Important Stats: Please note Yards-Per-Carry Average.
2008 YPC 3.8
2007 YPC 4.1
2006 YPC 4.4
2005 YPC 4.7
2004 YPC 5.8
Scary trend if your Willie
On an game tape side note
* Santonio Holmes first step is amazing.
What is scarier than than that?
His first step after the catch. That guy flat out break ankles.
* Chris Kemoeatu is underrated in one area. He covers space. When he's asked to pull and lay blocks on the opposite side of field he is quite impressive. I never really noticed it watching live.
* Willie Colon sucks.
* I want Charlie Batch back for good. If you watch Santonio's game winning MVP catch, you'll notice he comes to the sidelines and embraces Batch first. It shows his worth as a leader and mentor in the locker room.
* Jeff Hartwig's hold with 2:58 remaining in the fourth quarter resulting in a safety should have been a no call.
While in slow motion it looks terrible, at real speed the reality is he got bowled over from a charging linebacker and fell backward from the collision. He never held the player. The player was driving through and over him. Watch it full speed.
* James Harrison—Game Footage-Enough said. Find a way to sign him please.
I can't wait to hear from all of you.