A lot of Steeler haters are secretly rejoicing, feeling that any chance Pittsburgh had to win their second Super Bowl title in three years just left the building. In all reality, the Steelers are no further away from being a serious Super Bowl contender now than they were before tonight's game with the Rams kicked-off. Pittsburgh's strengths will still be their strengths, and their weaknesses will still be their weakness, and Parker's absence won't really change either. Let me explain before some of you Willie Parker fans want to break my ankle.
Willie Parker did lead the league in rushing, and that does count for something—but it's also not quite as big an ordeal as some make it out to be. A lot of what Parker has accomplished is better summed up by discussing the quantity of work he's gotten, not so much the quality. In today's day and age, pure raw yardage is basically a useless stat. Who cares if you can run for 12 yards on a draw play on 3rd and 15. Should you really be rewarded more for that play than someone who can run for four yards on 3rd and 3? No, of course not—and when judged using such a system, Willie Parker ranks as a middle of the pack, at best, running back.
His percentage of runs that can be deemed as succesful is less than 40, which ranks him 38th in the NFL. Does that sound to you like someone who is irreplaceable? Parker's production actually is below that of the league average replacement. His numbers just appear stout because of the amount of opportunities he gets and the offense the Steelers run. I've heard how irreplaceable Willie Parker is, and the numbers just scream that he's not. They clearly show in fact that the Steelers could do much better at the position than Parker.
Of course these numbers don't take into account the offensive line, they just take into account what the average player would do in identical situations, not with the identical offensive line blocking, so that can factor in. It also doesn't take into consideration the quality of Parker's backup. Obviously if the Jaguars were to lose Fred Taylor they would feel better about turning things over full-time to Maurice Jones-Drew than the Steelers do with Najei Davenport. Even so, if there is a drop-off in production with Davenport, it won't be as significant as some think, mainly because there isn't that much farther they can drop. Parker ranks in the top 35 in all three stats that are used to measure running backs, so how far can the Steelers drop without him? There's also the issue of his ability to hold on to the football—an issue you don't want cropping up come playoff time.
Whether or not Davenport duplicates Parker's numbers will be contingent upon whether or not the Steelers alter their offense. Regardless, losing Willie Parker won't be the reason the Steelers won't be playing in the Super Bowl. The other five playoff teams in the AFC were playing better football than Pittsburgh before Parker went down, so even with Parker, their trek was going to be a serious up-hill climb. In addition, their defense has been disappointing the past month, and on offense the O-line hasn't controlled the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh isn't likely to win the Super Bowl, but it won't be because they lost Willie Parker.