Steelers' Parker likes fast track in Cincinnati
A sly smile crept across Willie Parker's face upon mention of whether the surface at Paul Brown Stadium is a motivator.
Fast Willie can't lie. He likes FieldTurf.
"I don't want to say that," Parker said, "but you know the turf field is for speed guys. I don't want to say it plays a role. It probably helps a little bit."
The Steelers running back has averaged 130.3 yards in three career games at Cincinnati — he was inactive last year because of a knee injury — and hopes to crack the century mark for a fourth time in the Queen City, when the Steelers (1-1) visit the Bengals (1-1) at 4:15 p.m. Sunday.
Not that his teammates believe the turf is the only reason for that success.
Of Parker's 25 career 100-yard games, 15 have come at Heinz Field. The only other stadium where Parker has had multiple 100-yard games is Cleveland Browns Stadium, where he registered triple digits three times in four games and is averaging 97.5 yards and 5.0 yards per carry.
"I've seen Willie go crazy on our field, so I don't think it matters if it's (grass) or field turf," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "He's due for a breakout game. I've got a feeling this may be it."
Parker has rushed for only 66 yards on 27 carries through the first two games, the first time he hasn't had a 100-yard game in the first two weeks since taking over the starting running back job in 2005. In fact, Parker averaged 221.3 yards through the first two weeks from '05-08, including five 100-yard games, and is anxious to show he still has such ability.
"Willie's always hungry. He wants to go out and put on a great performance. So far, he really hasn't had a chance to display that, so I think he's itching to come out for the divisional game at Cincinnati and have a great game," Ward said. "Hopefully, we can go out there and let him have another great day running the ball."
What might be more motivation for Parker is that this game marks the AFC North Division opener for both teams, that the Bengals have long served as rivals to the Steelers and that the running game has yet to get on track.
"You know the significance of the game," Parker said. "There's a lot at stake. You don't want to lose, and you definitely don't want to be the cause for losing."
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians believes the defensive formations have played a role in stopping the Steelers' running game, as the Titans and Bears both employed the same 4-3 scheme as the Bengals, which puts pressure on the front five to create running lanes.
"There have been years where we were very good in September," Arians said. "This is an awful slow one, I think, because of the switching style of defenses we've played. Those 4-3 penetrating teams, they're a big change."
Parker was hampered by a sore hamstring throughout the preseason but said he is "feeling good" and "got the stride back" in pronouncing himself fit to play against Cincinnati. He also believes the Steelers "definitely" made improvement from the opener to the second game, as evidenced by his rushing average more than doubling to 3.4 yards per carry against Chicago this past Sunday after gaining only 1.5 yards per carry against Tennessee.
"I don't know what it is," Parker said. "With the running game being in a slump these first two games, we need to come out of our shell. I just know when we go to Cincy, we're ready to run the ball and have fun doing it."
"Hopefully, this is the game where we get it all together."
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