Packers Set To Face Steelers' Deep Crop Of Running Backs


When asked about the season-ending injury to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper, 190-pound cornerback Ahmad Carroll insisted his attention was focused on the bruising running back he will face this week.

And for good reason.

"I'm thinking about Jerome Bettis," he said. "If he gets loose, I don't want to have be the one to hit him, but I'm going to have to."

The 255-pound Bettis, one of six players in the history of the NFL to surpass 13,000 yards, makes up one part of the Pittsburgh Steelers' power running game, ranked fifth in the league. The Steelers also have Willie Parker, who effectively uses his speed to bounce outside on power plays.

"[It's] the two best tandem of backs we've faced, I believe, since we've been here," Packers Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "It's a heck of a group."

The effectiveness of the Pittsburgh running game could very well decide the outcome of Sunday's game. Because Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Thursday morning and will not play against the Packers, Pittsburgh probably will emphasize the run even more.

Stopping the run has been one of the Packers' strengths all season. They rank 10th in the NFL against the run and have allowed 100 yards to only one rusher (Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Carnell Williams) all year.

The fundamentals of the Packers' defense impressed Bettis when he watched them on tape.

"That defense is playing awesome," he said. "You've got to bring your hard hat to play."

Tackling a big back like Bettis, however, could present its own challenges. The Packers will try to bring him down by hitting him low.

"You go a little bit lower where he's not quite as big," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "You don't want to run into his strength."

The other strategy to bringing Bettis down involves swarming and gang tackling him at every opportunity.

"You've got to have hats on the ball," linebacker Robert Thomas said.

Although the Packers have stressed the importance of stopping Bettis, he may not even play. The Steelers have downgraded the future Hall of Famer from questionable to doubtful for Sunday's game with a quadriceps injury. He suffered that injury against the Cincinnati Bengals, Oct. 23.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Bettis said. "There's little nagging stuff you have to battle through."

If Bettis cannot go, the Steelers will likely use a heavy dose of Parker. He has 602 yards on 127 carries (a 4.7 average) on the year, and containing him will be no small task. With early season injuries to Bettis and Duce Staley, Parker seized the starting job and never looked back.

"He gives us something in the running game dimension-wise that the other guys don't give us with his speed," Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said.

Parker's success had relegated Bettis to a supporting short-yardage and goal line role even when healthy.

"My role is to back Willie up and to provide a change of pace when asked," Bettis said.

The speedy Parker will have the advantage of finding holes behind a mauling offensive line led by center Jeff Hartings and guard Alan Faneca. That line has wowed Sherman.

"[They are] tough, hard-nosed, blue-collar fighters inside that just are knocking people off the ball," he said. "They displace people pretty well."

The Steelers have listed Parker as probable with an injured toe. Although Parker likely will start, the Packers may see some of Staley. Signed as the feature back last year, Staley has not rushed the ball this year but ran for 830 yards in 2004. At 5-11, 242 pounds and more swift than Bettis and bigger than Parker, Staley's running style is a combination of both players.

Cowher expressed confidence no matter who receives the repetitions on Sunday.

"We've got a good crew of running backs up here," he said. "We're a running football team."

On the other side of the line, the Packers will try to corral whichever running back -- whether fast, big or in-between -- they face on Sunday just as they have all season.

"You approach each a little differently," Kampman said. "But the goal is the same."

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