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Underrated: Credible Passing Attack

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As much sports talk as there is these days, it's virtually impossible for anyone to fly too far under the radar. The explosion of fantasy sports has ushered in an era when even casual sports fans know at least a little bit about virtually every player in the league.

Still, some guys don't get as much hype and press as others, and Fox Sports' Adam Schein has taken a stab at his nine underrated players heading into the '07 season.

Among them? Fast Willie Parker. Writes Schein:

Let's get one thing straight; Parker is the straw that stirs the drink for the Pittsburgh offense. I think it is great that Ben Roethlisberger is now healthy and focused. But this talk of the five-receiver sets and Big Ben throwing more is preposterous. And Steelers fans still call my radio show lusting for the bigger back.

Sure, "Fast Willie" isn't in the classic mold of a big, bruising Steelers back. But he is still the latest great back in the Steel city. Parker finished last year with a shade under 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns. Pittsburgh re-signed Najeh Davenport and brought in Kevan Barlow this off-season, but this is Willie Parker's offense.

Schein's right that 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns are numbers which shouldn't be ignored. I'd even go a step further and note that Parker racked up those stats behind a shoddy offensive line and erratic passing attack.

While Schein may be right that Parker's a bit underrated, I disagree strongly with his scoffing at the idea of spreading the field on offense to revitalize the Steeler passing attack.

Let's face it: this Steeler offense was at its best when Ben Roethlisberger was a legitimate passing threat. It's no coincidence that Pittsburgh played its best football in a long time during the 2006 playoffs, when Ken Whisenhunt surprised Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and then Denver by passing the football early and often. Pittsburgh used Roethlisberger to soften up the defense, then sealed the games with strong rushing.

Pittsburgh missed the playoffs last year because that pass offense took a giant step backward. With Roethlisberger struggling, good teams focused on stopping Parker. Ben battled injuries throughout the season and wasn't effective enough to get Pittsburgh to the playoffs.

That has to change in 2007. Pittsburgh doesn't have a dominant enough offensive line to just line up and grind out wins the way they once could. The run game remains a critical component to the offense, but there has to be a credible passing attack to open up that run game.