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OWINGS MILLS — Fast Willie Parker has rapidly risen to the top of the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive agenda.  The appropriately nicknamed Pittsburgh Steelers running back is capable of changing games in a fast-twitch instant.
Ranked fifth among all NFL rushers with 893 yards, Parker dashed for a career-high 213 yards alone two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints.
With nine rushing touchdowns and a dozen total scores, he’s just three shy of tying the team’s single-season touchdown record set by wide receiver Louis Lipps in 1985.
“That speed, boy,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “That speed is eye-popping.”
With four 100-yard games already, Parker is on pace to eclipse his career-high 1,202 yards gained last season during the Steelers’ run to a Super Bowl championship. The former undrafted free agent from North Carolina caught a touchdown and rushed for another in the Steelers’ 24-20 win over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, and has scored six touchdowns in the past three games.
“The guy’s been fast since he came out,” linebacker Adalius Thomas said. “He’s been running the ball well lately.  The first thing we’ll have to do is stop Parker.”
With 107 more yards Sunday against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, Parker would become the first Steelers back to gain 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons since Jerome Bettis’ six straight between 1996 and 2001.
“It’s very difficult, but this season we’re going to face every good back in the NFL,” defensive end Terrell Suggs said. “He’s just another good one. If you want to win, you have to stop the run. That’s No. 1 on our list. He’s definitely a dangerous runner.”
The Ravens rank third in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing just 82.1 rushing yards per contest. They have allowed one 100-yard rusher (Tennessee Titans running back Travis Henry) since last December.
“That’s been our No. 1 goal, even in the past: ‘Never give up a 100-yard rusher,” Suggs said. “We let one go, but that’s in our past. We just pride ourselves on stopping the run, so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
TRAINING ROOM: The Ravens are taking a cautious approach toward middle linebacker Ray Lewis’ status as he’s complaining about discomfort from a severely bruised back that has kept him out for the past two games. He’s listed as questionable on the injury report and didn’t have a lot of activity at practice Wednesday.
“We’ll just have to progress through it, see how he is,” Billick said. “Didn’t do a lot and we’ll see how he is [today].”
While handing out turkey dinners Tuesday, Lewis told reporters that his back is still troubling him and that he wasn’t certain if he would play against the Steelers.  “It’s not settling down like I wish it would,” Lewis said. “It’s still bothering me.”
Meanwhile, offensive guard Keydrick Vincent (groin) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (hamstring) are questionable, but both said they plan on playing.  “My leg feels much better than I thought it would,” Wilcox said. “It’s loosening up.”
Rookie Chris Chester would start again at right guard if Vincent is unavailable.
SAMS HONORED: Return specialist B.J. Sams was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after returning six kicks for 212 yards in a 24-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Sams’ 12.5 punt return average ranks third in the NFL, and his 26.0 kickoff return average ranks sixth in the entire league.
“We’re just starting,” Sams said. “This is a fresh start for us. It’s a new beginning for us, and we’re on a good path.”
QUICK HITS: All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden has rebounded from a rough start to the season preceded by the death of his father days prior to training camp. Since sitting out camp for personal reasons, Ogden has shut down many of the league’s best pass rushers and seems to be playing his best football in years. “I think Jonathan is playing as well as I’ve seen Jonathan play,” Billick said. “It started off a little slow obviously because he missed training camp. He went through the emotional strain losing his father. It’s understandable. Those who want to comment that Jonathan has lost his skills or isn’t as good as he used to be are doing it from up in the stands somewhere. They’re not doing it on the field, I promise you.” …  Durable Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (hyperextended knee) is listed as questionable, and Steelers coach Bill Cowher was noncommittal on his prospects for Sunday. “Hines hasn’t missed many games, but I think it’s 50-50, as I put down as questionable,” Cowher said. “Hopefully, he’ll progress as the week goes on.” … Pittsburgh listed wide receiver Willie Reid (foot) as doubtful and running back Najeh Davenport (groin) as questionable. … The Ravens signed offensive tackle Mike Kracalik (San Diego State) to the practice squad.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson


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