Chatting with Cowher

"I don't know if we are in the thick of it, but I think we are certainly within reach. We may be on the thin side of it. I don't know if it is the thick side of it. We have no margin of error. Certainly, given the fact that we are still just two games out of first place behind Baltimore and we play them in the last game of the season, there is still a lot of football to be played. I think that is true throughout the NFL and I'm sure San Francisco feels that way as well."

Q: What stands out looking at film of 49ers?

Cowher: We'll start on the offensive side. I think the biggest thing that stands out is the two running backs, Hearst and Barlow. I think they both run very well and their line is doing a great job blocking. Obviously, it will be a big challenge for us. Then, in the passing game, you have to stop T.O.. He's a productive guy. You saw what he did against Tampa. He's big, strong and has excellent hands. I think it is a pretty complete offense./p> Q: At the start of year, were you considering using both Bettis and Zereoue similar to way 49ers use Barlow and Hearst?

Cowher: I don't exactly know what their formula is. We really didn't have one here. I go back to the third game this season and each of them had 16 carries. We were able to run out the clock with Jerome in the second half and Amos started the game. Obviously, since that time we have gotten into situations where we weren't very much in control of any game. We were playing catch up most of the time with our five consecutive losses. Again, we have two good backs that we feel good about and I know the 49ers must feel good about their two.

Q: What dictates now how to split up carries?

Cowher: Well, we'll start Jerome, and Amos has been a guy that has taken a lot of the three and four wide receiver sets on third downs. We've kind of stayed that way and we want to get Jerome to get in a flow and get a feel for it. We really haven't split it up that much. It's been kind of a one back with Amos taking the three and four receiver set reps.

Q: Are you back to more of a running team now?

Cowher: I would like to think so. Again, we've gotten a little bit better each game. We were a little on edge last week and I don't know if we took a step forward last week, but I thought we did the week before. I think it will determine how the game unfolds. We do feel comfortable with the receivers we have here. We like to think that we are a pretty balanced team. Certainly, I think running the ball is important from the standpoint of being able to control the time of possession and keeping the opponents offense off the field.

Q: What are some of your impressions of the 49ers defense?

Cowher: I think Julian Peterson is having a great year. He's been very productive making plays. Another guy, Bryant Young, he is playing very well right now. I think he is another guy that maybe has been down for a couple years, but I tell you what, he's playing and showing up making play after play. Certainly, when they get Andre Carter back, he gives them a premier pass-rusher that you have to be aware of. It looks like he'll be playing. I think even in the secondary, it's a young secondary. I think the one thing you don't see with this team is that they are rarely out of position. They do a good job with their packages in putting pressure on the quarterback. I think they are third in the NFL in takeaways. So, obviously, it is a team that I think has come up with some big plays. You have to be very patient against them. They are going to make some plays and you just have to make sure that you don't force the issue against them because it could go down hill in a hurry.

Q: If you had the 49ers defense, would you be tempted to run a 3-4 scheme?

Cowher: I don't know. I know when Andre Carter came out, we were talking about him as being a linebacker in our defense. So, that is hard to say. I think when you look again at what they are doing, they are playing a 4-3 and they are playing it pretty well. So, I think Jimmy is doing a great job with the personnel he has.

Q: What's your philosophy about going with a 3-4?

Cowher: Again, you try and put your best seven players on the field. We've always had the ability to go to a 4-3, but our make-up has been such that we felt like our best front seven players include four linebackers. I think we feel good because it has been a system that we have learned and it certainly gives you more flexibility from a coverage and blitz standpoint. It will test you in the run game because certainly I think you lose a little size when you put an extra linebacker on there, as opposed to an extra defensive lineman. We've been able to do a pretty good job at defending the run. At the same time, we feel like the versatility is such that if you run something for awhile, not many teams will run it. It seems like a lot more teams are running it these days.

Q: What's the reason for the Steelers' poor start?

Cowher: I don't know if it was a slow start. We came out 2-1 in the first three games and I think we kind of got into a funk. I mean, we lost Marvel Smith after the third game. We had to make some changes on the offensive line. Kendall Simmons was diagnosed with Diabetes the day before training camp opened. He has kind of gotten off to a slow start. Then, we had some turnovers. I think it is one of those things where even in the last three weeks, we've played pretty well, but we just couldn't make a play to win a game. We lose on a last second field goal to Denver. We're leading St. Louis 21-20 in the third quarter and we give up a big play. We're tied with Seattle and we lose in the fourth quarter of that game. So, we've been in games, but it just seems like we couldn't make a play at critical times in a game. Last week, we were able to come up with some big plays, but I think that is the way the National Football League has kind of been. I think everyone is right there. I could probably point to two or three games that we probably felt we should have one, but the difference right now is in some of the records of those teams that won those close games where others don't.

Q: What are your impressions of Tim Rattay?

Cowher: I think he is a very accurate thrower. He throws a nice deep ball. I think he has given players a chance to make a play down the field. I think he has a good feel for the offense. He's been very impressive when you look at his decision-making a quick release and the fact that he is throwing the ball accurately to the right people.

Q: Are you surprised by Garcia making the Pro Bowl last three seasons?

Cowher: I tell you what, we played him a few years ago and you could see at that time that he was an athlete. He's going to run around and make plays. You could just see he had all the skills. I just think he was getting acclimated to the game and the NFL. It doesn't surprise me. He's been a very productive player for back to back years. So, he's certainly someone that we have to be aware of.

Q: Do you prepare for both Garcia and Rattay?

Cowher: Well, I think you just have to be aware. I think it is more of an awareness than it is preparation. I think they are still going to run their offense regardless of who the quarterback is. Certainly, you look at Jeff and he's a guy that will pull it down and he may take off running a lot quicker than Tim may.

Q: Do you feel you are still in thick of AFC North?

Cowher: I don't know if we are in the thick of it, but I think we are certainly within reach. We may be on the thin side of it. I don't know if it is the thick side of it. We have no margin of error. Certainly, given the fact that we are still just two games out of first place behind Baltimore and we play them in the last game of the season, there is still a lot of football to be played. I think that is true throughout the NFL and I'm sure San Francisco feels that way as well. So, I think there are a lot of things yet to be determined in the National Football League. So, we still feel like we have an opportunity and a chance, but we have created no margin of error for ourselves. So, we have to go out every week and each game is very important for us.

Q: Can an 8-8 record win the division?

Cowher: Well, I guess time will tell. We aren't worried about that. We want to get our fourth win. We are kind of taking this thing one game at a time. Before we can get to 8-8, we have to get to 4-6. Hopefully, we'll be able to find a way to get that done Monday night.

Q: Can you talk about your long tenure with the Steelers

Cowher: I'm proud to be in this organization and I'm very blessed to be in this organization. We have a very stable owner and a man who has been very supportive of myself through the tough times. He's a man that you want to work for and bring that fifth trophy back here for. Until that is done, there is always going to be a void. I know how I feel in having not accomplished that. Like I said, there is such great tradition here. I have just been blessed to come to this organization and be a part of it. I just try to take it one year at a time. We have a good coaching staff, great support group and some good players. Hopefully, we can finish off this year. Certainly, I have been blessed to be a small part of this organization.

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