Coaches Corner - Bill Cowher

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher discusses Troy Polamalu, the role of the underdog and how Ben Roethlisberger has matured over the 2005 season.

What is it about Troy Polamalu that makes him so special?
I think Troy has a unique athletic ability for a guy at his position. He has the ability to cover receivers. He is an excellent tackler and very good play on the ball. He is a very cerebral player. He studies offenses and has a good feel for the game. We give him a lot of freedom to kind of line up in a lot of different places. He knows where he needs to be on the snaps so he is a very special player and we try to utilize a lot of skills that I just described.

Does he allow you to expand what you do on defense this year?
I don't know if it is expand, maybe it looks more complicated than it is because he lines up anywhere and everywhere. I just think that since we have had him he always gives you that unique guy that can cover, and he can rush like a linebacker, and cover like a corner. So he really does give you a lot more flexibility. He is a very smart guy so we move him around in a lot of different positions.

Polamalu's titled a strong safety, do you have another name for his role?
No, he's a strong safety. We move him closer to the line of scrimmage when we go into our sub-packages and at times we drop him back in certain defenses. Really I think what has happened is that we have a group back there [in the secondary] now that has been together. We can make adjustments during the course of the game that we didn't have planned going in. When you have a lot of guys that have been together it's easier to draw things up during the course of the game based on what the offense is doing. It's easier to do that with these guys.

What makes some players better blitzers than others and why is Polamalu so good?
He is an explosive guys but athletic ability has something to do with it. He can time things up and be very explosive. It looks like sometimes he's walking and not moving but he can go from point A to point B very quickly. He's a very sudden player and I think that's what makes him unique.

Do you think this team is enjoying the underdog role?
We're enjoying the opportunity. We're trying to embrace what we have. It's been a challenge bur for the last six weeks we've been fighting to play another day. We have adopted that mindset. Whether we enjoy it or not, it is the reality of where we are. They like the fact that we're still playing. We like the challenges.

Did your defensive style change when Dick LeBeau came in?
I don't know. We just try to play with the personnel that you have. I don't know if it changed dramatically. We try to cater a defense or an offense based on the people that we have. We've always tried to do that.

Where you trying to help the cornerbacks out a little more in 2003?
It's based on who you're playing; it's based on situations in the game. If you're playing from behind you're defending a couple elements. It's hard to make a blanket statement like that.

How do you play a team when you're facing them for the first time?
It's created a sense of importance based on the fact that we have not played them. I think your point is well taken. I talked about it earlier, for the first time in three weeks we're playing a team we haven't played before and they're a good football team at that. We talked about the preparation which is why our focus was only on this week. We're studying them and trying to find any little idiosyncrasies to give us an edge with what they're doing. It's required a greater focus and our preparation is very, very important this week based on [having to play them for the first time.]

Does watching the game against them in 2003 help at all?
We looked at it from the defensive side. Offensively when you look at it, [Denver has] a different defense. At that time we were a different offense. It was a crazy game we played out there with subbing offensive linemen. It is a little bit different. Defensively, they're a different team.

Re: Denver going through the same situations of having not yet played against Pittsburgh?
I can't speak for them. The only thing we can try to do is get ready for what they do. They're a good football team. They're going to establish the run. They have a quarterback [Jake Plummer] that uses the edges very well. He creates some issues that we have not had to face the last few weeks. We've had some pocket quarterbacks and this guy is far from that. He is very elusive and they do a good job with utilizing his athletic ability.

How rare is it for Ben Roethlisberger to do what he is doing?
I don't know about the rareness. That's something for people to talk about. I think the biggest things that's happened this year is that it is his second year. When you take a high draft pick, in their first year everything leads up to the combine, everything that leads up to the draft—all the attention, the preparation, the work outs he did—then you get a city, you go through the mini-camps, you go through training camp and then you're thrown into a role that's very encompassing. He takes over in the second game of the season. He was a worn out guy, more mentally than anything by the end of the year last year. He was a robotic quarterback a year ago, where if his guy wasn't there he tried to get outside of the pocket to create something. He understands where everybody's at, what everybody's trying to do. He's been able to pace himself over the course of the year by understanding the length of the season. All those things is why you're seeing the difference from this year to last year.

Do the veterans have to help the younger guys with this situation?
We've talked about it. I think that because of how we got here we really haven't had time to reflect. We had no bye-week. We've been in a one-and-done situation for the last six weeks to be honest with you. We had to win up to the last game of the season just to get into this tournament. We understand where it's at. I tried to encourage the same mindset; it should be no different, preparation being the most important thing. We have good veterans that if anyone wonders a little bit, [the veterans] pull them back in. We've talked about it but not too much. I don't want anyone reflecting or start thinking too much about anything other than the opponent this week.

Is it easier not believing the hype when you don't go 15-1 and aren't the top seed?
We got here in a different manner. We've been underdogs pretty much every week since we got into this thing. We don't take ourselves too seriously.

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