Bill Cowher Press Conference -Week 4-

<b>BILL COWHER</b>- OK, first of all, we're certainly looking forward to playing Tennessee. We played down there twice last year and came away on the short end in both games. Obviously the last one ended our season, so it will be kind of nice to play them up here at Heinz Field. We haven't played them here in a couple years and so hopefully we'll allow the noise to be more of benefit than it's been a little bit of an obstacle the last few years.

They're definitely a premier team.

They're coming off an impressive win last week against New Orleans. They're a very physical football team and very strong up front with a very hard-hitting defense. We recognize the caliber of team we're going to face and the type of game it's going to be.

Going into the game we have one player that is questionable and that is Verron Haynes with a knee. He's doing better and we'll see him try to do a little bit of work tomorrow and then we'll see if he's able to practice Thursday, so we'll have a better sense of where he's at come Thursday. We have a number of players that are probable. Chidi (Iwuoma) is probable with a concussion; Marvel Smith is probable with a shoulder; Jeff Hartings is probable with an ankle; Chris Hope is probable with a groin; and both our tight ends have a chest bruise, that's Jay Riemersma and Jerame Tuman, and both of those players are probable. Again, we're somewhat healthy going into a very important game.

Q: Do they pose a problem with their run defense?
A: I think it's a good defense, not just a good run defense. They played well last week but it's a good defense in general. We played them twice last year and they're very strong up front and have a very hard-hitting defensive secondary. Safeties (Lance) Schulters and Tank Williams play like linebackers. They do a good job of presenting different looks for you, 8-man fronts so to speak, and we have to be able to recognize that and take what they give us.

Q: How tough is Steve McNair?
A: Well he is. And I look at him and it seems like every year he's getting better and better, yet he's getting older and older. He really is a very strong man in the pocket. He's one of those guys now who will not hesitate to pull the ball down and run with it. It's not something he's always wanting to do. A lot of times he's still looking to scramble to throw. But as you remember, even in the games we played the last couple of times, he has pulled the ball down and run and made significant yardage to keep the sticks moving. At the same time he sees the field very well, is becoming very comfortable in that offense, and he makes good decisions. I think he runs and orchestrates that offense as well as anybody runs their offense in the National Football League. I'm very impressed with him. Without a doubt he is the leader of that offense.

Q: Do they have the balance most strive for on offense?
A: They do and again why they're a good offense they don't need to rely on any one element. If you do try to take away the run they feel very comfortable spreading it out and throwing the ball. And at the same time if you try to defend a lot of the spread stuff they show -- this is the team again that will spread us out and we'll have to defend that and be patient against that - if they feel the need to throw 45, 50 times, they'll do it and feel comfortable doing it. If you look at this offense, they feel like they can play whatever style of game they need to play. Obviously you'd like to be able to run the ball and control the clock. If the script was written that way, they'd like to do that every week.

Q: Do your receivers get wide-eyed when they see an 8-man front?
A: Yeah, I mean, I think again we feel really comfortable, confident throwing the ball. Certainly, like I said, the one thing you have to do is run the ball when people move their safeties back and they start lining up 10, 12 yards deep and give you two-high looks. You have to be able to run the ball in those situations and make them honor that. Even last week there was a lot of single-high with a safety down, we were still able to run the ball and that's what we'd still like to be able to do. We need to re-establish and continue to get the running game going on a consistent basis and certainly that will open up things in the passing game as well.

Q: Do you have to guess whether the safety's coming down to stop the run?
A: You do. I mean, I think a lot of times you'll work and have different calls maybe depending upon that, and they do a good job of disguising things, but I think again it's something going in that you know that if you have to throw the ball against a two-high look, you're going to have to be very patient. You're not going to be able to get many balls down the field. Not that you can't throw it, but it's just going to be more of a methodical approach to it. They're going to give us some two-high looks. They're going to bring the safety down and blitz us. It becomes more of a chess game than anything else on first and second down, trying to guess when you're going to have an opportunity to maybe throw it down the field as opposed to being able to take what they give you, maybe pop a run when they do give you the two-high looks.

Q: Was Tommy Maddox patient last week?
A: Tommy's played very well. He's been very consistent. Certainly we've had a couple of interceptions. What I'll say about him is he's not looking for any one receiver. He's looking to go where he thinks the ball should go, whoever that may be. We'd like to eliminate the interceptions we've had. At the same time we don't want to take away from him being decisive and being aggressive. He's played very, very solid for us really these first three games.

Q: Was the one interception a mix-up with Chris Doering?
A: Yeah. It was a kind of read route and you could see later on it was kind of the same route he threw to Plax (Burress) and if he'd have run the same route that Plax ran it might've been there. That's the thing. They're two different guys; they read it a little differently. It wasn't the old read offense, but it was a little bit of him being decisive and trying to get it in there and it just didn't work out.

Q: Did Cincinnati allow you to get back to your screen and draw game?
A: No. I think it's something we try to go in every game doing. I think it's a big part of our offense still. Those are the types of things that can slow down rushes. We've always tried to do that. I think as a defense, when that threat is there it puts you somewhat cautious when you're rushing the quarterback. We still like to incorporate different ways of doing that. We hit a couple of big plays yesterday. We hit the blitz on both of them Amos (Zereoue) ran very well the other day. He ran very north-south. That was a big run he had at the end of the game. So we'll continue to do that.

Q: How happy are you with the improvement in your pass defense? And what are the reasons for it?
A: Oh, we're only three games into it. Let's not draw too many conclusions yet.

Q: But in the first three games last year?
A: Yes, that's a good comparison, and I would say if you were to compare it to this point last year then, yeah, I would say it's dramatically improved. But let me just say I think we had a couple games last year, and they spread us out, and I'll say again if you go back and look after those games, when you look at the last 11 or 12 games, we played pretty good defense. I know Baltimore hit a couple big plays. They threw the ball down the field and hit a couple jump balls to Heap, and we missed a tackle. And then we got into the Cleveland game and we lost Chad (Scott) and we lost Mike Logan and so we got a little bit thin in the secondary. I just think that we're playing together. We do have a little bit more flexibility this year with some of the defenses that we have. We really never used the nickel package, which now we can use, even though last week it was probably more extensive dime, just because of the people they had on the field. I think it's just again us being coordinated and trying to eliminate the big things. Last week there were only two plays over 14 yards. That was big. They hit a nice fade to Chad Johnson on Dewayne (Washington). I thought that Dewayne was in great position. I think it was a great throw and catch. The second one was an underneath route to Chad that we missed a couple tackles on. But if we can just play and make teams methodically move the ball and somewhere, I'd like to think, just like in that first drive they had, we'll get someone tipping the ball and people going to the football and we'll make a play. I guess that's the way we've tried to approach this year and to this point it's been somewhat effective.

Q: How long does it take for you to get a feel for your team?
A: I've always said the first four games we're finding out about ourselves. You're kind of creating an identity for yourself. We really don't know. First time we were in somewhat of a close game the other day, so you really need some time to experience situations, to experience adversity, to experience success to see how you're going to respond to it and start to get a feel for the players you're next to, get a feel for the players and what they're doing and doing best, what are the areas you need to work on, and to find out what area needs to be worked on or addressed or try to hide. I just think we're finding out about ourselves. I think the first month every team is doing that and that's why it's way too early to draw conclusions about any team at this point. The first month of the season I think everyone's still trying to figure out who they are as much as the teams they're playing week to week. If you can stay in the hunt, then somewhere in October, November, you've got to get on a roll. I think right now we're still in the identity-finding phase. Like I said, we're still trying to strike balance on offense; we're trying to improve our red-zone defense; we've got to find a way to eliminate that one punt return, that one kickoff return we're having each game. There've been a lot of good things being done there. We've got to get (Antwaan Randle) El going on the punt return. We're still in that process. It's an ongoing thing the next couple weeks and then hopefully you get some consistency developed in all three phases.

Q: Are you thinking of adding Fred Milons at all to the active list?
A: I like Antwaan, don't get me wrong, as a punt returner. And I like Antwaan and Ike (Taylor) as kick returners. Everyone talks about the turf, but if Ike doesn't slip -- and he wasn't touched. I mean, he's going to make the kicker miss but his foot came out underneath him on that return. Of the three returns, that was the one. Those other guys were going to get tackled. He was not going to get tackled, so that turf did save them a touchdown. So I'm pleased with that. But you know, we're trying to get Freddie comfortable. He got here late but he's getting more and more reps and again it's going to be a week-to-week decision.

Q: Is he more a for-the-future kind of guy?
A: We've been fortunate to have our guys healthy, knock on wood, but we liked him coming out. I just think he's a guy that can help us. Like I said, we're only three weeks into it, but we're close to evaluating him on a week-to-week basis.

Q: Could you talk about the improvements of your coverage units?
A: Oh there were significant improvements. Everyone wants to focus on the one return, but the other three kickoffs we had were pretty good. I mean we had them at the 22-yard line twice. We opened up the second half and made a great emphasis on starting the second half fast. We come out with great kickoff coverage; we come out and we stop them and we sack them on third down; then we come out and Tommy throws an interception on the third play. So, we're getting there. We're getting there. But again, they had the returns and certainly they can come back to haunt you, but again we've got some guys who are doing it for the first time. I understand that. We aren't trying to sacrifice anything in the expense of potentially losing a game, but we're getting better. We've just got to eliminate that one return we've had each game now. If we can do that, I think that we'll make big strides.

Q: What's the preliminary report card on Troy Polamalu?
A: I think Troy's doing fine. It's just the expectation level People say 'What's wrong with him?' and 'He's not starting' and 'Number one pick.' Mike (Logan) is playing pretty good. Troy comes in in all the dime and nickel packages. He's playing safety there. Then last week when Mike doesn't practice he moves up to the dime (back position). It can happen that quick in a game. We've got him playing a bunch of different positions. But he's doing fine. I mean, he had a tough day the other day but that's to be expected. I mean I love the kid's mindset; I love the way he works at it; he's a very proud kid. Him and Ike are down there covering kicks. I'm not sure how much they've ever done that before, but they were both down there against Peter Warrick and they're trying to go for the Chidi kill that he had the first week. Everyone loves that hit but that hit happens about once every 14 times you get down there. I keep trying to tell them, 'You've got to break down on a guy like that.' I mean, you've got to break down and come under control because you work so hard to get there you don't want to waste that energy. But everyone wants that big hit that can be on ESPN. It might be on the highlight reel that night but those are few and far between. But he's doing fine. He really is. We've got guys who are their own worst critics. They're hard on themselves. He's one of them, but those are not bad qualities to have. And he's going to be a good football player in this league for a long time.

Q: But the coverages? He's picked those up?
A: Yeah, it's coming. He has some breakdowns every now and then. Sometimes things happen fast in a game. It unfolds maybe a little bit differently than how you worked during the week, but he's getting there. He'll be fine.

Q: How much will Joey Porter play this week? Will James Farrior stay inside?
A: We're going to continue to use them all. I don't know how it's going to unfold. Maybe every week it'll be different, just like with the running backs. Who knows? I mean, when Verron comes back healthy, where's he fit in? I don't know. I guess these are good problems to have and potential issues if you want to make them that. I like to look at them as nice problems to have. We'll look at it and try to keep everybody happy. As long as you win games everybody's happy. James has played very well. Joey did a good job rushing. He still has that position. He'll get back and work it some this week, but we'll need them all.

Q: Are the running backs determined by situations or is it a feel thing?
A: Amos and Verron will handle most of the sub packages. Amos is going to start and when Jerome (Bettis) enters the game, it remains to be seen. I don't know; no one will know. It'll just kind of be a situational thing. Nothing is etched in stone. I don't want to say anything because you'll come back to me. I don't know. I really don't know and I don't want to say anything that could mislead anybody, players included. I think that's the only way I can be honest with them. You'd like to think it's going to work out that they'll get 16 and 17 every week, but it will not. It will not end up being that way and they've got to understand that. There's no really set criteria as to how it will unfold. We've just got to take it week to week.

Q: Is it tough telling Jerome to stay ready?
A: I think they both have got to understand it's a long year. We're going to need them both. The worst thing I can do is mislead a guy, but still they have to stay ready to play. They have to be ready to go. The worst thing I can do is mislead them in any way, shape or form, and try to keep them both ready to go, keep them sharp and give them work. You don't want them to lose the timing that's so needed at that position. But we just cannot go in there and keep yanking guys in and out and they never get a feel for the game. There's a fine line that you have to balance, and I'm sure at some point I'm going to be criticized for not being able to walk that line very well. It's inevitable; it's going to happen. But like I said, I can't see the future and how it's going to unfold. It would be wrong of me to say how it is because I may mislead somebody in some way.

Q: Do you have too much depth?
A: Well, we've got players who can play multiple positions, too. I'm sure a lot of teams are going through injuries and may have the same amount of depth. It's hard to say. James starts getting some reps at linebacker because Joey was out, even though he was the backup last year. And I think the biggest thing with James Farrior is it's the second year in the system. I said this before, last year everyone would look at the secondary and kind of point the finger there and say 'they're not as good.' But we had some young, new guys. We were limited a little bit with what we could do check-wise. James walked into the worst nightmare possible. (His) first games as a starter and we go against New England and Oakland and there's no one in the backfield. Yet everything we taught him in training camp had at least one back in the backfield. Now he's seeing none, there's checks, there's this. I'm not putting it all on him but we certainly recognized where we were. We tried to make do with it and I thought we did a good job adjusting to it. These are nice problems to have. We got Kendrell (Bell) involved on third down and it was nice to see him get a couple sacks the other day. You still have Clark Haggans you can use. Now Joey's out there because James had some work. Sometimes injuries, if you don't lose players for an extended period of time, they can help you because you give experience to back-up players. That's where I'll go back and say again that's what preseason is also for. You give younger players a chance to play and not it helps you with now having a little bit of depth and having some flexibility. 

Q: When you played at Jacksonville on a hot day, were you ever tempted to pack just your white jerseys?
A: No. I know every time we went down to Jacksonville they made us wear black. But, no. Mr. (Dan) Rooney told me the history of that. It went back to the sixties. A team came in there when they were training at South Park and they had to go over and get their other jerseys. That's the problem with Mr. Rooney being here. He's got all the history. That's why the rule came in with the fines, so we've certainly got to be the good boys and could never do anything like that.

Q: Doesn't this game have a divisional feel?
A: Absolutely. They were the last team we played last year. They knocked us out. We played them twice and lost twice last year, and we remember that.

Q: What irks you most about that playoff game?
A: No. It was just the last game. We had our opportunities in that game. We had the ball at the 45-yard line twice within the last five minutes of that game. We had every opportunity to win that game. It really didn't even need to go into overtime. We had the opportunity; we just didn't take advantage of that. We created a little bit of a hole; we fought back; it was a very hard-fought game; and they won.

Q: Is it motivation or is it gone?
A: It's gone.

Q: (Inaudible question)
A: We'll watch them. But like I said, they may not be in our division but we played them twice last year, and we played them the year before. We're going to play them this year and it's nice to be able to play them at our place. I'd like to think noise will be a factor and I encourage everyone to make noise a factor because it is an issue. Hopefully we can feed off that energy.

Q: Is that becoming too much of an issue?
A: I don't think so. To me that's what sport is all about. To me that's why we have home-field advantage. I'm not sure what kind of competitive advantage any other sport has by playing at home. You look at ours, it's a competitive advantage. You have to practice with it because you have to do things differently. That is what you're fighting for in playoff time. That's why you encourage your fans to come out and be the 12th man, to be the factor. That's what entertainment is about. That's why this city is very special, because fans understand that. They recognize they can have an effect on the game. They recognize they can identify with their team and they can be loud. And it is a competitive advantage, and we, as players, feed off of that. In our game there is an energy and a there is a momentum that's felt that can take you to another level. We were down there in Tennessee last year and they were playing their videos and doing everything else about how they were slighted in the Pro Bowl. It's without a doubt, to me, what makes our sport very special. It's an opportunity for the fans to truly become a factor in a game and to identify with their team and to support their team, so it is an advantage and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. To me, that's what makes our sport different than all the others.

Q: Does it go beyond an emotional impact?
A: Oh I think so. I think it's competitive. When you have to deal with the silent count as we've had to deal with in Kansas City, and when you have to do things differently with motions, from an offensive standpoint it, without a doubt, puts more of a burden on the linemen. They can't hear the snap count. They don't get off on the ball as good in the running game. And it's hard on the passing game because it can become an issue in terms of cadence and checks and calling plays at the line. When you can't hear it it's a factor. There's no question. It's without a doubt a competitive advantage when you're playing at home.

The best way to take fans out of the game is to start fast. It wasn't an issue in Kansas City until he returned that kick. Then it became an issue, but we certainly got off to a pretty fast start and that's what we can't allow Tennessee to do. We have to keep our fans in the game and give them something to get excited about early and let them know they can be a factor. That's one of the challenges of playing on the road and this has been notoriously a pretty good road team. Look at their record.

Q: Knowing that, wouldn't you rather have a four o'clock start? Or better, a nine o'clock start?
A: We'll be fine. That's the one good thing about Pittsburgh. People will adjust their schedules accordingly.

Q: Would you rather pound the ball?
A: Oh yeah. Not just with Jerome or even with Amos. It's nice to be able to run the ball. When you can run the ball when they know you're going to run the ball, it's very, very gratifying and satisfying. I think any coach will tell you that. There's nothing more frustrating than a team running the ball against you, and you know they're going to run it, and you can't stop them. That's kind of imposing yourself on people. There's nothing more gratifying, I think, than to be able to do that. That's how I've always viewed the game and that was the satisfaction that came out the other day. To take it with 5:54 left to go in that game, and that last play, us taking the knee, that was a gratifying way to end the game.

Q: Coach, I'm sure Jason Gildon's intentions were good, but after that interception -
A: There was nothing good about those intentions. You don't do that down there, not when you have a chance to get off the field. It wasn't that clean of a - I mean, I know Joey just got back and everyone's welcoming him back and he thinks everyone's supposed to listen to him. But when he said 'give me the ball, give me the ball' you just ignore Joey and you go down.

Q: Do you have a term for Alan Faneca's block?
A: He had two blocks that I don't think I've seen in a long time in this league. We nominated him for offensive player of the week. I've never seen a game by an offensive lineman any better than that. Usually linemen don't stand out. He stood out. Those two hits were impressive.

Steel City Insider Top Stories