Steelers Cowher, Wins and Losses all that Matter

All's fine with the Steelers. At least that's the face Bill Cowher wanted to put on his team after its second oddball loss of the season. <br><br> The 2-2 Steelers, for the second time, drastically out-gained their opponent but lost big on the scoreboard, so there was something upon which Cowher could turn for optimism.

"We are moving the ball on offense," said Cowher, who was asked for some good news at his weekly press conference.

The Steelers are third in the NFL in yards per game, and also second in the league in fewest yards allowed per game. Was that the kind of good news Cowher was looking for?

"I don't look at statistics. I look at wins and losses," he said. "Some of the games we have been getting all this yardage because we have been behind so much. I look at the stats like turnover/takeaway, third down, and some of the situations that are a lot more prevalent about where there may be some issues. Third down is relative to ball possession, time of possession. Turnover/takeaway is something I have said from the beginning that is something that we have to do a better job of and come out on the plus side of it. That has been a number that is correlated with wins and losses."

The Steelers are 26th in the NFL with a minus-three turnover margin. Perhaps more alarming is the low number of turnovers forced by the defense. The Steelers have taken the ball away only five times. Only two teams in the NFL force fewer per game.

"We have been very good historically but we are not doing that at this point after four games and sometimes they come in bunches," Cowher said. "Those things are things you have to continue to talk about and work on. Sometimes those are things over which you don't have total control."

In the Cowher era, the low for takeaways is 28 in 1999 (6-10 record) and 2001 (13-3). The Steelers took the ball away 29 times in 1998 (7-9), the only other season in which they had fewer than 30 takeaways. They are on pace for 20 this season.

Can it be improved upon?

"We talk about the second guy coming in and stripping the football," Cowher said. "We talk about when the ball is in the air everybody going to the football. The other day Chad (Scott) bats one up and if you have the right guys going to the football - and you breed that in the players - and then you see Jason Gildon there to make the interception. Those are the things that you are talking about all the time. You go to the ball and if it is on the ground then you have a better chance of recovering it. Those are the things we talk about and historically we have been good at it. I am not ready to pass judgment after four games."

The other statistical categories, Cowher believes, that correlate directly to wins and losses are third-down and red-zone conversion rates. The Steelers are strong in one category and weak in the other.

On third down, the Steelers are 12th in the NFL on offense and ninth on defense. They convert 42 percent of their opportunities and stop 34 percent of them. Last year, they converted 42 percent and stopped 44 percent, so they've improved significantly on defense.

In the red zone, the Steelers have been futile. They've cashed in with touchdowns 37 percent of the time and have allowed touchdowns 89 percent of the time opponents reach their 20-yard line. Special teams continue to be a problem. The Steelers are 31st in punt returns, 30th in kickoff coverage, 25th in punt coverage and 21st in kickoff returns.

"We have to do a much better job on defense in the red zone," Cowher said. "We need to hold people to field goals. The special teams, I thought the coverage teams got better last week. We have to get our return teams going. We have a ways to go in terms of that. There are a lot of things we are doing well, but I guess that gets lost a lot of times because everyone wants to focus on the things we are not doing."

NOTES -- Listed as questionable on the injury lost are: Plaxico Burress (hip pointer), Clint Kriewaldt (knee), Jay Riemersma (shoulder) and Marvel Smith (questionable) Two players are probable: James Farrior (glute) and Todd Fordham (knee).

Jim Wexell

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