Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report

Forget the reports that Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher has been offered a three-year contract extension and has not yet signed it. The only part that is true is that Cowher has not signed a three-year contract extension -- it's hard to sign something that has not been offered.

There is absolutely no truth to the reports. Negotiations haven't even started on a contract extension for Cowher, who has two years left after this one to coach the Steelers at roughly $3.5 million annually.

Traditionally, talks to extend his contract have taken place when he's had two years left under his old contract. But those talks never started until after the season and this year is no different.

The only difference this year is the talks may never begin. There's a school of thought, inside the organization and out, that the Steelers won't be offering Cowher a contract extension. It's not so much that he'll be coming off a losing season because they extended his last contract after he came off three straight seasons out of the playoffs. No, they may believe that he's no longer the right man for the job, or they're not sure of that.

Cowher has strengths, there's no doubt -- he's outstanding at keeping a team from falling apart and he's a good motivator. But he may not be the best selector of personnel and that's something he's gained more control over since he forced Tom Donahoe out as director of football operations in January 2000.

Also, if his days in Pittsburgh ended today he would forever be known as a good coach who could not win the big one, could not get the Steelers over the top. He did outstanding jobs to put the Steelers in position to do that, but failed miserably in the big games.

His teams have played four AFC championship games at home and they were favored in all, heavily favored in three of them. They won one and they barely beat the Colts to do that. They also were upset by San Diego, Denver and New England, the latter two going on to win the Super Bowl. The Steelers lost to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.

The Rooneys, under the advice of Cowher, sunk all kinds of money to keep the current team together and it came out and fell flat on its face. They need to win two of their final three to avoid tying the worst record under Cowher and second-worst since the NFL merger in 1970s. They were 6-10 in 1999.

It's also folly that Cowher has been mentioned in Nebraska newspapers for the head coaching job at Nebraska. Cowher no longer wants a college job than he does as the Fuller Brush Man. It's too much work, deals with too many teenagers, too much recruiting, too much kissing up to the alumni, and he'd have to yank his family from the only real city they've ever known and plop them in the middle of corn country. Oh, and don't forget the pressure that goes with that job.

That doesn't mean Cowher might not be looking for a job soon. If the Rooneys decide to take the personnel control away from him, he could balk at that. He's been there, done that and he hated it under Tom Donahoe. It's hard to believe Cowher would be subservient to someone like that again.

So, if they decide to approach him with that demand, they should know that they might need to find a new coach - perhaps Pittsburgh native Kirk Ferentz - and be prepared for that. Cowher won't have to worry. He'd have another head coaching job before he walked out of the Steelers offices for the final time, probably at more money.

Series History
16th meeting in a series owned by the Steelers, who are 14-1 against the Jets. It's Pittsburgh's best record against any NFL team. The Jets' only victory came in 1988 in Giants Stadium that helped knock the Steelers to 5-11, their worst record in the past 34 seasons. The teams last played in 2001, and they last played in Giants Stadium in 2000. The Jets have not scored more than 7 points against the Steelers in four out of their past five games.

Team Awards
Rookie of the Year - There's a lot of sentiment for CB Ike Taylor, their fourth-round draft choice, over S Troy Polamalu, their first-rounder. Polamalu plays in the nickel and dime defenses and has made little impact, although he's improved lately. Taylor averages 22.8 yards as their primary kickoff returner and also has been inserted into their passing packages. Taylor also has one start.

It certainly won't be rookie linebacker Alonzo Jackson, the team's No. 2 pick, who's not happy about being inactive the past 11 games. "I know I can play. There's no doubt in my mind I can go out there and I can change the game within a couple of plays ... As of right now, Coach Cowher feels it's best for the team for me to watch, so that's what I do."

MVP - There are three strong candidates: Hines Ward, who leads the AFC with 82 receptions; Alan Faneca, the two-time All-Pro guard who has switched to tackle to help out with the injury to Marvel Smith; LB James Farrior, who leads the team in tackles.

Strategy and matchups
They ran against Oakland last week and will try to run against the Jets again this week. Oakland ranked No. 32 against the run, but the Jets have replaced them at the bottom, even though Jerome Bettis carved up the Raiders for 106 yards. On defense, they hope to get pressure on Chad Pennington, who likes to throw the quick, short stuff, and they probably will bring a safety up.

Matchups to watch - Jets C Kevin Mawae, considered the best in the business, vs. 330-pound NT Casey Hampton. CB Aaron Beasley of the Jets vs. the AFC's leading receiver, Hines Ward.

Even though it is not a real matchup, Jets QB Chad Pennington and Steelers WR Plaxico Burress bear watching because the Steelers passed up Pennington with the eighth pick of the 2000 draft in favor of Burress. Burress is no longer the big-play receiver he was last season when he averaged 17.0 yard per catch, the most of the top 49 receivers in the league, and caught seven TD passes. This season, he averages 14.4 yards per catch and has two touchdowns.

2004 Schedule
The Steelers 2004 schedule is in place except for two teams and times and dates. Pittsburgh will play at Buffalo, Miami, Dallas the New York Giants and AFC North foes Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland. They also will visit the team that finishes in the same spot in the AFC South as the Steelers finish in the AFC North, which is likely to be either Jacksonville or Houston. At home, the Steelers will play New England, the New York Jets, Philadelphia, Washington, the three AFC North foes and a team from the AFC West that finishes in the same division as they do.

Quick Hits

  • DE Kimo von Oelhoffen leads the Steelers with eight sacks. No end has led them in sacks since Keith Willis did it in 1985 and 1986, also in a 3-4 defense. Willis' 12 sacks in 1986 are the last time a defensive end has been in double-digit sacks for the Steelers. Von Oelhoffen's sacks are the most by a Steelers defensive end since Ray Seals' 8 1/2 in 1995. Von Oelhoffen's previous career high for a season was four. "I usually miss a lot of sacks, actually," von Oelhoffen said. "I'm finishing, is the big difference. It feels great. This year is just my time, I guess."
  • James Farrior topped 100 tackles for the first time in his two seasons with the Steelers. "It's a good feeling and a tribute to my defensive linemen," said Farrior, who had 181 tackles with the Jets in 2001. "They've done great job of keeping guys off me and enabling me to go make some plays. I have to give lot of credit to those guys."
  • RB Jerome Bettis can leap into sixth place on the NFL career rushing list with 197 yards in the next three games. He needs five to pass Franco Harris (12,120) at No. 8, needs 128 to pass Marcus Allen 912,243) and 197 to pass Jim Brown (12,312).
  • QB Tommy Maddox has had three of his best five passer ratings in three of the past five games. Maddox overall passer rating stands at 78.0.
  • PK Jeff Reed's accuracy has dropped in his second season in the league. Last year, Reed successfully kicked 17 of 19 field goal tries. He's made 20 of 27 this season.
  • Since acquiring WR/KR Freddie Milons in a trade the week before the season, Milons has not been active for one game with the Steelers. He also did not dress for a game last season with the Eagles as a rookie.
  • FB Dan Kreider rushed for only his second touchdown of his career on Sunday against Oakland. His only other rushing TD came in 2001 at Baltimore. He also caught a TD pass last season.
  • Marvel Smith likely will remain out with a pinched nerve, which keeps Alan Faneca at left tackle and Keydrick Vincent at left guard.
  • Jay Riemersma returned to start and caught a pass last Sunday after he missed the previous two games with a bruised chest.

Quote to Note
"I don't know if he'll be back or not, but I do know Pittsburgh will miss him when he's gone." - C Jeff Hartings on RB Jerome Bettis.

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