We've got three guys questionable: Verron Haynes (knee), Plaxico Burress (hamstring) and Chidi Iwuoma (hamstring). And then we have five guys probable: Antwaan Randle El (hamstring), Jerome Bettis (knee), Jeff Hartings (hamstring), Duce Staley (hamstring) and James Harrison (shoulder). Certainly, it's a big game for us. I'll say this: As we wind down the regular season with five weeks to go, usually at this time of year the picture becomes a little clearer. I don't know if it's much clearer in our situation. There are a lot of football teams right there. Five teams are within two games. That in itself makes the magnitude of each game that we play that much more significant. We really don't have much margin of error and certainly a big challenge will be with us going down and playing against a good football team, that by their own admission recognizes this game is pretty much their playoff game. So we understand the atmosphere and the type of football team we're going to be facing Sunday night.
Coach, what makes Byron Leftwich such a great competitor?
He's got a great feel for the game. He sees the field. He can throw really any type of ball. You see him drive it when he needs to drive it; he's got great touch when he needs touch. And like I said, he's got a great feel for the game. He was a winner down in Marshall. He obviously has great leadership skills. He inspires people around him. You can see that with his play. And just the fact he's been able to, in a short period of time, bring that football team back and win a lot of close games at the end. It speaks volume for his ability as a quarterback.
Do you like playing teams who call it a season-breaking game?
I don't know if you like it. It's nice to be involved in big games. It means something good is happening. We've been down this road. We sat here these last couple weeks, in two away games against two divisional opponents, they were significant games. This is a conference opponent who's in the playoff race. I mean you're playing on the road. Who knows if somewhere down the road this will be something you can use from an experience standpoint? It's going to be loud; it's going to be hostile. It's a good football team and it's going to be a big challenge for our team.
Are you in favor of the NFL's proposal to move prime-time games?
Does it really matter whether I'm in favor of it? I really don't get involved.
Even if it's any consequence to you in preparation?
When you play night games you're sitting around all day, so it does have an effect. You like the routine. I'm a routine guy. Certainly it breaks the routine, but certainly no one's going to complain about being on a prime-time game. Like I said, it really wouldn't matter to me.
With Duce and Jerome probable, and they play, who will start?
Under that premonition it would be Duce.
What terms of percentage of carries?
I don't know how that's going to unfold. I can't sit here and make promises and I will not.
Are you surprised Brian Billick conceded the division to you?
I am unaware of those comments.
Since they're celebrating their 10th anniversary in Jacksonville, why have you had so many interesting experiences in Jacksonville?
What are they celebrating?
The 10th anniversary of their team.
Great. Um, I'll tell you, they're playing well. I give a lot of credit to coach (Jack) Del Rio. They're playing hard. A lot of ex-Steelers are on that football team. It looks like Dewayne (Washington) and Jason (Gildon) on defense and Fu (Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala) and Troy (Edwards) on offense. Like I said, Fred Taylor is running well. He's running really well. He looks like the old Fred Taylor of old. Again, you look at these guys and they've beaten some tough teams. Beating Indianapolis, I tell you, that team is probably as hot as any team, and they were one of the few teams that went up there to their place and beat them. They're a good football team. It's going to be a big, big challenge for us. Sunday night, on national prime time, it'll make it a very hostile and loud place to play.
Do you remember the league this top-heavy? And does New England's presence help keep focus?
Well, we're focused. We don't need any help to do that. But it is. It's not so much the amount of teams that are up there, it just seems like they're all in the AFC right now. It is. It's amazing to be sitting there with some of the records we're sitting here with and New England's sitting here with and talking about not having any margin of error, and that's the truth. Whether it's a good thing or bad thing, I don't know. But that's where we are. The picture is becoming more clear. You start the fourth quarter of the season, a lot of things become clearer. The only thing that's clearer right now is there's a lot of jockeying taking place, and these next five weeks will have a major impact on where people are positioning themselves.
When you get to this point in the season, does it alter your approach with injured players?
No. I don't think it's going to change anything. Every game has such significance. We're going to need everybody. We're taking this each week. If people can go, they're going to go. We're not looking beyond or trying to save people. There's too much significance with every game and there's too much importance on how you're playing. There's a fine line. We're playing on the edge, with the edge. We're doing all those things right now. We have to keep sight of what we're doing well and correct some of the things we're not doing well.
What's your opinion on the Butch Davis firing?
We're in a competitive forum. All the coaches are. Things are done and you're saying things to inspire your team and everyone is protecting their own turf, sorta speak. But there is a genuine respect that you have for people who commit themselves to this job and the scrutiny that's involved. People say, 'Well, you're well-compensated.' But in this business, you're not in it for the compensation. You're throwing everything into it. The coaches are resilient. Butch is resilient. He'll come back. But it's the families and the assistant coaches and the effect that it has on everybody. The wives and the kids, they're the ones out there in the public dealing with the things that are said, and at times it gets way personal. And unfortunately that's part of it, but we understand in this profession that's what you get into. So you don't like that to be on anybody. It's one thing to be competitive and it's one thing to compete on Sundays, but it certainly stops there when it comes to how it affects people's lives and the respect you have for people and how they commit themselves, and I have a lot of respect for Butch Davis and always will. You don't like to see anything like that happen to anybody in this business. Anybody who's been in it understands that.
Coach, special teams are so big. What do they do well on special teams and what do you like about yours?
Well, they've got a Pro Bowl punter; Troy Edwards will probably do both returning and he's a very explosive returner; (Josh) Scobee's made some game-winning kicks down there; and they've got a good core of guys. We're doing a lot of good things right now in our kicking game. When you get involved right now in games like this, the hidden yardage is huge. Certainly the other day, not just El's punt returns, getting three points from Jeff (Reed) was huge. You can't underappreciate how much the hidden yardage is involved in games like this. We need to continue to play very solid in the kicking game. We cannot let up there.
Did you ever see anything like James Harrison making every tackle on kick coverage?
He played very well. There's no doubt. He's been playing with a bum shoulder. It's getting a little bit better. But he's gone out there on Sundays. He's a force. I told him that the other day, even during the game, I said every time I look up you're making a tackle. That's what we need. We need guys like that. And it's contagious. He's got some guys around him who are playing at a very, very high level. We've got to make sure it's just not five, six of them. It's got to be 11 of those guys out there. That's important right now. You look at Clint Kriewaldt, Sean Morey, Chidi, (Russ) Stuvaints, Ricardo (Colclough), Ike (Taylor). These guys are covering their tails off. They really are. I can't say enough about them.
When Chidi was penalized, was it a ticky-tack call?
We've got to talk about it. It's a judgment call. If they feel the intent was to taunt a guy or show him up, they're going to call it. We can't put officials in a situation where they can call that. I definitely, in looking at it, would fault Chidi for doing it. I think it was a spur-of-the-moment thing that happened, but we can't afford to do it. Anytime you take the ball, and start doing anything with the ball toward an opponent, they're going to call the flag. Right, wrong, whatever you want to say, it's happening, it's called, and we've got to understand that and not put ourselves in position where they can all it again. So we are at fault.
Has it been magnified with all the stuff going on?
I don't know if it's been magnified. There's a point of emphasis. Taunting was a point of emphasis coming into this season. I think that's something they've been pretty consistent with it.
If Burress starts, will El return kicks?
If Plax can go, El will go back to kick-off returns.
If he can't go, will Chris Doering move up the depth chart and dress?
Chris played Sunday. Again, we'll see what our situation is at the end. I don't anticipate dressing six receivers. We'll dress five more than likely. But we'll see where we are at the end of the week.
Have teams defensed you different with Plax out of the lineup?
They're not leaning one way or the other?
Not that I'm aware of.
Did the league repeal the fine against Randle El?
Not that I'm aware of. Those appeals, the winning of those appeals, the percentage is not that high.
They threw a ball at one of your guys. Did you notice it?
No. I saw the one with Chidi. It looked worse on film than it did. I didn't see it real good. I was arguing for Chidi but I really didn't see it that good on Sunday. I didn't know what happened, really. But Chidi is not the type of guy. If anybody knows Chidi it's hard to get three words out of the guy. And I've never seen the guy mad. Someone said Chidi threw a ball at a guy and it was hard for me to imagine this guy getting upset, I mean, if they know the kid. But if you watch the tape I can see what they saw and I understood why they called it.
Do teams have to run on the edges against Jacksonville?
Yeah, (Marcus) Stroud and (John) Henderson are forces. And they've got good team speed. (Mike) Peterson's a good linebacker. Donovin Darius might be up there in the box and Deon Grant gives them two active safeties. I think you've still got to do what you do best, but there's no question Stroud and Henderson are loads on the inside. There's no doubt about that.
Has Jerome's recent play gotten him more snaps in regular downs?
Yeah, I think there's no question that because of Duce's inactivity over the last month, I'd be hard-pressed to say he's going to be able to go a full game and be able to take 30-35 carries. We've got to be a little smarter than that so I think they both will be utilized. To what extent? It's hard for me to sit here and say on Tuesday.
Do special teams take pressure off the offense at a time when they need it?
This team has been a very responsive team. From that standpoint we talk about the three phases. While we've been able to run the ball, we've been very sporadic throwing the football. We've had nine sacks and we have to rectify that. It's too many negative yards. It's hurt us particularly in the red zone because of our inefficiency. There's too many third and longs and having to overcome second and 15s and 16s. We have to do a better job in terms of throwing the football. When you run the football, we've done a pretty good job of getting a hat on a hat, and games being close enough we can still run the ball through the course of 60 minutes. We're going to need all three phases. Right now we're playing solid in the kicking game because we're going to need all three. We're playing solid defense and we're playing solid offense. The one thing we're not doing is we're not beating
ourselves. We did not play particularly well situational football on offense the other day in the red zone because of some of the negative plays. Those are things we need to work on.
Is that inefficiency due to Ben Roethlisberger trying to hit big plays down the field?
I think it would be very, very unfair to put it on Ben. It's really a result of a lot of things. A couple times we had bad calls against what they blitzed us with. They brought one more than we could protect with; we ran a naked the other day into a blitz. Some of those things are going to happen. But certainly nine (11) sacks are way too many in two games. Nothing's positive about that. For the most part he's done a pretty good job of eluding pressure, feeling pressure and trying to make some plays. It's everything. And it's us getting back to being more efficient. Some of it's been us getting beat. That does happen in this business. We've had some one-on-one match-ups where guys just got beat. It's going to happen. The best thing about it is we're not turning the ball over. We're playing smart football. And we're responding. Even the other day I liked the fact it was 13-7 and two series later we came back with an 11-play, 70-yard drive and we kicked a field goal that put us up two scores. That was big.
Coach, I love Leftwich, but is it more about stopping Fred Taylor on Sunday?
There's no question. He's a guy who, as we well know, can turn a game around. If you don't stop him it can be a long night. This guy's got speed to hit a corner; he's got elusiveness to make people miss inside; he's got power he's running with right now. So we have to stop him. At the same time they've got (Reggie) Williams and Jimmy Smith is making a lot of plays on the outside. They have a lot of weapons. There's no question No. 1 is us stopping Fred Taylor because he's, without a doubt, running very well. He looks very healthy right now.
Bill Cowher Press Conference Transcript
Steel City Insider Top Stories
From The Notebook Of A Sportswriter ...Jim Wexell contemplates mediocrity in his post-game notes column following the Steelers' 27-16 loss to the Patriots.
Steel City InsiderYesterday at 9:22 PM
Notebook: Missed Opportunies Haunt SteelersNuggets on Landry Jones, Jarvis Jones, Cobi Hamilton, more.
Steel City InsiderYesterday at 8:55 PM
No Moral Victories For Steelers In LossInjury-depleted Steelers don't make excuses following 27-16 loss.
Steel City InsiderYesterday at 8:20 PM
Pats-Steelers, A To ZA history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Patriots-Steelers game day preview.
Steel City InsiderSaturday at 2:50 PM