BILL COWHER, Pittsburgh Steelers coach
OK, couple things here before we get started. First of all, in regards to the coaching vacancies that exist around the National Football League, I can tell you I've been contacted by three teams in regards to Russ Grimm: That's Detroit, New Orleans and Green Bay. One team has contacted us about Ken (Whisenhunt) and that's St. Louis. In accordance with the league guidelines, we will allow them to talk. Most of these will be by telephone later in the week. I will tell the players, as I've told the coaches: There will be no more questions about it; there'll be no discussion about it; our focus this week will be on the Indianapolis Colts. I don't think it will be a distraction to our team at all, and having gone through the process myself, if anything it's inspiring to know there's an opportunity potentially for you. I've talked to Russ and Ken and like I said it'll be later in the week because we're in the process of game-planning for this game. We will provide that opportunity for them but there'll be no more discussions about that from here on out.
We've made a roster move: Quincy Morgan fractured his fibula in the game and will get it operated on tomorrow, so we will place him on injured reserve and we will sign Lee Mays to take his position on the roster, so Lee will be back with us.
We have one player doubtful: that's James Harrison (ankle). We have six players probable: Jerome Bettis (hamstring), Kimo von Oelhoffen (knee), Ben Roethlisberger (thumb), Clark Haggans (toe), Travis Kirschke (groin) and Joey Porter (hand).
Obviously in the playoffs, any win is a big win for us. And I will say this again just to put it to an end with what happened to their quarterback: Carson Palmer is a bright young player in the National Football League; I've got tremendous respect for him, not just as a player, but the way he handles himself; the league will be better off with a player like that for the future. I know he'll come back strong from this. I feel bad for him, but knowing him, just through Troy (Polamalu), he's a hard-working guy. He'll be back and we'll be back trying to stop this guy again next year. There's no question about it. You hate to see those things happen. No one felt worse about it than Kimo, or really our football team. We have a lot of respect for that football team. Cincinnati, it's going to be a battle from here on out. There's so much good talent over there; they're well-coached. We feel very fortunate to be able to move on. We're playing the number-one seed in the AFC and in many people's eyes the number-one team in the National Football League. We're going to have to play so much better than we played the last time we played them, and we're going to have to play better than we played last week. It's going to take a flawless effort on our part. We're going to have to bring everything we have and more in this football game to have a chance to compete and or win this game. I think we understand that, but at the same time that's why it's the playoffs; that's why you play the game. We'll show up. We'll be there, and hopefully we'll do some things better than the last time we played them.
Q: Are you surprised or disappointed by Marvin Lewis's comment about Ben Roethlisberger's old complaint?
A: I would like to think it was said out of frustration. The last thing we ever do is comment on things that their players say. If I did, I could spend a whole press conference on some of the things that come out of that – off that -- team. I would like to think it was said out of frustration.
Q: Does it bother you that some people are now calling your team dirty?
A: I don't know who's done it. I think that's something papers have a tendency to pick up on and they want to make a story that really isn't there. I don't know what the basis of that would be.
Q: Can you play your underdog role to an advantage?
A: If it is, tell me how I can use it to an advantage. I mean, we are what we are. This is the best team in football. The last time we played there we had an opportunity to play them then; we didn't play very well. Obviously the only advantage I think we have is the fact we've gone through it. They were more physical than we were the last time we played them. We didn't handle the noise well. We didn't play very good football. If we do the same thing this time the results will be no different.
Q: Since Ben was coming off an injury the last time, do you automatically feel he'll play better?
A: I don't think it automatically does that. I like to think we're playing a little bit better than the last time we went in there. We have some guys back that have played. It was Marvel (Smith)'s first game back, Ben's first game back. But at the same time we had a lot of guys who had been playing and they had their guys. It's going to come down to execution. We had 10 penalties the last time we were there. We weren't able to get anything going offensively. We gave up the big play on the first play of the game that put us in a hole, almost like we did the other day. We're going to have to play in all three phases. Our kicking game wasn't real good the last time, special teams wise. We missed a makeable field goal; we don't get a good punt out of the end zone; they only get a first down and they're kicking field goals. Like I said it's going to take a supreme effort on our part in all three phases for us to have a chance.
Q: What did you take from their defensive effort that night?
A: Well their defensive line creates a lot of havoc. We all know about Dwight Freeney, but those other guys inside – (Montae) Reagor and (Corey) Simon and (Larry) Triplett -- are very disruptive. They do a lot of slanting and stunting. They may not be big physically but they play strong and they play low and they play with leverage. Raheem Brock and (Robert) Mathis on the other side of Freeney give them six guys that they rotate in there. They're fresh, strong, active. They can be very, very disruptive. They free up those linebackers, who can run – Brackett and June and Thornton – they can run, and you'd better account for 21 (Bob Sanders) and 20 (Mike Doss). Those two safeties are factors. They are excellent tacklers. There's great team speed. They're very disciplined defensively. Like I said, you've got to be on top and have everyone accounted for if you want to have success on a regular basis.
Q: Twenty-one looked particularly aggressive.
A: He's a good football player. He plays the game hard. He is decisive. He takes great angles and when he comes he brings it all. Like I said before, this guy's as good of a safety as there is in the National Football League.
Q: Has having played there and in Minnesota helped your team with crowd noise?
A: We will find out, but I would like to think having been there once, you know what to expect. Hopefully we will have learned. I don't know if it ever really got that loud in Minnesota. But certainly when we walked out of that RCA Dome there was no question that it was louder than we had anticipated going in. So we understand what it's going to be like and we'll have to deal with it.
Q: Were the false starts in Cincinnati because of the noise?
A: It was loud. Some of that was that, yeah. We only had one with the line and two with the receivers. I guess that's progress. If we keep our receivers more disciplined we'll be OK. But we're going to have to deal with that; we'll deal with it this week and hopefully we'll apply a little bit of discipline this Sunday.
A: We've got some options there so we'll see how the week goes?
Q: How much can the silent count help in this situation?
A: Well you certainly are going to have to become a little unpredictable with that so you don't want to give them the advantage of coming off on that as well, so we'll have to work that element of it. We'll see. We'll have a different approach than we had the last time going in. The best way to deal with the noise is to play well. If you make plays and not let their crowd get into it, that's the best thing you can do. If we just go out there and play like we have on the road with a lot of teams, but if you go out there and give up the first play of the game and let it be a touchdown, that's not the greatest way of silencing a crowd. That has a lot to do with it. It's really how you play, not so much what you do.
Q: Is Ike Taylor on kick returns?
A: That will be one of the options we'll look at as well.
Q: Is Nate Washington liable to be dressed and active?
A: It certainly is an option that we will look at.
Q: Are you confident of playing any offensive style?
A: I am and I think our players are. We've put up some points when we've had to put up points; we've thrown the ball when we've had to throw the ball. This will be a big challenge again this week but I think we wouldn't have got where we are right now if you aren't a balanced football team. Yes, we want to run the football, but we feel we have some playmakers to throw the ball to as well. We feel we have a quarterback who's playing as well as he's played this year. I think he's been in this situation before so he won't be overwhelmed by it. We know the challenge. This is a good football team we're playing and we're going to have to be able to do both. They didn't win 13 straight games by being one-dimensional. We cannot allow them to continue to tee off and we've got to be able to run the ball, but at the same time we have to make them respect us throwing it. We'll have to be balanced. We're not going to be able to be one-dimensional in this game on either side.
Q: Has Cedrick Wilson done anything differently to emerge?
A: No. Sometimes games unfold and opportunities present themselves. He's done a good job. Ben put the ball out there to him and he makes big plays. He made a big play against this team last time we played them. We haven't been a big throwing team so I guess when someone catches three or four balls it's like news around here. But these guys are good football players. To their credit, sometimes they'd like to be on a team that throws the ball 35 or 40 times and some of their numbers would probably be a lot better than what they are because their numbers should not indicate how they are as receivers. It's just kind of sometimes how the game unfolds and how we play the game around here.
Q: Seven of your last eight playoff games have come against teams you've played during the season. What kind of information have you gleaned in that regard?
A: I don't look at it from that perspective. Certainly you know in the playoffs when you've played a team once. You're going to see what they've done to you that you may counter the second time through, and then with you. The first time you play someone you're not sure how they're going to approach you, both sides of the ball. And the second time through you have a better sense of what they're about so there's a little bit of adjustment on both sides of the ball. So I think that again it's a little bit more of a chess match than a get-acquainted type of situation. I just like the fact we've played in that dome once. That will not be foreign territory to us. It won't make it any easier, trust me, but at least we know what we're walking into.
Q: I was scared in that stadium Sunday after Carson Palmer was hurt. There was so much tension. Were the players as afraid as I was? And were there any positives for the guys who experienced that?
A: When you go on the road, you experience those emotions. It doesn't take any one situation for that to take place. Those things happen, number one, when you're playing a rivalry team with all of those things that were said leading up to the game. That has more to do with the talking that takes place between players. But when you're in a hostile environment, and you're dealing with the finality of the playoffs, you're the underdog. You are. Face it. We understand that going in. We're going to go in there and give it our best chance. You lose and you go home. I'm not so sure it hasn't been that way the last four or five weeks. We understand the level of desperation that we have to play at, and it's going to take our best football. We've got to be able to stay focused. There's a fine line between going in there and being emotional and allowing it to have an adverse effect, which I think happened to us last week. We settled down more in the second half of that game but we lost our composure at times. I don't want us to lose our emotion, but we can't lose our composure. There's a fine line and at times we kind of crossed that, but we have to play with that same emotion, that same level of desperation or else we are not going to move on.
Q: Does playing an offense like the Bengals help?
A: From a preparation standpoint yeah because we practiced a lot of that no-huddle last week and we were ready for it. So it will help from that standpoint, and it makes the practices that much faster. Our practices will be real fast because it's all no-huddle, and that's the way it'll be again this week.
Q: Three of four road teams won last week. Does that speak to the overall parity?
A: I think it's true. It's where you are at the end of the year and how you're playing. I really believe that has a lot to do with it. A bye is a big advantage, so you make your decisions accordingly, but you want to be playing your best football, playing with confidence, so there isn't a sense of overreaction when you hit a little bit of adversity in the course of a game, which you're going to face in a playoff game.
Q: Your team was down 10 twice and both times your offense responded.
A: Which is huge. You have to be able to not overcome things -- not overreact -- and respond. It's important that when you feel a game start to sway, momentum-wise, to the other side that you're able to come up with some series, some play that can change it and get it back to your side. You have to keep playing. You can't overreact to things.
Q: How difficult is it to stay sharp as a No. 1 seed with meaningless games and weeks off?
A: I don't remember losing any games coming off the bye. Of course, we lost that next game a few times. It's up to the individual teams. You look at the coaches in this tournament; they've been there before. Don't count on that for any kind of advantage.
Q: How does this team compare to the Tampa Bay teams Tony Dungy coached?
A: It's hard to go back that far and compare. Tony's like a lot of good coaches in this league: He's taken the talent he has and doing what they do best. His defense has a lot of team speed with very active safeties and if they get up on you they can make it a long day for you. They have a lot of the same qualities. They're a solid defense that doesn't give up a lot of big plays. You have to be patient against them and I think that's going to be the challenge we have, to be patient.
Q: Does the no-huddle force you to give up on your personnel packages?
A: We've got to try to do it, but we've got to be careful because they can go to that little attack thing they go to and they hurry up to the line of scrimmage and try to run a play before you can get your guys on there and they'll get you with 12 guys on there. We'll have to be judicious with how much we do substitution-wise, and if we're going to do it we're going to have to do it very quickly. We did it last time we played against them but we have to be ready to play with the people we have out there on second down and be ready to play with them on third down. We understood that going in and that's how we'll have to go into this game thinking as well.
Q: Are you comfortable with the league's stance on artificial crowd noise?
A: Yes, I am.
Q: As a guy with three teenage daughters, can you imagine what Tony went through a few weeks ago and do you think football might help him get through this?
A: Well, to sit here and speculate on something like that … everyone's heart in America went out to Tony and Lauren. I knew Tony and his kids when I was with him in Kansas City. I've not had a chance to talk to him personally. I will have a chance to do so before the game. I think we all understand and respect … no one has handled it more inspirationally than Tony and his wife. That's the unfortunate part of our profession is that we live in a fishbowl and we have to experience that with the rest of America. Sometimes those are things you'd just like to share with those you are very close to, but as Tony has found out he's very close to a lot of us. He's a very special guy. My heart and prayers have always gone out to him and Lauren and their family. They'll get through it. Tony's a strong guy.
Q: You scored seven points against them last time.
A: Thanks for reminding me, but please don't stop now.
Q: And there was a short field when you scored the touchdown.
A: Another great point.
Q: What happened?
A: Yes, we did not play very well against them offensively. There's no question we have to play better.
Q: When you look at the job Ike Taylor did in three games against Chad Johnson, how key was that?
A: Ike has played well. He took that challenge on about mid-season when we started putting him on guys because of his ability to match up size-size and athletically, and he's taken that as a challenge. He goes out there to practice every day looking to get better every day. He's taken a big step this year. Now he's got a chance to come back and look to play a little bit better than he did last week and I think he will. This will be a big one. I know every time you see a preview of this game, all they show is that first play over and over again, so he's going to live with that and we don't have to say much about that anymore. But he's a good football player, and he's learned and grown tremendously this year. The strides he's taken from the beginning of the season to where he is now is something he will build on. The best I think is still ahead of him.
Q: What's your defensive game plan?
A: You've got to be careful, but of all the weapons that they have Edgerrin James is the one guy. He makes some unbelievable runs. We had him pinned a couple times in the first game and the next thing you look up and he's gained one yard or two yards. He is a very strong runner, great body lean, is always falling forward. There's no one part of their team you can look to stop and therefore stop them; there are too many of them. You have to take a cat-and-mouse approach to them and try to get them to third downs and get off the field and limit the big plays. If we can do that and try to move the ball offensively and try to keep the ball out of their hands, I think that's the best approach you can try to take against them. It's not been too successful by many people, but that's what we're going to try to do.
Q: Wasn't that San Diego's strategy? To contain James?
A: It was. And they were able to get some pressure on Peyton. They got him a little out of sync. And then at the same time they threw the ball and got a couple big plays. Even the big run at the end of the game after Indy came back was a big play. It's going to be one of those games where we have to play our best football, and we'll have to do it for 60 minutes. It's not going to be a game that'll be decided in the first three quarters.
Q: You had said you have to disguise up until the last few seconds against Manning. Were you having some success with that in the second quarter?
A: There's nothing you're going to show him that he hasn't seen. What he's seeing, everybody's tried at some point, some way. So you've got to be patient with what you show them. And at the same time you can't jeopardize what your responsibilities are.
Q: What made Ken Whisenhunt stand out to you when you hired him?
A: Well Kenny was here. Kenny had earned the opportunity in-house. He had been around coaching the tight ends and I was very impressed with that. There's a lot to be said when you can hire within.