Answer Man

The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to take off for the Rocky Mountains and play the Denver Broncos in the NFL semifinals. The Answer Man thinks the time is now for Bill Cowher.

JW: Is this one it for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

AM: You know, I thought every one was it, honestly. The only reason that I would have doubts about this is because I felt good about the other ones when we lost, so you just kind of start questioning your own feelings about it. But it's just a little different this time. It's looser and in a lot of ways it seems like just another game. With the stuff that's going on here, with the exception of the national media and everything, but in terms of just the office it's really not a lot different than it was the week before we went to Minnesota.

JW: The apprehensions you're having about disappointments in the past and not trusting your instincts on this game, do you think the players feel same way?

AM: No, I don't because they're different people than me and you. Their whole life is competition. I just think that for players and coaches to have gotten to this level, they have to have a different perspective on those things than normal people.

JW: The other interesting statement you made concerns the normalcy over there on the South Side. I sense the same thing. To what do you attribute that?

AM: Two things, and I don't know in which order, but No. 1, it's on the road for the first time so it's not like this is any kind of destination or we're building to a game that's here. The other thing is I think the head coach is loose and everyone kind of takes the cue from him. He's loose. He was loose last week. You know, in looking at his calls in the game against the Colts, he went for it twice on fourth down, same drive, and there were delays that gave him a chance to get conservative.

JW: So there was time for him to think twice and choke?

AM: That's your word, not mine. No, but he had a chance to go back and play it conservative and he chose not to. That's kind of filtering through.

JW: How do you stop Denver?

AM: I'm not worried about stopping Denver. I think that it's going to be a physical butt-kicking by the Steelers' defensive line and the Broncos' offensive line. Those guys shield block and that kind of stuff. Casey Hampton kicked Tom Nalen's (butt) for four quarters in 2003 and I don't know what's different except maybe Casey Hampton is a little bit better and Tom Nalen is a little bit older. I think it's going to start there, and once the Broncos can't run, which I don't expect they're going to be able to, certainly not to the degree that they are accustomed to, then Jake Plummer to me is Vinny Testaverde. I mean, he'll throw it to you. He's not this year, but he isn't this year because they did such a good job running the ball and then he used play-action. Now, I don't know what happens to Jake when the run isn't there anymore. So my thing is: I think Denver's defense is the more formidable of the two units and I just think that the Steelers are going to need to be patient because I don't expect touchdowns on two of the first three possessions like they did against Indianapolis.

JW: Any match-ups you like with the Steelers' offense?

AM: One of the keys for the Broncos' defense has been their line, and in the Steelers' favor is those are all ex-Cleveland Browns. I mean, Gerard Warren is not going to surprise Alan Faneca. (Ebenezer) Ekuban and Courtney Browns, I mean, the Steelers haven't played the Broncos but in terms of offensive linemen versus defensive linemen those guys have some familiarity. I think that will help. You know, the Broncos' linebackers are fast, athletic, kind of like the Colts, and Champ Bailey is a big-time player, so again, I think Denver's defense is much more formidable than the Colts' defense. But I mean as an overall team, they just don't scare me like the Colts did.

JW: So if you weren't a fan of either side, I take it you'd pick the Steelers to win this game?

AM: No, if I wasn't a fan of either side I would probably take the Broncos because they're the home team and they're 9-0 at home and 12-2 at home in playoff games. I think a lot of the superficial fan things favor the Broncos. But, I don't know, there's something about this team. I thought it was special last year, and to do what it did it had to be, but I just think this is a very, very good team and the last time these two coaches played for the trophy, it was Kordell in a Steeler uniform. This time Mike Shanahan does not have the better quarterback.

JW: Do you even imagine what the offices will be like after a loss Monday?

AM: I know what the offices are like after a loss in this game. I mean, I've been through every one of them. The first one is always the worst. I'll never trivialize death, but, I mean, it's close. But again, unfortunately, I have some experience.

JW: And yet with all that experience you have, you're still confident. Doesn't that say something?

AM: Right, but like I said the experience also dulls the confidence. I mean, San Diego, New England the first time, even the Denver game in '97 the Steelers kicked their butts three weeks before. I just think that this staff has as much chemistry as the team, and the head coach has done a hell of a job.

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