The Answer Man

The Answer Man still harbors some bitterness about the way the last game ended, not to mention the way some of the recent drafts have ended. One player in particular would've helped the Steelers this Sunday against San Diego.

Q: Bill Cowher said he'd have preferred a bye in week seven or eight, but I believe this early bye was necessary since the passing game is so rusty and the Steelers really have only one back. Do you agree?

A: A lot of times you can't tell until after it's over. If they come out sharp, then maybe it helped them. I don't really know. I don't have an opinion.

Q: So you believe they could've righted this ship without resetting?

A: Yeah. See, to me, this game against San Diego could've been like the Chicago game last year – make you get back to who you are: run the ball, play defense. You're not going to be in a situation where you're not going to have to score a lot of points. You have to be efficient, and I don't think there would be any need to throw play-action passes to the tight end on first-and-goal at the six against a team that hasn't stopped a running game in the last 20 years, didn't stop it in that game, didn't stop it against the Patriots and won't ever be able to stop it, but, hey, let's try something different because we got a tight end in the first round and we've got to use him.

Q: A little bitter still are we?

A: Yes. I thought that was an incredibly foolish chance to take. The Bengals are only good when the ball is in the air only on defense. I think they lead the NFL in takeaways again. They led the NFL in takeaways last year. I just don't understand why you want to try something different instead of what just worked on the previous possession when Willie Parker went in standing up. First down? That is something I will never understand.

Q: Don't the Patriots have something like four first-round tight ends?

A: Yes, and they had four rushing touchdowns against the Bengals. And they have Tom Brady.

Q: It looks like the Patriots are still alive and kicking, doesn't it?

A: They're still going to be a team that must be dealt with. Maybe they're changing a little bit by running the ball a little more. Maybe he's changing the offensive focus.

Q: Isn't that to fit his talent?

A: But some of that has been self-inflicted. They had talent at receiver and chose to let it go. We'll see if they're making good moves or bad moves. I think the situation in the secondary you can attribute more to what has happened to them with injuries and stuff like that.

Q: We could talk about New England all day; they're that interesting. But they apparently don't need corners.

A: Or good ones. Chad Scott had his hands on the ball more last week against Cincinnati than he did his whole last season here. Belichick seems able to create situations in coverage that befuddle good quarterbacks. Carson Palmer looked very ordinary on Sunday.

Q: Jake the Snake owns him though.

A: Figure that out. Figure that out. Denver, as soft as they are, beats them all the time, but New England just tortures us.

Q: New England does have two backs. San Diego has two backs. Pittsburgh wants to pound the ball but doesn't have two backs. Can the Pittsburgh Steelers do what you said they did against the Bears last year? Can they get back to the basics with only one back?

A: It just seems that time is not clearing this issue up. Now Davenport's injured. I don't know how bad the injury is. But, yeah, somebody has to be found because you're going to need three tailbacks on game day and they all have to be able to contribute something. Verron is a third-down back. If you add carries onto him – tough, fourth-quarter carries – he's not that big of a person. You need three guys. I don't think you can pin it on him to do this, this and this just because we don't have anybody who can do this one thing. You've got find somebody out there.

Q: Davenport was a risk. You knew that going in, didn't you?

A: He was the best option at that point, to me. You've got to do what San Diego did. In the fifth round in 2004, they had LaDainian Tomlinson, but they spent it on a guy named Michael Turner, who's a pretty good running back.

Q: This team had a shot at him?

A: Yes, and they picked Nathaniel Adibi instead. Need I say anything more?

Q: Yes. What's the dirt behind that? Didn't Cowher have to have Adibi?

A: It doesn't matter if Bill Cowher wanted someone else. The system is set up in such a way that there is an ability to come to a consensus on a different guy. Votes are swayed everyday in Congress and in the Senate. Change the vote. Be compelling. If he said: ‘No. I don't want the guy.' Is that it? So I don't absolve anyone who was in that room that day of that mistake. They're all part of it.

Q: It was only a fifth-round pick. Why put up a fight for a fifth-round pick?

A: That's the problem. On the second day of the draft, you can't pick for need. The first two picks that day were Reggie Torbor and Shaun Phillips and there were no back-up outside linebackers then. James Harrison was still a memory. The 2004 draft will go down in history as the one that brought Ben Roethlisberger, and I'm standing at the front of the line applauding that, but you also gave up your No. 4 for Ricardo Colclough. If you stayed where you were in the second round, you could've picked Greg Jones. But on the second day you start with no No. 4 and the day starts out with those two linebackers gone and you have two starters and Alonzo Jackson at outside linebacker. That's it. So, I can see that there's a real temptation to reach. But, understanding the process doesn't make it right. What you end up doing is missing on a guy like Michael Turner. How nice would he be behind Willie Parker right now? Instead, you pick someone you cut before training camp ended. But, again, you can't say that they can't win with that type of talent evaluation because, well, they did. I just think the problem we're having right now at that spot, with Willie Parker's complement, is a direct result of not paying enough attention to the running back position in the previous few drafts.

Q: Don't you think they squandered a lot of picks this past draft?

A: I don't know. If Santonio Holmes becomes a player, and with Willie Reid and Anthony Smith you could have three top guys, difference makers, on your team out of a draft. Now, does that make it a dud? I don't think you can say that. I would just like to see them stick with the program because that's the way you get Michael Turner, you get Brett Keisel, you get, you know, some of those kind of guys we've been able to get late instead of Bo Lacy and Drew Caylor and Adibi and Kranchick.

Q: And Charlie Davis.

A: Maybe there are too many guys in that room in love with the concept of what someone can do for the passing game. My point is you've got one of those in Heath Miller and you don't need two. We don't do that [expletive] here.

Q: So you're saying you might want to pass on the fancy tight end next time and go with what you know, like defensive linemen.

A: A guy like Keisel you might get once every four years. They've done a great job with defensive linemen here. Picking developmental defensive linemen and then teaching them works.

Q: There's a good position coach there.

A: Right. And he doesn't want to be anything else.

Q: Wouldn't you like to give him some real talent?

A: Casey Hampton is a unique individual who plays a very important and unique position. Nose tackle in a 3-4, the way this team uses it, that's something you'd want to drop a No. 1 on, and you've got to be sure of what you're getting. But I don't know if most top guys will buy into what you're selling here. That's a lot of heavy lifting.

Q: Well, we're talking about the strength of the team right now. Back to the 2004 draft, what's the background on Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers? Which one did they want?

A: There was a lot of sentiment for Roethlisberger. The feeling was that Maddox was okay so there wasn't a need for a guy to come in and play now. Roethlisberger had the most dynamic physical skills of the three quarterbacks and he was judged to be the least ready to play. That shows you what all of those teams know, which is nothing. But Manning was out of reach, so there wasn't serious thought about him. On draft day they were just hoping to have a chance at one.

Q: Is there a chance Roethlisberger's already peaked?

A: No. You can't make a third-year guy a ninth-year guy. He's not. And if you try and accelerate it too much you get yourself in trouble. Ben wanting to open up the offense and Ben wanting to do more stuff and Ben wanting whatever Ben wants, hey, he's 24 years old. You have to resist treating him more than what he is, and that to me is when you're giving him too many things to read or think about. He has tremendous strengths and he can carry teams through playoffs. I think he's a great player, but he's not one of those film rats. He's more of a player. So, don't turn him into a robot -- first-and-goal at the six, look for this, this and this, and if it's not there throw it away. No, turn and hand the ball to Parker and get out of the way. That's what I'm saying. Sometimes you have to tell the kids no.

Q: Any other weaknesses? It seems to me that the line's fine and the defense is playing well.

A: The defense played well enough to be 3-0. The thing about the line I liked is that after one bad game they bounced back and really kicked some natural ass. Kendall Simmons was very good on the smartest defensive lineman who ever played in Sam Adams (laughs).

Q: Did I write that?

A: No, you quoted their defensive line coach.

Q: Anything else bugging you besides Jay Hays? Are you down on the wide receivers, too?

A: I think you've got to have Willie Reid in uniform. I think five safeties now are too many. But let's pretend we're only going to activate four receivers and Morey on game day. Based on that, maybe Nate has to sit for dropping the pass in the end zone. I mean, points have to be made here. We're not playing around anymore. That pass, he should've caught that pass. There's no reason he shouldn't have caught that pass, but I'm going to say the same thing about Santonio Holmes now. He hasn't shown me enough to make me say, man, I've got to give him a jersey on game day. So Willie Reid has to be up. If it would be Nate Washington down for a week or two, maybe that's what he needs at this point. I'm not saying his head isn't in it or anything like that, but points have to be made and plays have to be made.

Q: How's Reid doing at receiver?

A: I have no idea, but he does a lot of extra work though.

Q: Can this team, a team that runs the ball but only has one runner, can this team do what you want them to do this week against a stout front seven? And, can they do it the rest of the way? Can they win with a one-back attack?

A: No. They've got to find somebody else and I don't know that that guy isn't on this roster, but they've got to figure out who it is. If it's Duce it's Duce. I don't know what Duce's problem is. I don't think that he's done. He might not be what he was, and he might not be Jerome – and what Jerome was at the end of his career, people are going to start to appreciate that more in the years that he is now gone because he was still a force in his own way on the field – but you've got to find somebody else and get him some carries. It doesn't have to be Jerome's type of plays. The second guy could get 12 to 15 carries over the course of the game on a fairly consistent basis, but it doesn't have to be like Jerome where you took the lead and he came out to close the game out. You can get the same thing accomplished but maybe you put the guy in earlier and Willie Parker helps you grind the clock at the end.


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