Bill Cowher held his weekly press conference Tuesday to address the media about the Pittsburgh Steelers latest loss at Atlanta and their upcoming game at Oakland. Here's what he had to say:
Opening statement: OK. Let me give you the injury situation going into the game here at Oakland. We've got two players who are definitely out, that's James Harrison with his ankle and Mike Logan with a hamstring. One player is doubtful, that's Willie Reid with his foot. And then we have five players that are questionable, first of which is Ben (Roethlisberger). Let me give you an update of his situation. He had an MRI done on his brain and neck. Both of those game back normal. We also did the impact test, the concussion test. We're very encouraged by the results. We'll monitor his progress as the week goes on. Again, I emphasize that we're very encouraged by where he's at as we speak today. But he will be questionable for this game. Cedrick Wilson is also questionable with the groin. Clark Haggans is questionable with an ankle. Joey Porter is questionable with his hamstring. And Casey Hampton is questionable, also with a hamstring. We have three players who are probable: Tyrone Carter with his shoulder; Santonio (Holmes) with a toe; and Danny Kreider with an ankle. That's are status going in. Let me just say as I talk about the game with Atlanta, certainly it was a very frustrating loss. We could have won and we just didn't make the plays when we had to. I don't think it will serve any purpose to go back and talk about any of the calls in the game. I've talked to the league yesterday and we'll just leave it at that. It was a game with a lot of ebb and flow. There were opportunities for us to make some plays. Give credit to Atlanta because they were the ones who made them at critical times in the game. As we sit here at 2-4, obviously it's not where we wanted to be or envisioned ourselves being, but it's important that we do a better job of coaches as stressing the detail and the little things. And do a better job of players of sustaining that focus throughout the game. I think when you look at the games this season, it's been a tale of two halves. The most telling stat is the turnover takeaway ratio. You look down through the league, if you lose that category, you're not going to win many games. You look at us in the first half of this season, we're plus three. In the second half of this season, we're minus four. We have 14 turnovers in six games. There are only four teams that have more than that. The thing about that is those 14 turnovers, 11 of them have come in the second half. Those are very hard to overcome. Like I said, you look at the two wins, in the second half, we're on the plus side. In those four losses, in the second half we're on the minus side. To me, you can look at everything else, there's a lot of things that lead to that, it's the attention to detail and being able to close a game out. We've put ourselves in that position, I don't want to lose sight of that because we're doing some good things to put ourselves in those positions. But we aren't doing what it takes for 60 minutes or longer that necessitates what you have to do to win football games and it's that simple.
Ben had a concussion?
Yes, he was diagnosed with a concussion.
Can you categorize it as mild?
I'm not in a position to categorize it. I don't want to sound like a doctor and get my words misinterpreted. I can just say to you that we're taking every precaution. He took the test and will take the test again later in the week to make sure he is cleared medically before we would subject him to playing. But we are encouraged by where he was yesterday and how he felt today. But again, it's too early to make a final decision on that. We will definitely do so by taking all necessary precautions to make sure he is cleared.
Will he practice?
We'll see how he feels tomorrow.
Did the league review that hit or do you have to ask them to?
Most of the time they monitor all hits to the quarterback, not that we haven't turned it in. We turn in a number of plays every week. I don't think there's any question that will be reviewed.
Another question, with about two minutes to go, they threw a pass to Michael Jenkins and he ran out of bounds and the clock kept running down to the two-minute warning. Why didn't the clock stop in that situation.
I can't recall. Give me the situation again.
With 2:23 remaining, they threw an out to Michael Jenkins. It was an 8-yard gain or something. You probably lost 10 seconds or so. When that play started it was 2:23 and it ran down to the two-minute warning.
I can't recall the situation to be honest with you. If you run out of bounds in the final five minutes, the clock will not start until you snap the ball.
How about before you called the timeout before (Michael) Koenen's miss. Did they put the right amount of time back on the clock?
Yes. They put it back to 35.
Is there anything you would have done differently looking back with the timeouts?
No, not really. There are always calls you want to come back, but the utilization of timeouts? No. You could say maybe keep the second one after the first one. And then after the second one, I called it again. I was really glad when I saw them bringing Morten (Andersen) back on. I was really glad I called it because I thought he was out of his range for sure.
You were a special teams coach, does that work, icing the kicker?
It did this time. I don't know. We probably cut it a little close. But I think that's the best effect.
You've always bee aggressive mostly at the end of the half. You guys got the ball back 47 seconds with all of your timeouts. Were just happy to take the lead into the locker room at that point?
Yeah. We got out of that situation with that interception. I just felt that we got out of that with the lead, we got out of that half pretty good considering how that just ended and I thought the momentum was on our side.
One thing you said wouldn't happen again happened.
I guess you should never say never. It was addressed.
You addressed it last time too, right?
Was that more upsetting than disappointing?
Is there anything you can do?
I've addressed it, I'll just leave it at that.
Is this as frustrating a season you've had since you've been coaching?
Challenging. Frustration is an emotion you can control. This is challenging.
Have you played with or coached players with recurring concussions and how serious can that be?
I leave that up to the medical people. I don't take those things lightly and I don't think anybody should. I think as coaches, we have to know where our boundaries end. We have to leave that up to the people who are professionals. That's their background. We've got as good of people as there are in the National Football League in terms of the people we have working with that, so I certainly don't take that lightly at all. I leave that up to our medical people and if they're not cleared, they're not going to play.
Did he want to return Sunday?
No, there was never any question of him returning. He was on that sideline in street clothes. That was never a question.
The turnovers in the second half, are they physical mistakes or focus issues?
I don't know. That's hard to speculate on. That's being judgmental. They are what they are. It's happening. Those are things we just have to do a better job of. We had a center-quarterback exchange this week which we haven't had one of those in two years. What's to explain that? I don't know. We had a base running play called and we let a guy come running in free to the backfield and Willie (Parker) fumbles on that play. We're just doing things where we're having to overcome ourselves. It's hard enough to beat teams that are good football teams. You look at the three teams we've lost to on the road and they are a combined won-loss of one loss between three teams (at home). They're good football teams. At the same time, we've put ourselves in some positions with all three of those games we've been even or ahead at halftime. We've just not been able to close them out. We've not been able to do the things in the second half to finish games. We've got to do a better job of that. Whether it's a focus, physical or mental, the mind controls the body so interpret it as such.
The Warrick Dunn touchdown, you challenged that. What did you see? It was third down and if you stop them there, you hold them to a field goal?
That was the total thinking. If it's first or second down I wouldn't challenge it. But on third down, it was a gut feel. I knew the timeouts would be important, but I had to weigh that with a potential four-point swing. I think if it's fourth down they kick a field goal. That's the risk I took. I know they are important in the second half, I wasn't thinking I had a freebie from that standpoint. I knew that timeouts would be important the way that game was going. But it was a third down. It seemed like he went down well before the goal line. But there was nothing conclusive they could see when they went over there. So it was more of a gut thing that I did and that was the thinking behind it.
Do you pretty much rely on what they tell you upstairs?
Most of the time I rely on what they see from upstairs because most of the time what they see is what that official is going to be looking at. They did an excellent job in that stadium of showing absolutely nothing for a long period of time. Kudos to them as I'm sure our people will do at Heinz Field. I really just had to go on what I thought, the potential of a four-point swing.
What did you make later on of the call against Nate (Washington)?
I'd rather not get into that. It was made. We should never have put them in that situation, but they made the call and let's leave it at that.
You did some rotating at right guard going into the game, where does that stand going into this game?
We'll see how it goes. Both of those guys played well and I haven't made a clear-cut decision at this point.
Was that because of Kendall (Simmons) injury or because you wanted to get Chris (Kemoeatu) into the game?
A little of both.
Is there anything Chris can't do now that Kendall can or is it experience?
No, they're two different players. But they're both good players. Obviously Chris is a bigger guy and Kendall can get to the second level quicker than Chris can. They both have strengths where one's a little stronger than the other guy, but they're both good players.
How about Deshea (Townsend) at right corner?
We'll see. I thought Bryant (McFadden) did OK, but we'll see how that goes this week.
Ben has played well the past two games. Have you talked with him about that from the games prior to the Kansas City game (what?)?
Obviously we've been throwing the ball very well and not turning it over. I think that's a big thing. We've cut down on the interceptions, but we've got to cut down on the fumbles. That's the other thing. There's two parts to those turnovers. He's looked very comfortable and the receivers have done a good job running crisp routes. I see us throwing the ball before a guy gets out of a break. And that's when I know we're starting to get our timing back. That's been a carryover from practices, they've gotten better from that standpoint. He's played well and our offense has played well the last couple of weeks. If we can eliminate a couple of those – we had three of them counting the fumbled punt – inside the 25-yard line. That's hard to overcome. We've got to hold them to field goals. But we can't turn the ball over that deep. But I was very encouraged by Ben and Charlie (Batch) when he came in, throwing the football. We've been very crisp the last couple of weeks.
Does this signal you going more to the pass?
I don't think so. I think you've got to have balance. As long as we can continue to make the kind of decisions we've made and not turn over the football, throwing the ball effectively and making good decisions, to me that's an added plus. You know that people start dropping eight guys down in there and we have the ability to throw the ball down the field and make some plays, there's nothing wrong with doing that. I've always been a big proponent of balance and not trying to force-feed things. And still knowing that we have the ability to go and run the clock and be able to do that, have that mindset at well, to run the ball. Again, it's about balance and having confidence to do both.
Did they jam the line of scrimmage more than anybody this year and was that why you had so much success throwing the ball?
That's how they play. I don't know if it was more against us. Certainly they did present us with a lot of eight-man fronts. The safeties were up there a lot which led us to throw the ball more on first and second down. They had shown that. Once they got the lead, they went back to more of a two-shell. It's a little bit of cat and mouse. We've still got to be able to run the ball against the eight-man front. It's not different than what we've faced in the past. We were able to throw the ball efficiently and with success, so we stayed with it.
Did they use Alge Crumpler any differently?
No, he's a big part of their offense. Michael (Vick) made some plays in the pocket, he made some plays out of the pocket. I give a lot of credit to him. The two third downs he made, the one at the end of regulation and the one in overtime were two big plays. We had him sacked, I thought, and he shoveled the pass off to the running back. And the other one, we had a guy free in the backfield on him and weren't able to get him down. And he started running the ball a little more in that overtime that first drive and the last drive of regulation. He's a good quarterback and he made some plays. We wanted to make him beat us throwing and to a certain degree he was able to do that.
Are the Raiders more dangerous now that they've won a game, they've finally got that monkey off their back?
Yeah, you watch them play and they've been in a lot of games. Their defense has played well. Their defense is fifth in the league overall. That's pretty good for a team that's 1-5. They're No. 1 against the pass. Derrick Burgess is very good as a pass rusher. Offensively, Andrew Walter has come in and given them some stability at quarterback. Randy Moss has shown up the past couple of weeks. Between (Lamont) Jordan and (Justin) Fargas, they've got a pretty good one-two combination running the ball. And like I said, they've been in a lot of these games. When you get that first win, there's some confidence instilled. Certainly going out there and playing on the road, they're going to feel good about themselves and they should.
What's it like in the Black Hole?
It's been a while since we've been there. It was probably more at the Coliseum more than the Black Hole in my years in the league. I don't recall it that much. I'm sure it's going to be loud. This rivalry goes back many years between Pittsburgh and Oakland. It's going to be another challenge, kind of like it was last week. It was a playoff atmosphere and I'm sure it will be for this game.
You kick coverage struggled in the last couple of games.
They struggled in the first half, I thought they did better in the second half. You're right, early in the game they did some things that we were not fitting properly in our coverage. We were able to do some things and talk some things through and I was very encouraged with the last three kickoffs that we covered. It was much better. I think if you look at that, it was much improved. But obviously, we've got to be able to do that from the beginning, not wait to have a couple that get to the 50 before we make those adjustments.
Those fake reverses, did that mess up your lanes?
No, I think everyone just has to be disciplined in what they are doing.
Santonio does such a good job of catching everything that's thrown at him. And yet he's had these three fumbles or muffs on punts. Is that surprising?
Yeah. He's got to put the ball away. That's just the bottom line. He said he didn't see the guy. That's an unacceptable answer. In this league, you're not going to see everybody. You've got to keep it high and tight. He's learning. It's a transition. The kid is learning and he gives you everything he's got. I'm comfortable with Santonio. He's getting better every week. He's learning every week and he'll be fine.
After turnovers, do you expect the other team to try to get in the end zone immediately?
I think there were three third downs they converted on those before the touchdowns. I think on first downs we were pretty good when they went for it. It was third down. It's something where they beat the call at times and we didn't execute at times, a little bit of both. I give credit to Atlanta and we've got to do a better job of holding them to field goals.
If there's an identity, it's not a good one right now. I would not identify a bad identity, I would hope that would change. I see signs. In all honesty, I look at us, at times we've run the ball well. We haven't had a lot of penalties, per say. Some of the penalties we've had have not been penalties of focus. The judgment has been pretty good for the most part. We've thrown the ball in the past couple of weeks, we're heading in the right direction there. On defense, we've probably had more three and outs. That's the thing that's frustrating as you watch us at times, we look almost like you can't do anything against us. We gave up five plays of 20 yards or more in the second half. They had one in the first half. It seems like right now, we're just not complimenting each other. Against Kansas City, everything was clicking. But every Sunday not everything is going to be clicking. When the offense is not doing well, the defense has to pick them up. And when the defense is not doing well, the offense has to pick them up. At some point in that game you have to compliment each other with a big stop or a big drive and be able to respond at those critical times. Right now, we can't get a back-to-back response from the offense, the defense or the kicking game to get us over the hump. We're in these games. There's three or four plays that could have us sitting here right now at 4-2, but we're not. We're not making those plays. We've got to continue to get back up. The worst thing you could do right now is to try to do some kind of overhaul or try to overanalyze the facts. We've got to change that. We've got to keep getting back up. I'm not going to allow them to change how we approach these games or alter the mindset going into these games. We've just got to finish these games. That's the thing we've got to do, keep putting ourselves in the situation so we can finish. And once you finish one, hopefully you can build off of that. I think that's the thing right now that we are not doing that we need to find a way to do.
(Bill, Ellis here with a really stupid statement since I haven't gotten enough face time) If the mindset is where you want it to be, then it must be a physical breakdown leading to the turnovers.
Yes. And your point is? I understand what you're saying and I agree with what you're saying. At some point you have to sustain that focus and you can't get caught up the first time that there is a three-and-out, the first time that there is a turnover. It does happen. We've got to find a way to overcome that. We got that thing into overtime the other day and we just couldn't get off the field on third down. If you can stop them on the third down and you get the ball back to our offense, who knows? A lot of stuff that we're talking about today are things that, ‘OK, we won, but we can still do a better job of this.' You lose and every situation you look at, could it have been differently? In a game like that, every little play could have an impact on the outcome and some of them did. We've got to be able to play smarter in the second half and we've got to be able to make a play. We can't have too many guys try to do too much, try to take the game into their own hands, trusting the system and trusting that we have good enough players, that somewhere along the line, the opportunity will come. Sometimes I think we try to do too much. We may be our own worst enemy in trying to do that.
If Joey and Clark can't go this week, who would be the next to step up?
If Joey and Clark and James can't go, who's next up? Chad (Brown) and Arnold (Harrison) with Rian Wallace backing them up. Unlimited depth.