Bill Cowher press conference, Nov. 14

Bill Cowher held his weekly press conference Tuesday to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers win over New Orleans and preview the team's upcoming game at Cleveland. (UPDATED)

Bill Cowher, head coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

Opening statement: Let me give you the injury update. One player is out, that's Willie Reid. It's a mid-foot and he is getting better but he will not play this week. One player is doubtful, that's James Harrison with his ankle. Again, he will do a little more this week and we'll see where he is by the end. We have five players who are questionable: Jeff Hartings with his knee; Danny Kreider with his hip; Deshea Townsend with the ankle; Clint Kreiwaldt with his back; and Troy (Polamalu) with his concussion. With Troy, he'll do some testing again tomorrow. He feels better. This will be a test to make sure he stays asypmtomatic as it relates to the game on Sunday. It will be a situation where he'll have to get cleared by the doctors before we make any decisions about his availability on Sunday. We have two players that are probable: Sean Morey with his toe; and Chukky Okobi with a calf. Certainly we talked about the game last week. There were a lot of positives. We played a good football team that was 6-2. We jumped out to the lead and kind of got behind, but it was good to see us respond and close out a game. It was very reassuring. We're going to play a Cleveland team that, quite frankly, there has been some reference by them to last year. As I look at this team there are a lot of new faces that weren't even on this team last year. Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards are the two top picks the last couple of years and both of those players were not even playing. You can see what kind of addition that they've given them. They pick up a (Joe) Jurevicious in the offseason. On the defensive side they picked up Ted Washington on the nose, which is something every 3-4 defense needs. The two outside guys are new in (Willie) McGinest and Kamerion Wimbley. Again, when you look at this year's team as opposed to last year's team, there are a lot of new faces. As I've been watching them, they've been in a lot of close games, as we have too. It certainly was an impressive win last week against Atlanta. Certainly we recognize the stakes and we are looking forward to the challenge of going up to Cleveland.

Coaches often say that there's something about practicing after a win that makes things easier. (Is there a question here?)

Yeah. There's no question it's a lot better mood after you win. But we have to start stringing some things together, there's no margin of error.

The hits Deshea and Ty (Carter) took to the heads, obviously they've been cleared?

Yeah, they're OK.

Do you ever remember where five of your last seven games were in your division? It's kind of an unusual schedule.

Yeah. We played Cincinnati real early and that was the last division game we had and now we're kind of finishing up. A lot of things that are controllable to some degree are in your hands. We saw the schedule come out that was one of the first things I noticed.

Is there an advantage to that?

I don't know. To a large extent you are where you are right now and the teams that are in front of you, you're playing them. That's a good thing.

(Stop, Ellis time) There's less travel in the second half as well.

The first part of the season, there's no question, there was never a routine to get into. It was Thursday to Monday to West Coast. The last two home games have been 4 o'clock games. We do have a Thursday game coming up, but the rest of the games are 1 o'clock games, barring any changes. There's a lot to be said for routine. I think the fact that outside of that Thursday game we're back to Sunday games is a good thing.

In general, how did the replacements in the secondary play?

You know what? They got some valuable experience, I said that after the game. You look at the second half, they had six possessions in the second half and five of those, we got off the field. They had two fumbles, two punts, a missed field goal and a touchdown. You look at the touchdown, it was one of the strangest plays I've seen. It was a pass, actually. I don't know if anyone ever knew that. It was a pass play. I never saw a quarterback do that and just walk off the field as if it was by design. Drew (Brees) is a cool customer, but that was a pretty good job of acting there. I thought they did a good job given the circumstances with some of the adjustments we had to make at halftime. We held them to seven points on that one play. I thought we did a good job in the second half.

Where is Willie (Parker) most improved as a running back this year to last and where does he have the most improvement to go?

I just think as a running back, his ability to run inside, his patience as a running back. And those things will still get better. He's still a young back. The more you run a play, the better feel you have. You can run the same play and it can unfold three or four different ways. It's never the same cut. You have a certain design, but depending on where the defense sits, it can force you to take a different cut or a bounce. He's getting very, very patient, but when he sees it, he's hitting it. That's the fine line is being patient but once you see it to hit it. I just think he'll get better as he runs the same offense some of the same plays, it will enable him to see things quicker. He's just improving with time. He's catching the football better that I've ever seen him catch it. I think that's a confidence thing. He's always been a tough guy who will block. He's a complete player.

Are you surprised when he does get caught from behind?

Those guys had angles on him. If they're going to catch him from behind at the 5-yard line or 10-yard line, I'll take it every time. Some of those guys do have angles. I just know that he gets around the corner as good as a lot of people in this league. And he can run with power in conjuction with that. That's the thing that I like about Willie Parker. He's a little bit of both. He's a great kid. He'll be back in there and continue not to get caught up in it and go out and prove himself every week. That's the one thing about Willie Parker, he's a down to earth, hard-working guy. You know what you're going to get every Sunday.

Is there a stat you can use to quantify a running back. Jerome Bettis would get four yards every time. He'll hit for 75. I'm sure you hear fans say, yeah, there's the 75-yarder, but he's 10 for 26 besides that?

You just have to know what you're getting. Willie's a guy if you get that one play that's blocked perfectly, he's got a chance to take it farther than a bigger back. At the same time, there's a lot to be said for bigger backs. That's why it's kind of nice to have that complimentary guy like Najeh (Davenport) who can maybe move a pile when there's 10 guys in there and those seams are not going to be quite as big and you're going to have to use your weight to move that pile forward and make a three-yard run a five-yard run, and make a one-yard run a three-yard run. All of a sudden you're down to third-and-one, not third-and-five. They're different styles, but I don't think that there's any one you want to pick. It's nice to have both.

Has that changed in the last few years? It seemed like the little back used to be the change of pace who came into the game for the big back. Now it's opposite.

I'll tell you what you're seeing, I think you're seeing more than one back. It's hard to have one back last in this league for 16 weeks. Is it good to have the two guys who can compliment each other? Yeah. But I think if you have two quality backs, I think you'll find that's what a lot of teams are going to. Look at San Diego, with who they have behind (LaDainian) Tomlinson. Even when you go down to Atlanta, the kid (Jerrious) Norwood is a good compliment to Warrick Dunn. Now that the other kid is out, Warrick has to carry it even more. It can wear you down. That's the one thing, even people with one back realize that you need two, particularly if you want to take that kind of approach.

(Forgetting that Parker just had the second most productive day in team history) Is it tough to get Najeh carries even on first and second downs?

No it's not hard. At what expense do you want to take Willie out of the game. You just have to monitor that and try to get him some touches. I thought he did a real good job on third down the other day and he was real close to breaking that screen. It might have been a touchdown. The guy did, Charles Grant, made a great play. If he doesn't trip him up, he's gone. He did a nice job on third downs, particularly in protection and all the things we've asked him to do.

There aren't too many 250-pound kick returners. What makes him so effective in doing it?

He's got a good body lean. He's got good balance. I remember the one kickoff we had – the weather is getting to the point now where you're not going to have deep kicks – I know he caught that one and he was running as fast as he could run and he caught it on the 20. I just know that if I was on the kickoff coverage team and to see him coming at me, I'm not so sure, even if I wasn't blocked, that would be an inviting sight. He kept on running and got to the 33 or 34-yard line. He's a big guy and he's got deceiving speed. He's a tough guy. A physical player and he'll do whatever you ask him to do, whether it be returning kicks, covering kicks, play third downs and block or carrying the football. He's been a great addition to this team.

(Stop, Ellis time with a really ridiculous question). How important is it to get positive yards, period?

It's big for third downs. It's easier to convert third-and-five rather than third-and-nine or 10. That's where it shows up, particularly in the running game. You'd like to think on every running play that you'd be able to get two or three yards. You don't worry about the blitz so much on third-and-four or five. You don't have to hold the ball as long, so you just spread out and hit the hots. They may tackle, but it's still a first down. On long- yardage situations, now you have to start thinking about protections. Spread it out and you throw a hot, now you have to punt. That's why there's a lot more options as a signal caller on third-and-short for that reason.

Are there additional concerns with Troy because of the concussion problems he had in college?

I know he hasn't had anything since he's been here. He's had a history and the doctors will take that into account. It's not my place to be judgemental about that. I've got to leave that up to the doctors and we'll make decisions accordingly.

Was he trying to come back in the game?

No. I don't even think he was out there in the second half. I looked at him in the first half. Troy could still talk to you about a lot of things, it just wasn't football at that time. If you wanted to have a good conversation with him, it would have been fine, he could talk to you about it. But he wasn't ready to talk about the game. Hopefully everything will be fine.

He got hurt on the touchdown drive?

Yeah, tackling Reggie Bush.

Did he stay in the game?

Yeah. He sure did.

And he got to the sideline and you saw he was hurt?

Yeah. We had called another defense and we wondered why Ryan (Clark) was covering the receiver. Troy was covering the tight end. That was why. He just went to the tight end and I don't think he was ready to discuss why he was supposed to be on the slot. Ryan did a good job of covering for him.

Was that on the TD?

No. It was another play before that. He was where he was supposed to be other than that. I understand what he was thinking on that, given all the information that I've got right now. He was fine, he was lined up. He wasn't out of it, out of it. He just confused the one defense.

He came out after that series?

He came out after that series, correct.

That was the first series?

The second series. We had the first series with two plays and the fumble.

Did Ike (Taylor) respond?

He did some things well. I'd like to see him play the ball better. There were a couple of balls down the field. Don't be afraid, just go make a play.I just don't want them to be afraid to make a play. You just don't want to get beat, but in the course of not trying to get beat, you get beat. You have to go out there and be confident enough and aggressive enough that you put yourself in position early and at the end, go play on the ball. Sometimes you're going to miss. But I'd rather see guys attempt and fail than not make an attempt at all. That's what we've got to continue to work with these guys to do. Get your head around. And they're going to continue to be tested on jump balls. Go, take your shot. Put yourself in position and try to make a play. I'd rather see them try to make a play than not try at all.

You talked about halftime adjustments. What was the biggest one?

Just making sure the guys knew the adjustments we were making to some of the spread formations we were getting at the time. Kind of talking about minimizing a package to get better matchups with some of the things they were doing. They did a good job. It was the first extended experience he got. Some of the matchups he was getting with Marques Colston, that would have been Troy in there. We're trying to get him to understand what we were trying to do and help him out to some degree.

(Stop, Ellis time) Is that what was going on, trying to get changes in the personnel and they were trying to get more favorable situations? (Wow is he the master of the obvious)

Yeah they were in some of those and we had to play some of those. And you have to play those situations and were able to convert some of them. They got a few third-and-longs too. We just didn't play them very well.

You had a lot of linebackers hurt, playing hurt, do you attribute that to a lot of the yards that were given up?

No. I attribute that to New Orleans' efficiency. They did a better job than some of the defenses we had. We had some breakdowns. We had some third downs of nine or 10 that you have to get off the field on. One time we had a blitz coming, Drew did a good job of recognizing it – we didn't hold the disguise long enough - he slid the protection over there and they picked it up and hit the in-cut on the backside. I thought we did a pretty good job in the running game again. I don't know if that was so much the linebackers. I give credit to New Orleans.

Would you expect Cleveland to come out and throw it until you stop that?

I would think so. It's hard to say. They've got a pretty good running game with Rueben Droughns, he's a pretty good player. I think they'll do what they've been doing. They've been moving the ball, they've been impressive when you watch them. They'll look and see what New Orleans did and incorporate that within their own scheme.

Are you concerned with the number of points you've given up in the last four games?

Yeah I'm concerned about it. I don't like it. Some of it has been field position. Some of it has been that we have to do a better job in the red zone holding people to field goals instead of touchdowns. I have a lot of confidence that we'll be able to do that. Every week will be a challenge and this team this week will be a challenge. But we've given up way too many points.

The three fumbles that you caused, would you attribute that to being more physical in this particular game?

I don't know if we were more physical. We happened to get the helmet on the ball a couple of times. The one tackle that Ty had, the ball comes down hits the guys foot and the ball comes out. We actually caused four fumbles. We had another fumble on the quarterback scramble that we just didn't get. We've been playing hard. It's almost one of those things that's Murphy's Law. You've just got to put yourself in position and sometimes they come in bunches. We had another takeaway that we had. Larry (Foote) dropped one that was right in his chest. And he's got good hands, he really does. You remember the interception he had against Denver last season. We've just got to continue to put ourselves in that position, try to rectify some of the yardage we gave up last week and I think we will.

You talk about guys playing tentatively. In your experience can a win like this cause the dam to burst and allow them to play more relaxed?

It gives them something to revert back to. It's something for guys who may have to play more, it gives them a game under their belt with which they can learn with and not feel like it cost them a wiin. There's some confidence you take from that. We have a long way to go. We're not playing football at a level at which we can play. We have to keep on building and if we can make enough plays along they way to win these football games, as close as they may be and no matter how this thing unfolds, then you start to build a little bit of confidence and start to grow as a football team. We have a big challenge this week going to Cleveland. They're a much better team than we played last year. It will be a big challenge for us. The biggest thing I can see for us to do is get a little bit better and try to build off of last week.

The roughing the passer penalty on Aaron (Smith) was that too much the letter of the law? Have you changed your stance on that?

We sent it in. I stand by what I said after the game. It will be interesting to see how it's interpreted. I understand what Bill Carollo saw because I saw the same thing. I was watching it too. It's like watching a movie. You may think it's a pretty good movie, I may think it's a pretty crappy movie. It's all in the eyes of the beholder. There's only one eye that counts and that's the (head of officiating) in the league office. We'll see what he says.

How do you coach your players with those parameters?

You try to take them and when you get the feedback, I try to share that with the players so they understand it. Like I said before, I knew this was coming as a point of emphasis. My understanding was that you just cannot drive your shoulder into the quarterback's lower leg. Even if you're on the ground, you've got to pull him to you. You can't go into his knees with some kind of force in the lower extremities, which I'm all in favor of. I know we're trying to protect those guys, which we should be doing. I didn't sense that Aaron was doing that. He came off the block, he fell into it and at that point, he tried to grab him. My goodness, Drew Brees was like, ‘Can you let go of my sock?' He kind of pulled his foot out and we saw the flag. I understand what he saw and it will be interesting to see what the judge decides. I won't share that with you guys, it's just my own information.

Can you expect the players to remember that in the heat of battle?

You just can't drive your shoulder into the quarterback. If you get on the ground and try to lunge at him from the ground, they're going to call that. You have to kind of lunge and try to pull him to you. That's what we've talked about since training camp since this was introduced.

Is that a direct result of the Kimo (von Oelhoffen)-Carson Palmer hit?

No, because that wasn't even a foul under these rules. There were a number of other plays that were shown where they're just trying to protect the lower legs of the quarterbacks, which I understand and agree with. Even under the new parameters which they established, Kimo's play would not have been a penalty.

(What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?) But they penalize guys for driving the quarterbacks into the ground with their shoulders. You could never do that. That's been in there.

Unless that quarterback clearly has the ball, you can tackle him. But with the quarterback, you can't drive him into the ground under any circumstance. Whatever you want to try to defend yourself with, you're going to get a penalty and you're going to get fined, all those things. Just don't do it and it won't be a problem.

The pooch kick, was that just trying to catch them by surprise?

Yeah. That guy's pretty good. I just felt at that time, the last thing we needed was a big kickoff return. We hit it into the wind. You saw where their kicks were going to. I thought we had a better chance with that guy carrying the ball, than Michael Lewis carrying the ball.

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