After a weekend off that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers vault back into mention as a playoff contender, head coach Bill Cowher and his staff got back to work Monday.
Opening Statement: OK, just to give you an injury update as we head into this game, we have three players who are doubtful: Troy (Polamalu) with his knee; Mike Logan with his hamstring; and Cedrick Wilson with a high ankle sprain. Two players are questionable: Ryan Clark with his groin; and Hines (Ward) with his knee. One player is probable, that's Jeff Hartings. Given that information, players will be in here tomorrow. Obviously we'll see how much they practice before we make any decisions how much or if they will play. There's a lot left to be decided upon as the week unfolds. We understand where we are. It's the same place we've been. We have no margin of error. We have three games left and three very tough opponents beginning this week with Carolina. They're coming off a tough loss and they're still right in the thick of the playoff race and we expect this to be a big challenge for us going down to Carolina this week.
Has the league been in touch with the team or you about the comments Joey (Porter) made after the game on Thursday?
No. I can't speak on Joey's behalf. I know that his comments were inappropriate. I think as he said, his reference was purely to the actions of Kellen Winslow as it relates to the hit on James (Farrior) at the end of the game. Certainly it's not reason to use that term. I think anything else should not be looked into. It was in reference to what took place on the field, but it was inappropriate.
Have you talked to him about it?
I have not talked to any of the players since Thursday.
(Paulie Walnuts softball time, already?) You mentioned the extra time off with the break. Do you think you'll get some fresh legs back?
I'm sure they will. I gave them off Friday, Saturday, Sunday and today. They'll be back in here tomorrow. I think it was good. They needed some time off. They did a great job, I thought, last week, just in preparation. One of the best practices we had was probably Monday night after the Sunday game. We've been playing like we've been practicing. The preparation has been very good, we've been very focused with crisp practices and it shows up in the games. I'm sure having a chance to get back after that stretch, we're looking forward to these last three games.
(Walnuts again) Willie (Parker) at home is a different back. Can you confuse him and tell him he's at home again this week?
I don't know if it's the home or away, it probably has something to do with the people we're playing. I think too much has been read into that.
Do you expect to see (Chris) Weinke or (Jake) Delhomme at quarterback. Does it matter to you?
I don't know what to expect. I know that Jake did not work all of last week and they were still holding out hope at the end of the week. That leads me to believe that maybe in another week he'll be healthier. Weinke's got a lot of experience, he's been with that organization and knows that offense very well. I don't think they changed anything the other day. But Jake has certainly been a very productive quarterback in this league for a number of years.
(Weinke) threw 61 times yesterday, the first time he's started in a while. Was that the nature of the game, they got behind early?
They did get behind early. That was what resulted in that. The score had a lot to do with it. A lot of their passing game is very controlled. They look at the pass as another extension of the running game. Certainly the guys that they've got with Steve Smith, I think is one of the best receivers in the game if not the best. He's the real deal. He's a guy you have to be aware of. He's a guy who can really take over a game as he's done in the past. They have done a good job of putting Keyshawn (Johnson) on the other side, going out and getting him. And (Drew) Carter came in the other day and really made a couple of big-time catches in the game yesterday. They've got some weapons. (Deshaun) Foster and (DeAngelo) Williams are two good backs. They're a good football team and they've lost some tough games.
What have people done in the past with Keyshawn and Smith? What's the best way to approach those guys?
I think it's choices that you have to make week to week when you play a premiere receiver and I think Steve Smith is a premiere receiver. You've got to be aware of him. Keyshawn has the size element that you have to be aware of too. You've got to pick your poison. Both of those guys are good receivers who have been very productive over the years. We just have to be aware of where they are and make our decisions accordingly.
Do you expect Mark Whipple to get the Boston College job and would he finish out the year here?
Yeah he would finish out the year. I know that's something that's going to take some time. He met with them yesterday and he thought it went well. He's excited about the opportunity. I think he's a great candidate for that school. It's like anything else, those things become out of your control. I think what Mark has done has been well-documented. He's a quality person, a good footballl coach and would be a great asset to any school.
How has he helped Ben (Roethlisberger)?
I think his demeanor. He's been in this offense, this is his third year with Ken (Whisenhunt) and Russ (Grimm). They get in that room with Dick Hoak and (James Daniels) and Bruce Arians. He's an integral part of that as well. It's a good staff. They all get along very well together. There's a very open dialogue and I think the players sense that as well.
Is Mark here today?
You see teams that maybe don't win as much as they expect to, you see the teams coming apart, players blaming players, players blaming coaches. The Giants come to mind, even Cleveland to a lesser degree. How have you managed over the years to avoid that division within?
I think No. 1 we've got the right type of players. It starts with that. We have high expectations. Certainly there has been a lot of frustration that this year has brought. People have to understand that this is our livelihood. Nobody is more frustrated when it doesn't unfold the way you want it to than the players and coaches, because we throw everything into it. At the same time, you understand that in sports, it doesn't always unfold the way you want. But a lot can be said how you deal with adversity, how you deal with the tough times. It's so easy when things are going well. Everybody calls you, everybody wants to be friends. There's usually never problems. You go through the tough times, it speaks volumes about people. When you surround yourself with the right type of people that understand that it's part of this journey; that it's going to happen at times. Persevering through that and understanding that can be a great learning experience. You can grow from it tremendously. I think that's what we've tried to do. Don't dwell on it. I go back to the old thing, you're never as good as you think you are and never as bad as say you are. You're going to go through that in this business. If you don't get caught up in it either way, you'll go through that. You won't stay there, particularly the tough times. Our guys have done a good job – the players and coaches – have done a good job of just staying focused on the game, not getting caught up in what the ramifications of a loss are, what the ramifications of a win are. We're just focusing on the process. I think when you do that, it clears your mind. And there's a lot of respect that these players have for one another. Like I said, we'll play this things out and see where it takes us.
Would it be premature to suggest that over the last few weeks (I guess he's already forgotten about the Baltimore debacle) that the team is hitting its stride?
We're playing better, there's no question about it. I just look at even in the last three weeks, our coverage teams have been excellent. We've done a very good job. We haven't had the kicks, the depth, we've wanted, but that happens at this time of year. Santonio (Holmes) is starting - I'm sensing - to return punts with a little more confidence. I think offensively we have not turned the football over as much. We've had a couple, but not like we had earlier in the season. We're making plays. We're getting takeaways, we're getting key stops. I think we're playing better, more consistently. Certainly the one game that sticks out is Baltimore, but that game got out of hand early and we never could catch up. I'd like to think we're playing better. Going into last week's game we were 5-7 and somebody asked what was the difference between last year. Last year we were 7-5. You're talking about a two games difference. I can think of two or three games that probably a year ago we would have won. Who can say what those two or three games would create momentum wise and what that creates opportunity wise? It did happen. We are where we are and we're dealing with it. We have the opportunity ahead of us now. We will need help. But we've got to take care of business and those other things will take care of themselves.
Given the way that Santonio has played, if Ward comes back and Wilson does not, who would get the start?
We've got to see. I don't want to address any of that until I see how these guys work. We'll see how it goes as the week unfolds, but if Hines is able to come back, then Nate would go back into his role as the third receiver.
Are you surprised at where Carolina is? Before the season, they were considered a team, like you guys, that would challenge for the Super Bowl.
I'm not in any position to sit back and evaluate other teams. I'm sure they are disappointed as we are. Like I said, their opportunity is probably a little better than ours right now because of the conference they are in. But the records are the same. We understand the importance of all three of these games.
(Stop, Ellis time) What kind of importance would you put on seeing them in the preseason?
There's a little bit, but not a whole lot of people played in that preseason. It was the fourth preseason. I know we didn't play anybody. Your question was how much importance was in that fourth preseason game?
OK. Well it depends on when it's played. If it's the third game maybe there's some significance to go back and refer to physical matchups. I can tell you that fourth one, there was not a whole lot you're going to take out of it.
You talked about what to do with a guy like Steve Smith, what do you do with a guy like (Julius) Peppers? Do you commit a second guy to him?
Two, maybe three. They may have two of the best guys at their positions on that team. I talked about Steve Smith. Julius Peppers may be as good a defensive player as there is in the National Footballl League. You look at the defensive line, Chris Jenkins is a Pro Bowler. (Mike) Rucker is not a bad pass rusher. (Maake) Kemoeatu is a load. Their front four is really good. I think what happened last week, they lost both of their corners, (Chris) Gamble and (Ken) Lucas don't play. Then their fourth corner, who started, pulls a hamstring in the first quarter and they're down to their third corner and their fifth corner. That's the only two guys they had left. It's a really good defense. Peppers is a really good player. You have to be careful how many times you leave him one-on-one rushing. You can't always put two guys on him. He also can drop back into coverage. Your field goal rush, you had better be aware of him with your blocking. He's a very productive football player, an extraordinary talent for a man of his size.
How do you account for the AFC's strength against the NFC this year?
It's hard to say. I don't even know what the numbers are. Those things are cyclical. It will run its course. What it has led to is that a lot of the better records right now in the league. I think that's why heading into this weekend, their wildcard teams were all 6-6. We had about five teams 7-5. That's unfortunately for us, where we are right now, it's transferred into those numbers. I don't know if there's any specific reason.
(Walnuts suck up question) It's not the coaching?
I can't answer that one. Once again, I'm in no position to be judgmental of other coaches.