Tuesday, Dec. 19 Cowher press conference

Bill Cowher talks about his future in Pittsburgh and the team's growing injury list heading into Sunday's game against Baltimore.

Bill Cowher held his weekly press conference Tuesday as the team prepares for a rematch with the Baltimore Ravens. Here's what the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach had to say:

Opening statement: Let me give you an injury update heading into the game. We've got three players who are out. Chad Brown has a grade three MCL (sprain) on his left knee. No surgery is required. Chidi Iwuoma was operated on today for a left wrist dislocation. He's out. And also Max Starks. Max has a meniscal tear on his right knee. Max is going to get scoped tomorrow. So he will be out for this game. We have one player who is doubtful and that is Ryan Clark with his groin. Two players are questionable: Troy (Polamalu) with his left knee; and Mike Logan with his hamstring. Four players are probable: Clint Kriewaldt with a neck strain; Ty Carter with a concussion; Jeff Hartings with a knee; and Bryant McFadden with a shoulder. We're a little banged up, but I think everybody is at this point. We'll probably make some roster moves, none of which I am ready to announce right now, we'll probably do so in the next couple of days. We'll see how some of these guys are. If we need to do so, it will be by the end of the week. Obviously last week's game was probably our most complete game of the year, but we've got to be able to match that at best to be able to have a chance this week against Baltimore, one of the top teams in the National Football League. Certainly that was displayed the last time we played them. We understand what's at stake and we're still in it. We have not been eliminated. I know there is a lot of things that have to happen, but I know the only thing that needs to happen from our perspective is that we have to win. That's the only thing we need to concern ourselves with and that's what our focus will be this weekend.

Will Trai Essex move over to that side?

We'll look at him and Willie Colon. We'll see what our options are with both of those guys.

Is Chidi out for good?

Yeah, he's out.

I mean will you put him on IR?

There's a chance we could put Chidi and Chad both. We'll see.

How did Max get hurt? He played pretty well Sunday, didn't he?

Yeah he did. He got hurt during the game. He may have even done it warming up. He felt it and he was late getting out. He warmed up and he played through it. I credit him. He toughed it out. He played very well. I thought our offensive line in general played very well. Max is a tough guy. He'll be missed. Those are big shoes, literally to have to fill. But that's why Willie is here and Trai is here.

Does he have a chance to come back?

Yeah. It's probably similar to what happened with Hines (Ward). We'll keep that alive.

Was Max by himself most of the time?

We had some help. I think the first two sacks of the game, the first one, Najeh (Davenport) kind of got out of there too quick before they came with the blitz. The second one. Marvel (Smith) was expecting some help from Najeh on the edge with (Mike) Rucker. I thought we did a good job of protecting the edge with those guys and we were able to do that. Certainly keeping some of the third downs to short and medium helped that. But we were aware of those guys.

When Rucker went out, were you able to give more help to Max?

I wouldn't say more or less. Al Wallace is still a pretty good edge rusher too. I think we went in with a plan to try to protect the edges and make sure Ben (Roethlisberger) had a nice pocket to step up into. They moved (Julius) Peppers around too. They brought him inside too. So it wasn't like they always had him lined up out there on our right end. He's a good guy. He beat Alan (Faneca) one time and Ben had to step up and Ben did a nice job and hit Heath (Miller) on that third-down pass. We made some plays and certainly we were very good on third down.

The offensive line has played well. Is that a direct response to how they did play down in Baltimore?

No. I don't know if it was a response to that down there. That game, no one played well. It wasn't just the offensive line. You look at the first half, I think the numbers were 215 yards that they had and we had 36 yards. It was a game where we threw the ball over 50 times and that's not us. Credit them, they got the game into that situation and that's what transpired. Obviously a lot of the sacks came in that second half.

They have the most sacks they've had in franchise history.

We've added to that number quite a bit. They're good, they really are. You look at the front three guys, I say three because they're a 3-4 defense. Trevor Pryce is having a career year. Kelly Gregg, I think, is one of the most underrated players in the National Football League. And (Haloti) Ngata is a first-round pick. He's a load. Then you put the linebackers behind them. Adalius Thomas and (Terrell) Suggs on the corners, those guys can rush. Thomas can play defensive back sometimes. Ray (Lewis) is the inspirational leader. Bart Scott has turned into a very productive played. Then in their secondary, (Chris) McAlister and (Samari) Rolle are veteran guys. And Ed Reed is one of the top safeties in the National Football League. They stay together, they've been together all year and they've been very productive.

There were a lot of times in that game when they came in untouched. Do they move around a lot?

They move around a lot. They do a good job. They give you some really different looks. We kind of pride ourselves on that. They've kind of taken that to another level. They really do a good job of disguising, bringing people from inside, from outside. They move around right to the snap count. You have to be on top of everything. You had better be on top of all the protections, the communication had better be there. We have to do a better job of that than the last time we went in there.

Is it going to be an adjustment at right tackle, whoever you have in there?

It's going to be an adjustment. You can see it on tape. You can practice it on the practice field. But until you see the speed of it, how quickly it happens, there's no simulation for that. It's going to be a very quick indoctrination into the National Football League. Obviously Trai has played and Willie has played a little bit, I like the fact we're playing at home instead of down there. That will help a little bit.

Is Thomas the guy that keys the changing looks?

They do it with everybody. It's not just one guy. You'll see Ray out on the slot coming late. You'll see some of the backers dropping into coverage. It's some of the stuff that we do a little bit of. But they've done it very well. We've got to be on top of things to make sure everybody's accounted for.

Does it create confusion about who they are supposed to block or the coverages? What does it do?

Protection issues is what you're trying to do. You're trying to confuse protections and get calls and that's what all of that is trying to create.

What kind of process does Willie Colon go through with that this week?

The same process the whole offensive line will go through.

He hasn't experienced it.

Yeah, but he'll get his experience this week.

What do you like about him, what are his strengths?

He's a strong guy. I think Willie played well in the preseason. It's tough to talk about him because he hasn't played much. A lot of those things have to be determined.

Baltimore clinched the division, do you think that will have any effect on how they play this game?

I don't think so. Obviously they still have a lot to play for: home field advantage, a first round bye. All of those things that go with the implications with games this time of year. I'm sure they have a lot to play for.

Does (Steve) McNair actually play better when he's hurt?

I don't know, he's played well this year. He hurt his hand and they got him out of there after he hurt his hand pretty quick and (Kyle) Boller actually played well. They're playing well, they're not turning the football over. It looks like Jamal Lewis is starting to run the football pretty well. They got a good group. Todd Heap is one of the top tight ends in the National Football League. Demetrius Williams comes up and makes a big play on third down for them last week. You've still got (Derrick) Mason and (Mark) Clayton on the outside and a very good offensive line. They're a very sound team.

Going back to the Ravens' defensive looks, a lot of teams have given you those kind of looks this year, did they give you more?

Oh yeah, it's different. Like I said, a lot of it is on third down when you start to get into third down situations. We kind of got into a passing mode because of that score. It's a football team where you have to protect your quarterback and he's got to be smart because they have a lot of playmakers in the secondary as well.

You've been in situations where you've had to win or have been playing for seeds. While one is more desperate than the other, can they produce more intensity?

Certainly there's a level of desperation where we're at. Certainly there's an incentive element involved with where they are. Both of those situations are relative to where you're playing. They're playing with a lot of confidence. I'd like to think we are starting to get to that. It should be a good game. It seems like every year we have split with these guys. But they're playing at a very high level. They've been healthy for the year. They've got a good chemistry, a good mix going. Even the games they've lost, they've been in those games right until the end. I have a lot of respect for their football team, for their players, they are playing at a very high level.

Did they come out with more intensity than you guys? Was that an issue at all?

They got off to a fast start and we couldn't match that. We got behind and they were playing at home and their crowd got into it. That's the thing I'd like to do, get off to a fast start and get our crowd into it. It's a factor. You can say what you want. With the things they were doing with the looks, it was hard to communicate some things. We still have to block it and win some of those matchups. But it will be nice to play at home in a game of this magnitude. We're still hanging on. Hopefully we can create a little of that advantage toward our side.

They had a nice blend of it, but which was keeping you off balance more the last time, McNair's throws or Lewis' runs?

It's hard to say. They did a good job of both. That's what makes it balanced. I wouldn't say one over the other.

Given your uncertain status in the offseason, does this game have any special significance?

No, it really doesn't.

Any extra moments of reflection or anything along those lines?

No. I compliment you for asking the question. I've been criticized for being terse with my answers regarding my future, but nobody has asked me the question. Bob Smizik asked me the question if I thought it was a distraction about five weeks ago. That's the only question that's been asked of me. So before you pass judgment upon me, ask me the question. You guys imply certain things and I think that's where it's unfair. I said it will be decided after the season, it will not be a knee-jerk reaction. I answered a question that I was asked last week. There's been no decision made. It will be something I will need to get away from and give some serious thought to and I will do that - at the right time. Now is not the right time.

Did you do that after last season too?

Yes I did. And nobody asked me any questions about that last year.

How long has it been going on?

What, these inner thoughts with myself? Me and this little guy, we've been talking quite a bit. I'm not having psychological problems if you're implying that. I'm fine. We do get into arguments every now and then. Go for it? Don't go for it? I was even asking a policeman the other day down in Carolina, would you go for it if we're short? The guy said yeah and pulled out his Pittsburgh Steelers pen. I said, ‘yeah, easy for you to say, you're standing over there.' So I kicked the field goal.

Did you decide after the ‘04 season as well?

I don't know. These are things I've never discussed publicly. I don't think they need to be discussed publicly. I answered the question last week because they are not up here and privy to everybody's understanding of what's taken place.

I guess my question is, why now? Have you grown tired of coaching, are you getting burned out?

I don't think so. Do I look burned out. Honestly I'm not. I love the challenges and love this time of year.

One of your daughters was quoted today as saying it's killing you not to watch them play basketball. Would that be part of the reason?

No. I don't want to go into any detail. It would be no different. They've been playing basketball up there for a couple of years now. I'll have a chance to see Lindsay. I've already had a chance to see here play once and I'll get to see here again after the season. There will be a lot of things to go into it, but now is not the time to talk about it. But I want to at least answer your question so that I don't come across as someone who is being terse.

Is the one variable that you did not renew your contract at the same time you had previously renewed?

That's there, I understand that. That's what's created a lot of the questions. I understand that. I understood that before the season when all the questions were asked. To me, I don't think it's been a distraction, to answer Bob's question from a few weeks ago. But I'm not the one to ask. You'd have to ask the players that question. There has been no decision made, but there will be an appropriate time when it needs to be made and I will do it then. I understand the position that you guys have. Just be careful not to cross the line and be judgmental.

Is it something about money?

I'm not going to get into that, we're done talking. We're done. I tried to answer the question, but I'm not going to elaborate. We're talking about the Baltimore Ravens.

I didn't know when you were ending.

I give you credit. We're ending it. No more questions.

You've played them twice a year, is there something they are doing significantly different than they've done in the past?

No. they're just playing well. We didn't play well the first time through. It's a challenge. They're doing it to a lot of teams. They've got good talent from the front to the back. They're making plays, they're taking the ball away, getting off the field on third downs. They're a big challenge, particularly if you get behind because of all the things they do. You've got to be patient against this football team, keep things close. And in the second half, you find a way to make a play. That's the thing we need to do. You want to be able to do, not give this football that sense that they can just pin their ears back and rush the quarterback. That's what we weren't able to do the first time.

They've given up the fewest points in the league with basically the same people they had last year?

They had a lot of guys banged up last year. They had a lot of guys hurt last year. They didn't have Ngata two years ago, they didn't have Trevor Pryce two years ago. Bart Scott has come into his own. Adalius Thomas, Suggs two years ago, he's better now than he was two years ago. It's a better team, I don't think it's the same team that suddenly is playing well. They've added some parts to that I think helped them. And they've stayed healthy. And the way things have unfolded, they've gained confidence and they are playing well. That's the challenge for this game.

Cedrick (Wilson) is not on the injury report. Will Santonio (Holmes) start?

They'll both play. They're both going to play quite a bit.

What about Anthony Smith? He said you guys wanted to see what he could do two games in a row?

Yeah, that plus Ryan's situation with the groin. But Ryan Clark has played very well this year. He's a very unselfish player. He's come in in the kicking game when we were going through a stretch where we needed somebody in the kicking game. But Anthony has come in and made some plays the last couple of weeks, you can't dismiss that. This will be a big challenge this week, but you can't dismiss what he's done.

If you replace Chidi on your roster, would it be with another special teams guy?

I don't know what's out there this time of year. We'll see what our options are.

Is it different since Brian Billick started calling the plays?

I didn't go back and look at it that closely. To compare that to when jim (Fassell) was there, I think they're playing well. Brian's good at doing what he does.

You said after the last game you may have gotten away from the run too early?

It's easy to say, but sometimes you get to a point, it's 17-0 in the first half, it's hard to run the football. We've got to be able to do that. We've got to have balance against this team or else you see what happened the last time.

Are you surprised at how many rookies are playing well?

I don't know about surprised. In this system, guys have to step in. I don't know how those numbers compare to previous years. Certainly there are guys stepping in and stepping up. Some of the young quarterbacks are doing that. That's where some of the focus is going with Vince Young and Matt Leinart and (Jay) Cutler) and now maybe even (Tavarius) Jackson up in Minnesota. I think a lot of times those skill positions get more exposure, but there's probably been some young linemen who have done it too, they just don't get the same exposure.

Have you looked around at the league at the jumbled standings? That game in Tennessee kind of epitomizes what has happened in the AFC.

The game they had against Jacksonville? It kind of reminded me of our game against Oakland. Been there and done that.

It's kind of crazy in the AFC with all these teams alive?

Yeah, I'm just glad we're one of them. It is. There's a fine line. I said before when talking about the AFC and NFC. When you see all the wins the AFC has over the NFC, the disparity has created a lot more wins in the AFC and makes it harder for a 9-7 team to get in. But it is what it is. We have what's in front of us and we're looking forward to that challenge.


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