Once Again, Stewart Under Pressure

Here we go again. It's apparent that Steelers head coach Bill Cowher wants to show everyone that he truly is a Pittsburgh kind of guy.<p> Season in the dumper? Blame the quarterback. Defense can't stop the pass? Blame the quarterback. Can't grow a good beard? Blame the quarterback. Country in a recession? Blame the ... well, you get the idea.

It's the Pittsburgh way.

For years, the most popular guy in any bar in the Pittsburgh area has been the Steelers backup quarterback. Remember all those people who were calling for Pete Gonzalez and Tee Martin to be the Steelers' starter in recent years? Ouch!

It came to light this week that Cowher and Steelers starting quarterback Kordell Stewart had a heart-to-heart talk in which the coach told the QB that unless things pick up, Stewart can start practicing his clipboard-holding skills.

One has to wonder if Cowher has called other Steelers into his office to make similar statements. If not, why? Certainly Stewart has not played well in the Steelers' first two games this season. But he has hardly been alone. In fact, if you went up and down the team's roster, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of players who have performed well during the team's 0-2 start.

It's not hard to understand where Cowher is coming from. This team was built to go to the Super Bowl. So far this season, the only thing super about it has been the ridiculous passing totals put up against it. He knows that if the team stumbles, a lot of fingers are going to be pointed at Cowher's now-furry chin.

Cowher realizes he's stuck with a lot of the guys who haven't been playing well. When the defense is allowing opponents to convert third downs at a better than 50 percent rate, there's a lot of guys underachieving out there. But he's stuck with those players. They either have to get better or the season is in the dumper.

But the quarterback, now that is a different matter. Cowher has Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch standing on the sideline, watching Stewart play.

But he should proceed with caution. What if Cowher pulls Stewart, and Maddox and Batch aren't any better? What if they are worse?

Stewart was a Pro Bowl quarterback in 2001. Maddox was an MVP ... of the now-defunct XFL. Batch was cut loose by the Detroit Lions ... who have won two of their past 19 games.

History shows you can't change quarterbacks like underwear and succeed in the NFL. The quarterback is supposed to be the leader of the team. And when he's being yanked in and out of a game like a high-priced yo-yo, he can't do that.

In the first two games this season, the Steelers haven't done the things they did in 2001 that helped Stewart be successful. They need to get back to taking advantage of Stewart's running and ability to improvise. If they do that and Stewart doesn't play well, then by all means, play Maddox or Batch.

But Cowher should know if it comes to that, he'll have to stick with his choice. There will be no going back.

--Dale Lolley



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