Keeping the Saints Guessing

<P><FONT face=Arial>Tuesday was supposed to be the day. Everyone thought Steelers head coach Bill Cowher was going to begin his weekly press conference by naming either Stewart or Maddox the team's starting quarterback for Sunday's game at New Orleans. But even though he's made a decision, Cowher wasn't talking. He repeated his line from Sunday, saying, &quot;I am in no position today to make any announcements.&quot;</FONT></P>

Cowher wants to let this latest quarterback controversy play out to his competitive advantage, especially against New Orleans, which is coached by former Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. By not naming a starter at quarterback until Wednesday, Cowher keeps Haslett and company guessing. Tuesday night is usually when NFL coaching staffs put together their game plan for the upcoming weekend's game. By waiting until Wednesday, Cowher makes the New Orleans coaching staff draw up two game plans, one for the mobile Kordell Stewart, one for Tommy Maddox, a pocket passer.

In that respect, Cowher is making a shrewd move. Had the Steelers been playing a team from their own division, this wouldn't work. The teams the Steelers play every season already have game plans against Stewart and would just need to break down Maddox. But New Orleans will need to study both; something Cowher hopes will keep them from mastering either one.

The bet here is that Cowher sticks with his gut feeling following Sunday's 16-13 overtime victory over Cleveland and stays with Stewart as the starter.

Here's why.

Stewart was the team's MVP and a Pro Bowl player last season. You don't give up on a Pro Bowl player after three games, even if you may put him on a very tight leash. Beyond that, if you pull Stewart now and go with Maddox, you risk the entire season.

Maddox played well Sunday, but as the backup he also had nothing to lose. If Cowher starts Maddox and he plays poorly, Cowher will have two quarterbacks concerned about losing the starting job. And that's not a good situation at all.

But if he starts Stewart and Stewart plays well, everything is fine again. He has Stewart back on track and still has a confident Maddox in his back pocket; ready to throw on the field like the little red flag he uses to call for a replay.

And if he starts Stewart and has to pull him, it won't matter if the Steelers win or lose, Cowher will either receive acclaim for making the right decision at the right time or be absolved of all blame for the loss because fans will say it was Stewart's fault.

In that case, Cowher will have no choice but to make Maddox his starter for the remainder of the season and kick Stewart to the curb.

However, before that happens, it would be very interesting to see Stewart run the same spread offense that Maddox ran. The offense Stewart quarterbacked was heavily reliant on a running game that wasn't there. And he was stuck with a lot of long third down situations because of it. In the spread, the defense not only has to account for four or five receivers, it also has to worry about Stewart taking off for a big gain.

With Maddox, it does not.

Regardless of what many may think, starting Stewart again is the right thing to do at this point.

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