There has been a lot of second-guessing of Bill Cowher in the Pittsburgh media this week. Cowher knew what was coming and before any reporter could ask a question, he commented, "If we want to spend this and reflect back on the game, I will certainly sit here and answer any questions that you may have into any of the decisions that were made."
The reporters certainly did want to discuss what happened in the game against the Falcons, but they didn't always ask a question that Cowher anticipated.
Reporter: "Does scoring so quickly and so often place an added burden on your defense?"
Cowher: "Oh, that's not a burden. You can ask the defense. They'll deal with that every game if that's supposed to be a burden. Listen, we've played well. We haven't put together the complete game. We've had good halves. We have not put together a 60-minute game. We still turned it over three times yesterday. We're still missing opportunities to put more points on the board."
The question is about the possibility of an added burden on the defense from scoring so often. Cowher's response essentially points out that the offense could have and should have scored more.
Is 34 points no longer good enough for a Steeler defense?
Is it a stretch to look at that comment and determine that Cowher has no faith in his defense? Apparently, Steelers Insiders Jim Wexell does not think so, "Cowher, though, showed his players that he'll play not to lose instead of playing to win when push comes to shove."
So, why didn't Bill Cowher call timeout with 46 seconds left in overtime and ask his team to win the game?
Cowher explained his rationale, "Who's got more to lose, me or him? And there's no guarantee that if we stop him on that down that we're going to have a chance to win the game. But if we don't stop him on that down, we lose the game."
Cowher did not want to risk losing the game by trying to win it. He didn't ask his defense to make the big stop. Perhaps he didn't think they had enough left in them to chase down Michael Vick.
"Maybe we weren't as fast at chasing him in the fourth quarter as we were in the first quarter."
But probably the most convincing comment of Cowher's, "You are just biding your time. The best defense we could have had is when he was on the sideline."
Translation, the best defense against Dan Reeves and the Atlanta Falcons at the end of the game was to get Vick off the field. Not only Vick off the field, the Steelers defense. Cowher was not about to let them lose the game. He certainly wasn't going to let them win it.
Joey Porter was disappointed that the Steelers defense did not hold up their end of the bargain. But he was also upset that they were not allowed to go after Vick in the fourth quarter, "I definitely know that we weren't doing the things that got us there. When we were coming after him, I feel like we really had him rattled. When we sat back in the zones, that's when he's at his best."
When Cowher teams are at their best the defense wins the game. The offense plays ball control and special teams don't make big mistakes. This season, none of that has materialized. In fact, Cowher seems to fear his own defense more than the opposition does.
The meltdown against the Falcons harmed the confidence of Joey Porter and this defense. But perhaps of more concern is the lack of confidence Cowher exhibited in his defense. Like the week before when Cowher wouldn't bring in kicker Todd Peterson, Cowher was reluctant to leave his defense on the field to give his team a chance to win the game.
Essentially, Cowher had his defense sit back and hope Vick would make a mistake. Cowher did not want to press the issue and have the defense make the mistake. He called off the dogs and took the game out of the hands of his defense. And the defense took note.
While this season continues to look very similar to the 1995 season, Cowher had more faith in his players back then. The Steelers played the Bears to a 34-34 tie in week 10 that season. The Steelers came back in that game and considered going for two and the win. Cowher decided to kick the extra point.
''I wanted the outcome of the game to be decided by the players, not by my decision."
The complete opposite happened against Atlanta and Cowher's decision essentially took his players out of the equation. But back in 1995 Cowher had big playmakers on defense and even with a pass-happy offense, he trusted them to win the game. The Steelers found a way to win in overtime and it didn't hurt having a Lloyd in there to help.
S Darren Perry after the big overtime win, ''We had so many guys making big plays today.''
What Perry was referring to was Greg Lloyd's 52-yard interception return that set up a touchdown and Willie Williams' pick-off in the waning minutes of the 4th quarter that insured overtime.
Perhaps Jeff Blake is right, but it must really hurt the confidence of this 2002 defense to have Cowher agree with him.