Steelers Super Bowl Hopes Slipping Away

<p>Bill Cowher tried to swallow his smirk as Texans place kicker Kris Brown put a stake in the Steelers heart with a field goal in the fourth quarter. By a few accounts, Cowher seemed to know this humiliation was coming. Cowher's actions this season have spoke much louder than his words. As the Steelers make peace with their unrealized preseason expectations, this faceless team is coming undone. </p>

In the wake of Lee Flowers' divisive comments last week, Bill Cowher moved quickly to assure the public that all was well inside the locker room, "The one thing that I like right now is that this is a very close football team."

Flowers reiterated Cowher's sentiments, "This has been the closest team we've had in years. I think that's why we're winning right now. It's no hard feelings with anybody in this locker room. This locker room is never going to be separated."

But while Flowers is busy towing the company line, he can't let go of his earlier statement. Clearly, he's not happy about something the offense said, "Special teams-wise, we need to pick it up. Defensively, we need to pick it up and the offense needs to keep doing what it's doing. Over the years, when, defensively, we were on top, we always had the motto of don't worry about what (the offense) is doing and I think that's what they need to do."

While a number of offensive players denied making any such comment, Wayne Gandy let the cat out of the bag in the wake of the implosion (at least in terms of the offense) against the Texans, "What they did today was very encouraging. We had been waiting all year for the defense to play like that."

No wonder Flowers didn't back down from his earlier statement, "For as much flak as this defense has been taking the last seven weeks it's to the point where our offense is starting to look down on us, like they don't have faith in us."

Gandy and the offense have been waiting for the defense to pick it up. Unfortunately, when the defense finally did, the offense didn't "keep doing what it's doing."

Now, the offense can join the defense and the special teams in shouldering the blame for such an underachieving season.

Is there any hope? Let's ask Chris Hope.

Chris Hope on Cowher's criticism of his play on special teams, "Coming from Florida State, you know, everybody got yelled at, the starters, second string, kickoff team. No matter how important or less important you were to the team, you got yelled at. Here, that's not the case. Some of the veteran guys, some of the key players, they mess up and, well, you know."

Cowher dealt with Flowers comments but seemed to miss this gem by Hope. First it is offense vs. defense and now it is veterans vs. rookies.

"I have talked to Lee Flowers," said Cowher last week, "and you certainly don't want it this time of year."

Did Cowher talk to Hope as well? Cowher puts his finger in one hole only to have a leak spring up somewhere else.

How about adding players vs. coaching staff to the fray?

Kordell Stewart responded to reporter comments that he should start against the Panthers, Stewart: "As of right now, Tommy is the starting quarterback of this football team. It's crazy. When we lose, we always are ready to point a finger at the quarterback and say, 'Let's make a change.' How in the hell will you ever get in sync if you consistently keeping changing?"

Cowher agrees with Stewart, in word, "I think it's important to have stability, certainly, at that position [quarterback]. You don't want to jeopardize your team's ability to win and at the same time you want to make the decision that gives your team the best chance to win."

In action, a different story is revealed. Cowher has played musical chairs all season long and Jason Gildon has already taken a shot at the coaching staff. Is Stewart taking a shot at Cowher? Was Stewart given a chance to get in sync with this offense?

Why start Chukky Okobi at center when Jeff Hartings was clearly ready to play? Why deactivate Keydrick Vincent after praising him for filling in for Kendall Simmons?

Nothing but questions are coming out of the woodwork concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, there appears to be few answers as the season threatens to spin completely out of control. And meanwhile, as Hope's statement points out, there seems to be a host of double standards.

After the tie with the Atlanta Falcons, Cowher held himself accountable to his players as part of the reason why the Steelers did not win. He addressed this issue with his players and attempted to keep the season from slipping away.

"I think coach Cowher is enough of a man to say that if there were some calls they made that they could have back," said Flowers, "they would take them back. He stood up to the plate Wednesday morning. He explained himself."

Yet, for every time the Steelers have managed to work through some this season's adversity something else pops up, threatening to derail the playoff drive.

The offense may have been responding to the moves of the coaching staff when criticizing the play of the defense. The formula for Cowher's success has been clear for years. He wants the defense to win the games. The Steelers draft defensive players who will make a difference in the fourth quarter of a game. Yet Cowher has been reluctant to put the game in the hands of the defense. Instead, he has tolerated Turnover Tommy in exchange for more scoring.

What the game against the Texans revealed was a team very unsure of what it is trying to accomplish. Cowher's message, at least in terms of his coaching, has more often than not been contradictory. Is this still a defensive team? Is it a running team or a passing team? Is the field and weather in Pittsburgh an advantage or a disadvantage? Are you the starter or the backup?

These kinds of questions have dogged the Steelers all year. As teams such as the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles round into playoff shape, the Steelers are struggling to figure out who they are. Hope doesn't understand the role of the rookies while Flowers isn't sure what a veteran should do. And in the middle of this turmoil stands Bill Cowher, trying to hide a smirk as his team loses to the expansion Houston Texans.

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