Saturday, November 11, 2006

When the Obvious is Still Interesting

John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review would like all of us to know that Bill Cowher is firmly in charge of the Pittsburgh Steelers. And while this may be an obvious point, hardly in need of confirmation, Mr. Harris' article is still an interesting one, especially his comparison to the Steelers and their AFC North rivals.

"The week after the Steelers lost yet another winnable game is the perfect time to examine how much coach Bill Cowher remains in control of his team.

In the AFC North, the Steelers are the only team whose players have remained loyal and committed to their coach and his system. But cracks are forming in the foundation.

In Baltimore, running back Jamal Lewis and wide receiver Derrick Mason whined about play-calling until coach Brian Billick finally fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel.

In Cincinnati, several offensive stars, including wide receiver Chad Johnson and running back Rudi Johnson, have called out coach Marvin Lewis for the unit's lack of production.

In Cleveland, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. complained he wasn't getting enough looks in the passing game. Winslow got his wish. Coach Romeo Crennel started getting him the ball more, and offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon was fired.

Cowher's Steelers keep things in-house. They rarely air their dirty linen in public. And when they do, Cowher is quick to provide damage control.

When running back Willie Parker said after Sunday's 31-20 loss to Denver that some players became content after winning Super Bowl XL and are losing trust in each other following a 2-6 start, Cowher said that's not what Parker meant to say.

Even though Parker's words hit close to home, his comments were ill-timed.

Cowher circled the wagons. Parker's teammates said they didn't know what he was talking about, that Parker's words were his own and that the Steelers, despite their poor play, are a unified team.

Parker, already one of the quietest players on the team, clammed up and didn't revisit his comments from last Sunday. And he probably won't, if Cowher has his way.

Parker wasn't alone. There was another player bold enough to speak his mind after the Denver loss.

Cornerback Deshea Townsend questioned whether the defense needed more variety -- after giving up several big plays -- and that maybe the scheme in the secondary was too predictable.

Townsend's words have merit. Unlike Parker, he wasn't questioning effort or desire, which are more difficult to quantify. Townsend believes a strategy change can improve the defense.

The Steelers defense was outstanding the previous week against Oakland, yielding 98 total yards and no offensive touchdowns. But defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has to make adjustments after Denver quarterback Jake Plummer completed 10 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns.

The game film against Denver is the blueprint on how to beat the Steelers and is being passed around the league.

The Steelers play New Orleans on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field. Expect the Saints to attack Townsend and fellow cornerback Ike Taylor, who was burned by Walker on a double move. That's if Taylor starts; he could be replaced by second-year cornerback Bryant McFadden, as Cowher attempts to shake up the troops.

The Steelers' lack of a pass rush left Taylor and Townsend on an island against Denver. The Steelers rush only three linemen and blitz linebackers and safeties to generate pressure on the quarterback. The Steelers had one sack against Denver.

Often, blitzing leaves cornerbacks vulnerable, because they're in one-on-one situations.

The Steelers have had their problems and their critics this season. Why do they keep turning the ball over? What's wrong with Ben Roethlisberger? Are the Steelers a passing team or a running team? Can the defense play better?

Those are all fair questions. But one thing you can't question is who's in charge of the Steelers. This is Cowher's team. His players still respect and play hard for him



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