View Full Version : Bill Cower on the Steelers this year

06-16-2008, 12:29 AM
June 11, 2008
Dave Richard
Senior Fantasy Writer
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Although he admitted he's never played Fantasy Football, former Steelers boss and current analyst on The NFL Today Bill Cowher understands the game of football inside and out. We had the chance to talk to the Super Bowl-winning head coach about trends around the NFL, and of course, the future of the Steelers.

After New England did what they did last year offensively, could an NFL head coach not named Belichick look at the Pats' film and see how they could implement some of what they did into their offense?

Cowher: Yeah, you always look. All the projects that coaches go through in the offseason are based on the success other teams had in every area whether it's offense, defense or special teams. What they do is see if they can incorporate anything they see with the people they have. So I think the passing game, from that standpoint, looks good -- just like what Indianapolis has done for a number of years that's spurred people on. Then you see that some coaches have been able to adopt elements of it, and other coaches are just kind of stuck with what they've been doing. The one thing you have to be careful of is trying to do what other teams and players are doing when you don't have the people to do it yourself.

Do some coaches or coordinators fall into that trap? They get too excited about a certain scheme and it ends up blowing up in their faces?

Cowher: I think coaches are very much guilty of trying to implement players into their schemes as opposed as trying to fit schemes into players. That's the thing that can separate good coaches from bad. Sometimes it's a good marriage and you can have the players fit into what you want to do, but to me, what separates those good coaches are the ones who can adapt a plan based on what they have, not based on trying to fit guys into what they're doing. A lot of times, you'll see that through the course of a season. You may go through a situation where you may have a couple of tight ends get hurt in a game and you may not have that package at your disposal, so you've got to be able to adapt to what you have health-wise. And, you have to adapt to what your team's personality becomes as the season unfolds. Who are the players that are starting to step forward and separate themselves as being guys you can count on? Then what you do is start catering to a philosophy that's able to expand and exploit that strength.

There's a saying in Fantasy Football that "it's all about the matchups." We spend plenty of hours here looking at the matchups figuring out where teams have an advantage or a disadvantage. How closely do coaches look at the other team and really pinpoint and go into detail on every defender week in and week out during the season?

Cowher: Well that's the schematic part of it -- they get very deep. I think the first thing coaches look at are matchups. They look at a top receiver and how they're going to shut him down, so they might come to the conclusion to put two guys on him. They look at a top rusher against your tackle, and so what are you going to do? You're going to put someone over there to give that tackle help. The biggest thing that happens is that coaches look at matchups and see where they can potentially take advantage and at the same time, realize where they have a bad matchup. And then there's being able to adjust in the course of a game if suddenly a team has taken away one of your strengths, and then you have to be able to realize what they're going to do when you take away that strength. When that happens, you might have a weakness and expose yourself to something they'll adjust to, and that's where the philosophical back-and-forth chess match comes into play.

Back to the Patriots and Colts and strong passing games. There seems to be a trend where passing is becoming the new way to move the football, whether it's by screens and short-area passes or by the long ball. Is that a trend you see continuing, and do you see any other trends showing up on film?

Cowher: I think everything is cyclical, to be honest. The passing game has become that way because a lot of the rules have been catered to being able to throw the ball. A lot of rules cater to high scoring, and that's what people believe makes for a more entertaining game. But you have to find out what your strengths are. It's hard to throw the football when you have some instability at quarterback or if you don't have the weapons around you. And a coach must recognize that if you start throwing the football around, you'll have to go through that period of growth that will result in the defense being out there on the field a little bit longer, which might cost you some games. In my opinion, there's a lot of trickle down that happens with offense philosophy that can carry over to a defense. Certainly, a defense is much fresher if you're able to run the football and shorten the game. A lot of it has to be catered to your football team and what you do best.

Another team that threw more last year was the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger set a career-high in touchdowns with 32 while amassing his second 3,000-yard season. Is what he did, and effectively what the coaching staff there did, surprise you in any way considering his previous seasons?

Cowher: I know that when I was there, we ran the ball first. Right now, it looks like they're really looking to throw the football first and foremost, and Ben can do that. I'm not a big stat guy, so it never concerned me. I know we won a championship our way, and when we got a lead I took the air out of the ball. It wasn't always to the delight of the receivers and quarterbacks, but at the same time I thought it was the best way to win football games. But what he did last year does not surprise me. (offensive coordinator) Bruce Arians is a guy who will throw the football and spread it out, and they have some weapons. Guys like Heath Miller who makes some big plays for them. He's a big tight end who is a good target and can run. I think rookies Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed will also contribute. I don't think it's going to change -- I would be surprised if their numbers weren't as big as they were a year ago, and based on the talent they added, they may be even bigger this year.

All that said, you still have to come back to that offensive line, and that's going to be the one thing that will be the big area of concern. I think a lot of people will have to watch and see how that unfolds because it's hard to take a Pro Bowl player like Alan Faneca out of there and feel like you're not going to miss a beat.

Let's talk about him. One of the players on our radar this preseason is Thomas Jones with the Jets, and a lot of that has to do with Faneca moving to the Jets from the Steelers. Could you tell me what the Jets got in Faneca, and why he's important to the Jets' success?

Cowher: He's a consummate pro, from the time he steps on the field in practice to the meeting rooms to what you see on Sunday. He and his wife are solid people who gave so much to the Pittsburgh community, and he's just rock solid from top to bottom. He's a hard worker and a competitor. That's why he's been recognized as probably the best guard in football for a long time. And there's no doubt he'll do a lot for the Jets' running game. That's his strength. He's not just good at moving at the point of attack, he's also become very good in space. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Jets utilize him as a puller because he does that very well.

Is it true that when you add a veteran like Faneca to an young offensive line -- he's surrounded by left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold, both entering their third year -- that he'll improve their play?

Cowher: No question. While the skill positions are more complex, there are still nuances and complexities from a lineman's standpoint. People change their positions before the snap and show blitzes in a number of ways, so there's no question that a lot of line calls need to be made by either the center or the guard and get out to the tackle. Having a guy like Alan Faneca next to Ferguson will make him a better tackle.

Back to the Steelers. The year Santonio Holmes had kind of goes hand-in-hand with Roethlisberger's year and the whole trend toward passing more than running. Was 2007 the kind of year you expected when you drafted Holmes back in 2006?

Cowher: Yeah, I think Santonio is one of those guys who has deceptive speed and definitely is a deep threat who can stretch the field for you. I think he's a strong runner after the catch and a smart football player. We thought he was the best receiver coming out the year we picked up, and when we had the opportunity to get him as low as we were picking we were thrilled. He's a good kid who will work to get better. As he gets a little bit stronger and learns from a guy like Hines Ward, he's got so much more upside ahead of him.

Is there anything to it when a receiver has a so-so first year, improves the second year, and in the third year the light turns on. They get it.

Cowher: I think as much as people talk about the skill positions as being able to come in and play quicker, it might be true but it's a more complex game that the other positions. On the offensive line and defensive line, it's still about the guy in front of you. From the skill positions, they go up against very complex defenses, and then you couple that with the offensive nuances every team has and trying to play the game fast without hesitation or thinking too much, and it takes a while to pick up. You want to pick a rookie and not move him around so much, and that way they can all learn their position quicker. Then what happens is that the longer they stay in the league and learn the nuances, the better they get.