Wednesday, November 22, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bill Cowher's impatience with the Steelers' kickoff-coverage team may have reached the breaking-a-long-one point.
Josh Cribbs' 92-yard touchdown return that put the Browns back on top by 10 points in the fourth quarter Sunday in Cleveland might have done the trick. With All-Pro returner B.J. Sams lurking -- or smacking his lips -- Sunday in Baltimore, Cowher is ready to make a change.
"Where we are right now, we're going to have a big challenge because our coverage team has not been very good," Cowher said.
He might do something drastic, such as putting more starters on the kickoff team. The prospect of seeing former special-teams terror Brett Keisel and his 285 pounds bounding down under kicks or All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu chasing Sams Sunday would be enticing.
"I'm considering anything and everything," Cowher pronounced firmly yesterday. "Something has to change somewhere and somehow. The results right now are not where they need to be. It's disappointing."
Cowher also talked about making changes to his starting lineup before the Steelers played the New Orleans Saints Nov. 12 and made none. But this time, he seems determined to do something to improve a kickoff-coverage team that ranks fifth from the bottom of the league, allowing opponents to start their series on average at the 29.5-yard line.
Two starters have been on the kickoff team much of the season, cornerback Ike Taylor and free safety Ryan Clark. It also includes No. 3 cornerback Bryant McFadden, who has started three games because of injuries to Deshea Townsend.
The options for adding others are not many besides Keisel and Polamalu. Former special teams co-captain Chidi Iwuoma, one of their best kick- and punt-coverage men, was released the day before the opener.
Cowher has become so frustrated that he has had kicker Jeff Reed pooch a few kickoffs to keep deep men from returning them. Special teams co-captain Sean Morey said that kicking off out of bounds also has been suggested, although he did not say by whom. A kickoff out of bounds would place the ball at the opponent's 40.
Steelers kickoffs average 62.9 yards, which ranks 26th in the NFL. Cowher cleared Reed of culpability.
"I understand this time of the year, with the kicking game outside, unless you have two or three guys in this league that are just kickoff guys, you're going to have to deal with the field position being higher," Cowher said.