Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Maybe, maybe not

I think it's funny how Ed Bouchette now calls his daily Steelers update on Black and Gold Insider (it's part of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and yes, subscription req'd) a blog -- last year it was just a daily update. Anyway, I agree with his following observation:

The officials are getting out of hand with these pass interference penalties. The two penalties in the Steelers game, one against Chad Scott and the other against Tory James defending Plaxico Burress in the end zone would not have been called on an NBA court. The pass interference penalty against Kansas City's Dexter McCleon in the end zone was outlandish.
Bouchette's exactly right and it's completely ridiculous. I have this theory that the more pages they add to the rule book, the more calls officials tend to miss. I'm convinced that it actually might make more sense to have two or three rules and try to simplify the officials' job as much as possible.

It's been the rare occasion this season that I've bad-mouthed Chad Scott (what a difference a year makes) and I can't complain with his performance last week. He got hosed on the interference call and the one pass that Chad Johnson caught for 20+ yards was well covered; he was just a split-second late on getting his hand up (and his head around). Deshea Townsend also had another solid game -- and a solid season. It makes you wonder what the hell Bill Cowher and Tim Lewis were watching last season when they kept trotting DeWayne Washington out there game after game.

All this defensive backfield talk segues nicely into something Cowher mentioned yesterday at his press conference:

Q: Is it a good sign that your safeties are among your top tacklers?

COWHER: They were making way too many tackles the other day. That was not a good thing. I will say this about those guys, they can run. Troy (Polamalu) is everywhere. The play that really stands out in my mind is when we ran a blitz and he was supposed to be in a hook. Carson Palmer scrambled the other way and he came from a hook position 12 to 13 yards deep and ran him down out of bounds. I looked up and it was second and 10. He can run. Another time he ran where he thought Rudi Johnson was going over there, so he ran behind the line to meet him there. Rudi came back to where he left from and he got about eight yards. Sometimes, patience is a little bit of a virtue that you have to be able to apply. There is a fine line there again, with him, in terms of slowing him down at necessary times and allowing him to be a free flowing active guy. Those two guys have been involved with a lot of plays. Chris needs to do that. I told him that a couple weeks ago that he should make one or two big hits a game. That is what a free safety needs to do, is to make their presence felt. He has done that the last couple games.
Yeah, these guys are making a lot of tackles, but consider where this team might be if we had Brent Alexander and Mike Logan back there. And don't get me wrong, I think Logan is an important part of this team -- at least as a backup. Nonetheless, to watch Hope and Polamalu back there reminds you how speed and athleticism can compensate for inexperience.

If both safeties continue to progress like they have these first four games, they'll make Dick LeBeau's job a lot easier in terms of pressuring the ball -- and that may be a big part of what the Steelers may try to do Sunday against the Browns. Anyway...

Here's another observation by Bouchette with which I tend to disagree (vehemently):

If Randle El continues to average 4.4 yards a punt return over the next few games, would it be time to come back from the bye with rookie Ricardo Colclough?
Here's an example of where too much reliance on statistics is a bad thing. Either Bouchette is busy typing away on his keyboard every time the Steelers punt return team is on the field, or maybe he's taking a bathroom break. Whatever the case, there's no way in hell you don't let Randle El return punts. If you've seen any of the opportunities, it's pretty clear why his average is 4.4 yards per return. Here's what Cowher said when asked a similar question yesterday:

Q: Has Antwaan Randle El changed his kickoff return style?

COWHER: No. Punt returns are just hard. Kickoff returns are a timing play and you know pretty much what it is going to be. A punt can be short. And Randle El has done a great job of really catching punts before they bounce which has negated his yardage. Then we have had some good returns, we had some guys use some bad judgment with penalties. We have had too many penalties on the punt returns. It's not so much El. That's what I tell these guys, why would you even think about hitting a guy in the back when you have Randle El back there because he is going to make a guy miss anyway. I am just going to keep saying it. I am not going to stop until these guys get it in their head and hopefully we will do a better job of it.
"...why would you even think about hitting a guy in the back when you have Randle El back there?" That's a great question, and I often yell something along those lines at the television every time it happens.

Cowher downplayed the fact that the Steelers are 3-1 a quarter of the way into the season, but I still vividly remember what 6-10 felt like. I'm enjoying first place for however long it lasts.

Oh yeah, Kendrell Bell's having a hernia operation, but I don't want to talk about it.