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83-Steelers-43
09-19-2006, 11:29 PM
Steelers Notebook: Steelers on losing end of field-position battle
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Four punt returns for 8 total yards this season and one for 3 yards Monday do not cut it with this coach.

Neither do five kickoff returns for a 22.2-yard average per return overall and two for 36 total yards Monday, with rookie Santonio Holmes lugging back one from 4 yards deep in the end zone. Bill Cowher wished Holmes had downed that one for a touchback, "given where he ended up," at the Steelers' 14.

So went a vexing Monday night, when the Steelers played a field-position game and lost.

"Field position was a battle we really lost most of the night," Cowher said yesterday afternoon, hours after the Steelers' 9-0 loss to the host Jacksonville Jaguars. "And it was one of those type of games where the field position was critical."

Before even getting to the special teams, that territorial struggle hinged upon the Steelers' offense and defense, and neither won out. The Steelers' offense, with Ben Roethlisberger returning 15 days after surgery to start his first game of the season, garnered just nine first downs all told and zero by the ground, where it collected a Cowher-era-low 26 yards. The defense allowed Jacksonville to possess the ball for 37 minutes, 25 seconds and convert two late third downs inside its own 15-yard line.

"I thought there were just the two third downs where we had a chance" to change the field-position tussle, Cowher said. By that, he was referring to the third-and-10 from the Jaguars' 15 with 2:15 left in the third, when they completed a 14-yard pass for a first down, and a third-and-5 from the Jaguars' 13 with 9:54 left in the game, when they converted that first down and, 90 seconds later, another on that 48-yard, third-down pass play from Byron Leftwich to Reggie Williams. "We let them get out of there. ...

"You held them; yes, they didn't score touchdowns. But in a game like that, it comes down to plays, to two or three plays that determine or have a dramatic impact on the game. Not just with scoring points, but with field position."

Part of that problem centers on the Steelers' line play. The Jaguars won there, too. Offensively speaking, Cowher said, "I don't know if it was mental errors. It was a combination of some things that we can do better and things that you have to give them credit for doing."

The return teams are two other units that the coach wants to pull into the garage for further tinkering.

"We certainly have a ways to go returning, not just punts but even kickoffs," Cowher said. "We're still not in sync there."


No Reid


One potential avenue for trying to remedy the punt-return problem won't be tried. Cowher said he cannot foresee making rookie Willie Reid active on game day to bring back kicks.

Then again, by implication, it sounded as if Cowher may keep Duce Staley inactive again Sunday, too.

"I don't see the makeup of the roster changing that much," he said. "It is hard to get them on the field given the makeup of the team."


No Najeh, either?


Newly signed burly back Najeh Davenport didn't play Monday. Whether he will get a chance Sunday against Cincinnati, Cowher declined to say.

"The game just unfolded that way," Cowher said of Davenport not playing. "We do things that we think are in the best interest of this team. How it unfolds, sometimes, it's hard to say."


Quick hits


Cowher called Roethlisberger's interception on a pass intended for Holmes a "misinterpretation," though he declined to say by whom. ... Monday's game marked the first scoreless first half (both teams) involving the Steelers in a 396-game span in the regular season, since a 6-0 loss at Houston on Dec. 4, 1980. It was also the first scoreless first half in the NFL in two years to the day, since Indianapolis-Jacksonville Sept. 18, 2004.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06263/723356-66.stm

83-Steelers-43
09-19-2006, 11:38 PM
Notebook: Dismal punt return game doesn't register
By The Tribune-Review
Wednesday, September 20, 2006


The Steelers have been so poor on punt returns that they don't have anyone listed among the top 32 return men in the NFL's weekly statistical report. For the record, the Steelers have returned four punts for 8 yards. Ricardo Colclough, who misplayed several punts in training camp, has continued the trend in the regular season, misplaying one in each of the first two games. Colclough has 6 yards on two returns. Coach Bill Cowher said rookie Willie Reid, a punt-return specialist, probably would be inactive again Sunday. • The kick-return game is struggling, too. Rookie first-round pick Santonio Holmes is 23rd in the NFL in kick returns with a 21.3 average. He made an ill-advised decision to return one from 4 yards deep in the end zone Monday and was tackled at the 14. A week earlier, Holmes fielded a punt inside the Steelers' 5.
Asked if he would have preferred Holmes take a touchback on the kickoff, Cowher said, "Given where it ended up, yes."

Does he feel Holmes is ready to be a significant contributor? "I think so."

• Cowher grew testy when asked why newly acquired running back Najeh Davenport didn't play Monday.

"The game just unfolded that way," he said. "I mean, you guys can make all kinds of speculation, all you want. That's your part. We're doing things we think are in the best interests of this team. How it unfolds, sometimes, it's hard to say. You guys kind of sometimes jump to conclusions about certain things, and I shouldn't have to sit here and answer questions why, based on your speculation. And I'm not going to do that."

• Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio paid his defensive coordinator the ultimate tribute after the Jaguars' 9-0 shutout of the Steelers on Monday night.

"I gave Mike Smith the game ball," Del Rio said. "I thought he was magnificent."

The Steelers thought the Jaguars consistently out-guessed them in blitzing the run and repeatedly hurling more bodies into the gaps than the Steelers had blockers to account for them.

"When we called a run, they had more guys than we could block," wide receiver Hines Ward said.

• The Steelers rushed for 26 yards on 14 carries, a 1.9 average. Familiarity may have had something to do with that. Del Rio and Smith worked together under Brian Billick in Baltimore from 1999-2001 and have been together in Jacksonville since Del Rio's hiring in 2003.

"Having gone back to our time in Baltimore and going against these guys for years now, Mike Smith and I have a healthy respect for what they are capable of, and our guys prepared hard," Del Rio said. "For a number of years, (the Steelers) have taken the ball and taken the heart out of teams by just pounding away at them. We know that it starts there."

• The good news for the Steelers is they have time to recover from Monday night's thumping.

"Luckily, it's early in the season," linebacker Joey Porter said.

"It's only Week 2. We have a lot of football left." Ward concurred.

"The season's still long," Ward said. "There's no need to hit the panic (button). Winning on the road is a hard thing. We couldn't come down to Jacksonville and steal it. We just have to go back to the drawing board."

• Ward and running back Verron Haynes were among those who bemoaned the Steelers "leaving plays on the field." But the Steelers also had plenty of praise for the Jaguars.

"They're a great team, 12-4 last year, went to the playoffs," Ward said. "They played with a lot of confidence. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle, and it was."

• Running back Willie Parker went nowhere fast against the Jaguars, accounting for just 20 rushing yards on 11 attempts. The lack of productivity wore on Parker as the night dragged on.

"I play loose and smiling and happy, but I kinda got frustrated," Parker said.


Digits

1 - Combined tackles for Joey Porter Monday night (an assisted tackle).

1.8 - Yards per carry for Parker on 11 carries Monday night, his career-low total when amassing at least 10 carries in a game.

2.6 - Parker's previous career-low average on at least 10 carries, established last year against Jacksonville (21 carries, 55 yards).

3 - Third downs converted by the Steelers at Jacksonville (in 13 attempts).

4 - Drives the Steelers began inside their 20-yard line on Monday night (in 11 possessions).

5 - Drives the Jaguars began inside their 20-yard line on Monday night (in 12 possessions).

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/s_471283.html