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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blame Cowher

Sometimes a coach just thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and he wants to show them so as often as possible.

That’s the only explanation for Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher continuing to send Ricardo Colclough back for punt returns in the team’s 28-20 loss to Cincinnati Sunday.

What in Colclough’s history has suggested he is a good punt returner?

Every time the Steelers had tried him back there in the past, Colclough had mishandled punts.

Seemingly every practice at training camp was punctuated by Colclough mishandling a punt.

Last week at Jacksonville Colclough had a punt jump out of his hands before he reeled it back in. And he also mishandled one in the opener against Miami.

Yet there was Colclough back there to return a critical fourth-quarter punt against the Bengals.

What did Colclough do?

What he’s always done.

That’s why I don’t blame Colclough for muffing a punt that the Bengals recovered at the Pittsburgh nine yard line. You don’t blame a lion for attacking a water buffalo. He’s just doing what lions do.

Cowher should shoulder all of the blame in this instance. He made the decision to put Colclough back there.

I’m not going to say Willie Reid would have made a difference in this game. But he certainly didn’t muff any punts during training camp.

But we still haven’t seen Reid during the regular season because he’s been inactive for the first three games.

If Cowher says having Reid active comes down to numbers on game day, that’s fine.

But that doesn’t explain why Santonio Holmes wasn’t back there instead of Colclough. At worst, Holmes would have just allowed the punt to bounce and the Steelers would have taken over the ball deep in their own territory instead of Cincinnati doing so.

© The miscues of the Steelers offense and Colclough ruined another strong effort by the defense, which is performing at the same level it did during last year’s playoff run.

Talk all you want about the four touchdown passes Carson Palmer threw Sunday, but the defense opened the second half in dominating fashion against the Bengals.

On four possessions prior to the muffed punt, Cincinnati had managed just one first down as Palmer was intercepted once, lost a fumble and was sacked three times.

All told, the great Cincinnati offense managed 64 second-half yards.

That should have been good enough for the Steelers to win.

© Ben Roethlisberger is obviously struggling with his throws, leaving a lot of balls high or otherwise off-target. He’s also forcing some throws.

But the receivers aren’t helping a lot by dropping a lot of passes.

Part of the reason is that they are being forced to leave their feet to make catches and are dropping the ball on contact with a defender. These guys are professionals, though, and should be expected to come up with more of those than they drop.

Through three games, the Steelers’ leading receiver is running back Verron Haynes, who has 10 catches for 59 yards.

That speaks volumes about how badly the passing game is struggling.

Through two games, Roethlisberger is completing less than 50 percent of his passes and his passer rating is 34.3. There were even a smattering of boos at times after some of his poorer throws.

If Roethlisberger has any doubts about how quickly fortunes can change for quarterbacks in Pittsburgh, he can give Kordell Stewart a call.

© If I’d have told you prior to Sunday’s game that Rudi Johnson would average just 2.5 yards per carry, gaining 47 yards on 19 carries, while Chad Johnson would get one catch for 11 yards, you’d have taken it in a heartbeat.

© Kudos to guard Kendall Simmons, who handled Sam Adams play after play in this game, often taking the big man wherever he wanted him to go.

If I’m the Bengals, when I look at the film of this game, I’m hoping that the second meeting with the Steelers in the final week of the season is meaningless.

If the Steelers are pushing the big man around like this now, what are they going to do to him in the second meeting?

Certainly getting middle linebacker Odell Thurman back will help Cincinnati’s run defense. But Adams looked old and fat Sunday, which is fine if you’re watching the game from the couch or press box, but not all that impressive if you’re being asked to catch Willie Parker.

© This is the fourth time in Cowher’s tenure that the Steelers have opened a season 1-2. In each of the other three seasons – 2002, 1997 and 1993 – the team has rebounded to make the playoffs.

But with Cincinnati and Baltimore already off to 3-0 starts, the team certainly has dug itself a nice hole.

© After his quick start against Miami, Joey Porter again had a day in which he played but didn’t show up a lot in the stat sheet. Porter was credited with one pass defensed and one assist on a tackle against the Bengals.

He did push Palmer out of the pocket on one occasion, into the waiting arms of defensive end Brett Keisel. And the defense did finish with six sacks, so it’s hard to fault Porter for Sunday’s loss.

© So why was Haynes in the game following Cincinnati’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter?

Parker had taken himself out of the game after his 31st carry after getting speared.

That wasn’t a coaching decision. That was fate.

© Safety Ryan Clark nearly did society a favor when he decked Cincinnati receiver Chris Henry in the third quarter, a hit that resulted in a Pittsburgh interception and Henry laying on the ground for several minutes.

Henry, who has been arrested four times in the past year, received a slap on the wrist last week on a gun charge in Orlando.

Here's betting the league will come down harder on Clark for leaving his feet to hit Henry than it will on Henry for his mutiple infractions.

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