Cowher wants more of the good Maddox, less of the bad

Updated: October 1, 2003, 4:43 PM ET
ESPN

PITTSBURGH -- Tommy Maddox has some of the NFL's most curious statistics. He leads the league with 1,168 yards passing, yet has only the 30th-best passer rating because of his six interceptions.

That sums up Pittsburgh's season a quarter of the way through. When the Steelers have played well, they've played very well. When they haven't, they've lost -- decisively.

"We've been consistently inconsistent," coach Bill Cowher said Tuesday. "I see a lot of good things we are doing, but we are not doing them on a regular basis. And we are having lapses that created holes that we cannot overcome."

That's why the Steelers' theme of the week heading a division game against the Cleveland Browns (1-3) on Sunday night is the same as it was when training camp opened: cut down on turnovers.

The Steelers (2-2) played well in beating Baltimore 34-15 and Cincinnati 17-10, allowing little defensively until both games were decided. But turnovers and poor special teams play were their undoing in losses to Kansas City (41-20) and Tennessee (30-13), when a combined five touchdowns against them resulted from interceptions or kick returns.

The Chiefs had a 100-yard kickoff return and a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown, plus a punt return to the Steelers 7 that was turned into a TD. The Titans returned one of Maddox's interception for a touchdown and another to the 1 to set up a score.

"Certainly, you don't want to be a team that is self-destructive." Cowher said. "You don't want to be a team that beats yourself,"

Maddox's ability gives the Steelers an opportunity to pile up points and large amounts of yardage in a short time. But his tendency to force throws sometimes gets him into trouble, as it did when pressure from Titans safety Tank Williams caused him to throw the ball directly to Rocky Boiman for a 60-yard touchdown return.

Maddox has 17 interceptions in his last 11 games, but also has 15 touchdown passes. That's why Cowher and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey don't want him to be more conservative, but also don't want him trying to squeeze his throws through coverage

"I like his aggressiveness," Cowher said. "He made some great throws the other day. But, at the same time, we have to be smarter about some of those decisions.

"You can call it a fine line or whatever you want, but we cannot continue to have the turnovers that are taking place and win games, because there is a correlation."

Cowher singled out a costly interception near the end of the first half as an example. With the Steelers leading 13-9, Maddox's pass intended for Plaxico Burress on a first-and-10 from his own 45 was intercepted by Samari Rolle, who returned it to the Steelers 1 with 50 seconds remaining in the half.

Steve McNair threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Erron McKinney two plays later. Suddenly, a 13-9 lead turned into a 16-13 halftime deficit, and Pittsburgh never scored again.

"I think it comes down to decision making, it comes down to understanding when there are situations you take the one-on-one matchups ... but you don't force the issue," Cowher said. "I think, at times, Tommy has indeed forced it. He is the first to admit it. We have to get him to understand what is taking place."

Left tackle Marvel Smith, who sat out the Tennessee game with a sore shoulder, is listed as questionable. Also questionable are Burress (hip), tight end Jay Riemersma (shoulder) and linebacker Clint Kriewaldt (knee).

The Steelers have won six straight and 13 of 15 from the Browns, including last season's 36-33 comeback victory in the playoffs.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index