Cowher: Steelers too tentative and cautious

Updated: October 29, 2003, 9:14 AM ET
ESPN

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said Tuesday his players have become too tentative during a four-game losing streak that has dropped the defending division champions into the AFC North basement.

The surprise was that Cowher said his coaches -- and he likely meant offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis -- may be just as guilty of losing their aggressiveness because they fear making a mistake.

The Steelers (2-5), off to their worst start in Cowher's 12 seasons as coach, have been outscored 113-61 during their longest losing streak since a six-game run in 1999. They also have lost five of six, allowing 30 or more points in all but one loss.

Following Sunday's 33-21 loss at home to St. Louis, a perplexed Plaxico Burress complained that the playcalling has become so predictable that opposing defenses realize almost immediately what the Steelers plan to do.

Cowher normally would dismiss such a suggestion, but didn't this time.

"You have to be careful that you are not trying to worry about making the perfect call," Cowher said. "You start to worry about things like that instead of attacking an offense or a defense. You have to be careful that you are not more concerned with what you are not able to do. (If you do), you start to get into a very tentative mode from a play-calling standpoint."

Coaches ask players to be loose, play aggressive and take chances, Cowher said, but sometimes aren't as aggressive in the way they approach their own jobs.

To illustrate his point, Cowher said safety Brent Alexander failed to intercept a poorly thrown Marc Bulger pass Sunday because he thought it would be overthrown and didn't aggressively pursue it.

"Instead of going to get it, he was real cautious," Cowher said. "That is the type of thing you have to guard against doing, making sure you do the right thing instead of being aggressive and decisive. You can't be tentative in your thinking because, when you are, you start to be too cautious and you are a step behind.

"It's true with players and coaches. We just have to be careful that we don't fall into that."

Burress' comments may have bothered some coaches, but Cowher pointed out to his staff that the players -- not the assistant coaches -- usually get most of the post-game blame for poor performances.

"With the players, after a game, there is frustration and a lot of disappointment," Cowher said. "Some of the questions being asked of them are very difficult to answer. The assistant coaches don't have to go through that. ... On an off day, we're in here in our own little world coaching. But they (the players) are out there dealing with the feelings of the public which, at this point, are a lot of the same frustration and disappointment."

The Steelers play Sunday at Seattle (5-2), starting a stretch of three road games in four weeks that includes two visits to the West Coast. They play Arizona at home Nov. 9, then travel to San Francisco for a Monday night game Nov. 17 before visiting Cleveland the following Sunday.

Asked if the Steelers' season has reached the desperation stage, Cowher said, "I certainly believe desperate is not a bad word. We need to start playing that way."

Left tackle Marvel Smith (neck) and tight end Jay Riemersma (knee), neither of whom has played much for a month, are listed as doubtful. That means All-Pro guard Alan Faneca is likely to make his third straight start at left tackle.

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