Stillers, Cowher Need to Earn Respect
Both Cowher and the Stillers are looking to avoid another collapse and show fans and the NFL that the Stillers are for real. Coming into the Cincinnati game, the Stillers were on the brink of self-destruction. After a 5-3 start, losses to the Titans, Eagles and Jags had put the team in a 3 game skid and facing an all too familiar scenario; second-half collapse. In '98 after starting 5-3, Pittsburgh dropped 6 of 8 in the back half. In '99 after again going 5-3, they won only 1 of 8 to close out the season. This year, an 0-3 start lead many to believe that Pittsburgh would fold right out of the gates, but it didn't happen. A 5 game win streak lead to a 5-3 record at the mid-way point for the third straight year. But after losing three in a row, a question loomed, "was a second half collapse happening again???"
Fortunately, the trend of decreasing second half wins 2 to 1 to 0 (2-'98, 1-'99, 0-'00) was snapped with the Cinci victory. But as they say, One win does not a streak make and coach Cowher and his team still face an uphill battle to close the 2000 season. With the Raiders, Giants, Redskins and Chargers remaining, the sledding (San Diego aside) is not exactly easy. Oakland is at the top of their game with a 10-2 record (5-1 on the road) after trouncing Atlanta 41-14. Washington has been struggling, but is a dangerous team that happens to be underachieving but still solid on the road at 4-2. NY posts an 8-4 record entering this weekend and has the Thunder & Lightning (Dayne and Barber) 5th ranked offense to compliment a 5th ranked defense.
The upcoming opponents provide the Stillers with a golden opportunity to show the public, the NFL and themselves that they are not a floundering team, but a rebounding team that is both hungry and capable. If the season were to finish with wins against Cleveland, Cincinnati and San Diego then everyone would rightfully ask, "Who did they beat?" But, by winning against solid competition, the team and Cowher can win much respect.
Let's examine the need to win from the perspectives of the coaches and the players:
Cowher and the coaching staff need to rally the troops. If the team finishes under .500 -- for the third straight year -- then Cowher has some serious explaining to do. Namely, how in the hell can you lose so many games in November and December? Finish with a losing record and one must wonder how talented the coaches really are. Does the opposition watch film and make adjustments while little or none of the same is being done by the Stillers coaching staff? On the other hand, if the team can string together a few more wins, then the past two years can be passed off as bad seasons with underachieving or flat out bad teams.
Even though the coaches are not the ones who execute the plays and strategies, it IS their responsibility to prepare the players to do so. This being the case, they cannot be absolved from taking their share of responsibility for the team's pending success or failure. If they do their job well, there is no reason Pittsburgh should finish less than 8-8.
When it comes to the men on the field, both sides of the ball have something to prove. Until the past three games, Pittsburgh's offense had done little or nothing to solidify itself as a respectable entity in the NFL while the defense seemed to be a force to reckon with. In a turn of events, the offense and defense have transposed themselves over the past three games. Through nine games, the team was yielding just 10.3 points/game while scoring a meager 15.2 points/game. Over the last 3 though, the Stillers are scoring 31.7 points/game while giving up a hefty 29.3 points/game.
If the players want to prove their worth, they need to come up big at home against two solid road teams in the Raiders and Skins. They also need to beat up on a team they should beat on, San Diego. If the team folds in the final three games, then this season becomes another waste and another weight holding the organization back from future progress.
While romping on Cincy was nice to see, it doesn't mean anything in and of itself. Time will tell the true tale...I just hope the Stillers can build momentum and finish strong. The team is already beyond a great first round draft pick, so I'd rather see a strong finishing kick than an impersonation of playing dead.