PITTSBURGH (Oct. 31, 2006) -- Bill Cowher isn't blaming Ben Roethlisberger's frequent interceptions for the Pittsburgh Steelers' terrible record. Or a major falloff by the special teams. Or a surprisingly inconsistent offensive line.
Cowher is faulting the boss.
"Obviously, there's a lot of disappointment to be sitting here at 2-5. I accept full responsibility for that," Cowher said. "It starts with me. There's been a lot of frustration ... in the different ways we have found to lose. The bottom line is we have lost."
Cowher dismissed his own uncertain future as a reason for the Super Bowl champions' stumbling -- he hasn't said if he will return in 2007 -- and that topic is almost never mentioned by his players.
What has become worrisome is that the Steelers already trail Baltimore (5-2) by three games in the AFC North with the season not yet half over.
"Each of us is going to have to do more and that starts with me," Cowher said of a team that has as many losses in seven games as it did in 20 games a season ago. "The focus right now is to win a football game and get out of this funk we're in."
After losing to one of the NFL's weakest teams, Oakland (2-5) 20-13, the Steelers meet Denver (5-2) in a rematch of the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh. Cowher's biggest concern might be his team's fading confidence, a quality that wasn't a problem as the Steelers won 31 games, counting the playoffs, the last two seasons.
"Confidence is a fragile thing," Cowher said. "We have no reason to be a confident team at this point. We haven't done the things it takes to win games."
The Steelers appeared to be coming together after beating Kansas City 45-7 on Oct. 15, but that is their only victory in their last six games. They lost to Atlanta 41-38 in overtime a week later after Roethlisberger, who had thrown five TD passes in less than two full games, left with a concussion during the third quarter.
That concussion wasn't a problem in Oakland, Cowher said, yet the third-year quarterback looked like a different player than the week before. He appeared to be anticipating getting sacked several times, ducking under before the pass rushers arrived. Two of his four interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
Roethlisberger won 27 of his first 31 NFL starts, yet is 1-5 this season.
Still, Cowher didn't hesitate to start Roethlisberger against the Raiders despite the concussion, and never considered replacing him with backup Charlie Batch. Cowher suggested Roethlisberger's biggest problem was trying to do too much after the Steelers fell behind 7-0 and 20-7.
"With three of them (interceptions), he's got to use better judgment," Cowher said. "He would admit to that. To get the ball at the 1-yard line (late in the game) and not score with that -- the inconsistencies, we've got to eliminate them. And we are not doing that."
Cowher wouldn't speculate if Roethlisberger's repeated health issues -- his motorcycle wreck, appendectomy and multiple concussions -- have factored into his falloff in play.
"That's a hard question to answer," he said. "It's all speculation."
Cowher did criticize the special teams and offensive line play, both of which have dropped off significantly from last season.
The Steelers are last in punt return average and third from the bottom in kickoff coverage, and a rushing game that is routinely among the league's best is only in the middle of the pack. And they are fifth from the bottom in turnover margin.
"We're turning the ball over and that's the biggest thing -- we have 18 in seven games," he said. "A year ago we had 23 in 16. There have been a lot of inconsistencies with our team."
As expected, running back Verron Haynes and linebacker Arnold Harrison were placed on injured reserve with torn anterior cruciate ligaments and are done for the season.