Notebook: Haggans should stay in dime
Steelers inside linebacker Kendrell Bell is back in the middle of the base defense, but don't expect to see him in the dime defense anytime soon.
Coach Bill Cowher said he plans to keep Clark Haggans at rush end in passing situations, even though Bell is recovered from his high ankle sprain and was well enough to start the game Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts and make five tackles.
The preseason plan was to keep Bell, the 2001 NFL defensive rookie of the year and a Pro Bowler, on the field for all three downs, but his injury Aug. 18 forced him to miss most of the first five games of the season.
"Clark Haggans has done a very good job," Cowher said. "I would be hard-pressed to take him off of that. We just want to get Kendrell out there on first and second down. Let's walk before we can run."
Cowher said Bell took some bad angles in his early tackle attempts and was "thrashing around in that first half."
"In the second half, his angles were much crisper," Cowher said. "He was very decisive, very aggressive. You can tell when you turn on the video he was back to himself, not always where you would expect him to be, but very disruptive."
Cowher said Bell was hampered by a lack of practice time last week because the Steelers concentrated on their dime defense in advance of meeting the usually potent Colts passing game.
Haggans is second on the team with 3 1 / 2 sacks.
With Jerame Tuman (quad) and John Allred (calf) questionable, the Steelers hoped to bolster their tight end position when they re-signed Matt Cushing, who was one of four tight ends to make the roster at the end of training camp this year. Cushing has been on and off the roster several times since joining the team as an undrafted rookie in 1998. He was signed in the middle of the 1999 and 2000 seasons and spent the entire 2001 season with the team.
Cowher said Tuman's injury is taking longer to heal than initially expected.
To make room for Cushing, the Steelers released linebacker Justin Kurpeikis of Penn State and Central Catholic High School.
The third tight end will be Dan O'Leary, who was signed as a long snapper Sept. 24 after Mike Schneck dislocated his elbow against the Oakland Raiders. Schneck is close to returning and is listed as probable this week.
"He should be available to us," Cowher said.
The other injured Steelers are defensive end Rodney Bailey (ribs) and offensive tackle Marvel Smith (knee).
Cowher gave credit to special teams coach Kevin Spencer, a former Colts assistant who noticed a vulnerability in Colts punter Hunter Smith and took advantage of it.
Spencer, who was Smith's position coach in Indianapolis, told Cowher that Smith relaxes when he senses teams setting up for a return.
"He came in early in the week and said he had thought their punter, when he felt it was six guys in the box and we were returning, tended to be a little more methodical," Cowher said.
Spencer also said that he thought Smith would try to kick away from Antwaan Randle El, opening up a lane to rush from the flanks. So, Spencer recruited starting linebackers Joey Porter and Jason Gildon to rush from those positions, and Porter got his hand on the punt, which traveled only 3 yards, setting up a Steelers touchdown.
"Joey made a great play and it was a very good call by Kevin Spencer to put them out there," Cowher said.
Cowher said inside linebacker James Farrior is playing well, but he was in the wrong place during the Colts' 41-yard touchdown reception by tight end Marcus Pollard.
"He's played really solid. He screwed up the touchdown pass, so I refuse to give him too much credit," Cowher said. "He's involved in making a lot of calls right now. He can run. He works downhill in the running game. I tell you, he's had a very, very solid year."
Cowher continues to have patience with kicker Todd Peterson, who missed a 48-yard field goal attempt Monday, and now has missed four of 10 this season.
"Todd will be fine," Cowher said.
His only criticism: "I would like to see (his overall kicking) be more consistent."
Peterson's first four kickoffs fell between the 14- and 8-yard lines before the last one went out of bounds, giving the Colts possession on the 40-yard line.
"I didn't have a problem with the kickoffs," Cowher said, "until the last one. Those ones that go out of bounds just drive me nuts."
Cowher said the cold air hurt both kickers, including the Colts' Mike Vanderjagt. He allowed Peterson to attempt the long field goal in the fourth quarter because he saw him hit from that distance in pregame warmups.
"But it was three hours earlier, too," he said. "I'm sure it got a little colder and damper and the field wasn't in quite as good as shape as it was earlier."
Cowher said Heinz Field is tough on opposing kickers. "There's no question about it. If you're an opposing kicker coming in here, one night or day to get acclimated is just not enough. I would hate to be an opposing kicker kicking in our stadium."
FU AND MARTY
Few Steelers players in recent seasons have been injured more often than running back Chris Fuamatau-Ma'afala, who has made it unscathed through only one full season since joining the team in 1998. That puts him in the dubious company of Penguins forward Martin Straka, who has been plagued by a variety of injuries in recent years.
Asked about Straka, Ma'afala showed the kind of hockey knowledge expected from someone who grew up in Hawaii. "Who's this?" he said.
When told of Straka's troubles, Ma'afala said, "Wow. Maybe we can get together and try to figure out what's the deal."
Ma'afala said he is puzzled by his history of injuries.
"No idea, man. I was hoping you guys (reporters) would tell me so I could plan ahead," he said. "Every time I start to get rolling …
"Everything happens for a reason. Always, I keep my head up and keep looking at the prize ahead."
Cowher said he is astounded by his 70-1 record every time the Steelers have an 11-ponit lead.
"I cannot account for that," he said. "I was totally shocked when I saw that. I never knew we had that many leads of that length. I guess I remember all the losses. I don't remember all the wins."