Bill Cowher, the formere Super Bowl-winning head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is now one of the best color analysts in broadcast journalism today. Recently, The Shadow League was invited down to CBS headquarters in Manhattan as part of the annual pow-wow between the CBS NFL broadcast team and reporters who cover the game.
When it comes to Xs and Os, as well as scouting and talent evaluation, few are more interesting to chat with than Cowher.
The Shadow League: What are some of the storylines you’re looking forward to covering this season?
Bill Cowher: Certainly, the storyline of the New England Patriots, can they continue to do what theyre doing with Brady at the age of 40. Im interested in the quarterback position in general, in the AFC specifically.
Pat Mahomes II and DeShawn Watson are two young quarterbacks that were drafted in the first round to playoff teams. Theyre both going to start the season as backups. Some people would say both of those quarterbacks have a chance at starting for their respective teams by the end of the season. Jay Cutler being reunited with Adam Gase. He just left the job before he even started it to get back on the field.
Also, I think a storyline is that we should stay open-minded. Youve got Derek Carr and Marcus Marriota, two guys that ended the year on the injured reserve, are coming back to two teams that are expected to make it to the playoffs. I think the NFC South is going to be the toughest division in football this year with those four quarterbacks, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston and Marcus Marriota. Those four guys make it the toughest division in football.
TSL: Last year when we spoke, you mentioned the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders as your breakout teams for the upcoming season. That prediction was only half right. What happened to Jacksonville?
BC: They (Jacksonville) have to get the quarterback position settled, get a quarterback in place, find out if Blake Bortles is the guy. The next best thing you can do right after they figure out whos going to be the starter down there working on ability to run the football.
Tom Coughlin going down there is going to be great for them. Hes an offense coordinator who has won two championships with Eli throwing the play action pass and they have a good running game. The questions revolve around the offensive line. But theyve got a lot of really good players, theyre continuing to build, and theyre in a division they can win in. But, it all comes down to the quarterback position.
Can the Jaguars get that position to be consistent? Thats the question.
TSL: Blake Bortles has been given plenty of chances to get it right. What do you believe are some of his glaring issues?
BC: This is year three and I think this is a very defining year for him. This is really, really important. Its his first year in this system so I think its going to be really important for them to try to get him so confidence early. And he has to prove consistently over the course of the season that hes a guy thats gonna make some plays.
He needs to show growth and show the ability to be accurate, because I think accuracy has always been a question with him. You just cant overthrow receivers. Hes got a good corps of receivers, hes got a good running back, and I think the fact that Tom Coughlin drafted a running back early is very telling about what his thinking is for this offense. Its gonna be run, pound, play action and hes gonna have to make some plays in the passing game.
TSL: I have been defending Christian McCaffrey’s abilities for two years. What do you think of him?
BC: Hes got the pedigree, the guys just got the pedigree. I was able to watch the Carolina practice against Tennessee and, while Cam didnt participate in that, Im seeing a bonding between he and Cam. This is a guy Cam needs.
I love the fact that Jonathan Stewart can be an every down, pounding back, but Christian McCaffrey gives them the threat of a pass catcher out of the backfield on third down. He runs crisp routes as a receiver. I think hes going to be one of the most productive rookies to come out and I also think he couldnt have gone to a better place.
You put him out there with Kelvin Benjamin, another weapon for Cam Newton, I think this is a team to look for. Again, toughest division in football, but I can see Carolina coming back and being a team everyone else has to contend with.
TSL: What are some of your thoughts on Pittsburgh this season?
BC: I think Pittsburgh is loaded. I think, for the first time, they get Martavis Bryant, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown back at the same time. When those three get on the field together, which hasnt been very much because of injuries, suspension and so forth, this is the most weapons Ben has had around him in a long time, along with a very solid offensive line.
This is gonna be a very good offense. Defensively, theyre young. But this is a good football team. They got (to the playoffs) last year but they didnt have all their weapons. I think theyre retooled. Theyre a better football team this year than they were last year. I would be surprised if they didnt make a deep run into the playoffs. In my mind, they’re a contender against New England.