No game-playing here

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Bill Cowher presented his team's official injury report to the media at his weekly Tuesday noon press conference. The deadline for NFL teams to provide injury reports is three p.m. on Wednesday.

What that means is that as the Jaguars coaching staff walked out of the lunch room and back to their offices to begin the highly sophisticated and sensitive job of preparing a game plan to beat the Steelers, Cowher had provided them with critical information on the availability of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and about 26 hours before Cowher was required to do that.

Why? Nobody knows.

What Cowher provided on Tuesday was more than an injury report. It was a scouting report. He discussed the Roethlisberger situation in detail and explained that Roethlisberger would practice on Wednesday when the team began preparations for its game against the Jaguars, and that Cowher would monitor Roethlisberger's progress.

Forget about the "questionable" tag Roethlisberger got. When you put all of the information together, the message is clear that Roethlisberger will play. Jack Del Rio guaranteed it on his Tuesday night radio show, and the headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette proclaims: "Roethlisberger expected to start against Jacksonville."

The story also tells how Roethlisberger has been medically cleared to play. Imagine that.

No doubt, Del Rio said to himself, "Thanks, Bill," when the Jaguars head ball coach and his assistants began game-planning. I can't help but wonder, however, if Del Rio didn't scratch his head and suspect that Cowher might be playing games with the info.

He's not, coach. He never does. Cowher could've played games with his injury report last year, but he didn't. He never misled the Jaguars about Roethlisberger's knee injury and his status for a game that saw Tommy Maddox step in at quarterback.

Cowher could really play games with Roethlisberger this year, but he's not. He's not only not playing games, he's provided the information ahead of schedule, which he does for all opposing coaches on critical game-plan Tuesdays.

Why? He's not stupid. He's the coach of the Super Bowl champions.

"I'm not sure why he does it. I've never asked him," Post-Gazette beat reporter Ed Bouchette said. "There's one theory. By announcing the injuries on Tuesday, he lets everybody know where they stand – the players, everybody – so it doesn't become an issue. Does it give the opponent a competitive edge if Cowher says Troy Polamalu is questionable? Cowher isn't one to give an opponent a competitive edge so I don't know what the reason is. He's been consistent that in his press conference on Tuesdays he gives out his injury report."

Does it provide a competitive edge? That's an interesting question. Former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin strongly believes an edge can be gained. So does New England's Bill Belichick and most coaches. Coughlin and Belichick are notorious for playing games with their injury reports.

For a Monday night game against the Steelers in 1997, Coughlin treated Mark Brunell's status with great stealth. Coughlin listed Brunell as "alive" and provided information to the media about Brunell's participation in practice that Coughlin no doubt included in his next confession.

As far as the Steelers knew, Brunell was having his leg amputated. Did that help Brunell throw for 306 yards and a touchdown in beating the Steelers? Most coaches would say yes. Cowher would probably say no.

The situation in Pittsburgh is different, to say the least. Practices are open to the media – the whole practice – and the Steelers have traditionally had a huge media contingent that follows them.

Open practices, therefore, put Cowher in a position in which he really can't create subterfuge with his injury report because any attempts to do so will be detected as fraudulent by the media that attends practice. That would explain why his injury reports are generally accurate.

It doesn't explain, however, why he provides those accurate injury reports as early in the week as he does. Is he playing some kind of a game of reverse psychology? Is he saying to the opponent, "OK, boys, here it is. What are you gonna do with it?"

Imagine that; telling the truth. It's the ultimate in game-playing. Who would believe it?

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