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Asked and Answered 2/17: Max, Gay, red zone

Posted Feb 17, 2012

Bob Labriola, a Pittsburgh native, has been editor of Steelers Digest since its inception in 1988. Do you have a question for Bob? Go to the Steelers Facebook page – facebook.com/steelers – look for the Asked and Answered logo and post it there. Then continue reading Asked and Answered to see if yours was chosen.

Scott Claar: The Steelers need to go out and get Titans’ CB Cortland Finnegan! Fix that secondary.

Cortland Finnegan is on track to become an unrestricted free agent, provided Tennessee doesn’t slap the franchise tag on him, or sign him to a new contract before March 13. And at 28, Finnegan is attractive from an age standpoint. But the Steelers don’t believe in roster-building through the addition of high-priced free agents. It’s not that they’re cheap – if they’re cheap, they wouldn’t be faced with lopping $25-30 million off their 2012 salary cap – but they believe in paying the big bucks to their own star players. What if, in order to sign Finnegan, the Steelers had to pay him more than Troy Polamalu is making? Polamalu has helped the Steelers win two Lombardis, he’s a recent NFL Defensive Player of the Year, an annual All-Pro selection at safety, a leader, one of the faces of the franchise. You cannot do that. It’s not right, it’s not fair. The Steelers don’t operate that way, and the policy has built a trust between players and management. That’s why there’s not any bickering or back-biting in the Steelers locker room. That’s why the teams that win free agency never win the Super Bowl. Besides, Scott, you’re going to like Cortez Allen a lot, and don’t be surprised if he’s a starter opposite Ike Taylor in 2012.

Graeme Roux: Does Big Ben still have what it takes to shock us and prove that he is something special compared to this new class of quarterbacks entering the NFL?

It may shock you, Graeme, but nothing Ben Roethlisberger accomplishes on a football field is going to shock me. Roethlisberger will turn 30 soon, and that birthday can be a significant one for a professional athlete. You might choose to look at Cam Newton and Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III and Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford and think they could quarterback a team to three Super Bowls and win two of them. But I know Roethlisberger can do it. I was there to see it with my own four eyes.

Jim Graves: Will the Steelers keep Max Starks around? The O-line seemed to play much better after he came in last season.

No argument on the contention Starks stabilized the offensive line in 2011, and I would like to add that since 2005 the Steelers offensive line has been better with Starks as a starter than it has been when he wasn’t. What complicates this marriage this offseason are his status as an unrestricted free agent and the ACL he tore in the playoff loss to the Broncos. Because of the time frame involved in rehabilitating such an injury, Starks may not be healthy enough to pass a physical when training camps open, and no team would sign a player who can’t pass a physical. This figures to come down to when Starks is healthy and what the status of the Steelers’ offensive line is at that time.

Paul Jaewoo Jung: I know that the Steelers are over the cap, but how likely is it for the team to make a big move in the free agent market? Maybe signing a guy like Mario Williams to help that aging D-line?

Not going to argue that the defensive line needs reinforcements, but in a 3-4 scheme such as the Steelers utilize, Mario Williams is an outside linebacker. In fact, the Texans converted him from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker when Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator after the 2010 season.

Orlando Esparza: Hey, Bob, what exactly does Mike Tomlin see in William Gay to keep him in the starting lineup year after year? William Gay has cost the Steelers on numerous third-and-longs, big plays, touchdowns, and games.

This is an issue that baffles me. Not why Mike Tomlin continues to play William Gay but why William Gay has been demonized by Steelers fans. Gay is not Mel Blount. Gay is not Rod Woodson. He was a fifth-round draft pick who has been a contributing member of a defense that has ranked among the NFL’s best in each of the five full seasons he has been a part of it. If Gay is so, so awful, how was he a starting cornerback on a defense that ranked No. 1 in passing yards allowed despite being 18th in sacks, and also No. 1 in points allowed? Gay is physical against the run. He covers kicks. He can play safety. And the way the rules are written and the game is officiated today make it so much easier for offenses to play pitch-and-catch. One last thing: on the game-winning touchdown the Ravens scored to defeat the Steelers last November at Heinz Field, it was Ryan Clark who was responsible for the part of the field where the catch was made. Clark said that himself. No, William Gay is not a Pro Bowl cornerback and doesn’t ever figure to be, but there’s a spot on my 53-man roster for him.

Mark Kessler: It’s my opinion that the Steelers offense is better when they run the ball. Do you think the issue with red zone production is caused by a change of offensive philosophy from predominately run-oriented to predominately pass-oriented?

Not to go all coach-speak on you, but the key to success in the red zone is balance. If an offense is one-dimensional, it becomes much easier for a defense to keep it out of the end zone. You have to be able to do both, or at least you have to have convinced the opponent that you can do both. Defenses have less acreage to defend close to the goal line, and the best way for an offense to counter is by making the defense play every down honestly.

Geoffrey Santoliquido: Hey, Bob, are you related to Leonard who runs the wonderful Italian grocery stores, Labriola’s?

We are second cousins, and outside of my mother’s kitchen, the best pasta sauce on the planet can be found there.

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