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Asked and Answered: Jan. 7

Posted Jan 7, 2016

Another installment of Bob Labriola answering your questions about the Steelers and the NFL.

Let’s get to it:

CRAIG HINDES FROM ROUND ROCK, TX:
Time to get excited about playoff football and enjoy being a Steelers fan. Will you share your favorite playoff memory to help get everyone ready? Love watching you on Steelers.com Live and reading Asked and Answered.

I have two for you. One was told to me, and the other was one I witnessed personally.

The one I was told about came during the 1989 AFC Wild Card Game in the Astrodome against the high-powered run-and-shoot offense of the Houston Oilers. The 1989 season was the one in which the Steelers started 0-2 after losing games to Cleveland and Cincinnati by a combined 92-10, only to come back and qualify for the playoffs. Heavy underdogs, the Steelers got the game into overtime on a 2-yard run by Merril Hoge with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and in was in overtime where Rod Woodson made the second-most spectacular individual plays I ever have seen made by anyone in a Steelers uniform. The Steelers received the overtime kickoff and after being forced to punt, the Oilers took possession near midfield. Weakened by a case of the flu that had team doctors recommending he not even make the trip to Houston, Woodson came off a block on the Oilers’ first snap of overtime, hit running back Lorenzo White in the backfield, forced a fumble himself, recovered it himself, and returned it to the Houston 46-yard line. Three plays later, the Steelers were facing a third-and-8 from the Houston 33-yard line. As the Steelers offense was in the huddle, Chuck Noll switched his headset to defense and said to coordinator Rod Rust, “If this pass is incomplete, I’m going to punt the ball and pin the Oilers deep.” Rust, a veteran coach who had done wonders in his one and only season as the Steelers defensive coordinator, responded, “I don’t know if we can stop (the Oilers) again.” When Bubby Brister’s pass was incomplete, Noll took Rust’s words to heart and sent Gary Anderson onto the field. Anderson’s 50-yard field goal gave the Steelers a 26-23 win.

This is the one I witnessed myself: It was 2005, and the Steelers were in Denver to face the No. 2 seed Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, already having upset the No. 3 Bengals in Cincinnati and the No. 1 Colts in Indianapolis. Russ Grimm, the former member of the famed Hogs and a physically imposing specimen even as an assistant coach, had been hired to coach the Steelers offensive line in early 2001, and this game in Denver would be his – and the Steelers’ – third AFC Championship Game appearance in five years, but they had lost the previous two – 2001 and 2004. I was one of the people on the early bus from the team hotel to the stadium, and it was Grimm’s habit to sit in the first row of the first bus on the side opposite the driver. There already were several players and staff members in their seats, when Grimm walked up the steps into the bus and as he was standing in the aisle he dumped his bags to make enough noise to get everyone’s attention. When the people on the bus looked up, Grimm scowled and said, “Anybody’s who’s scared, get the (bleep) off this bus.” The Steelers won, 34-17, and advanced to Super Bowl XL where they defeated Seattle.

SHAWN MORTON-BELTZ FROM GIRARD, PA:
With DeAngelo Williams a question mark for this week’s Wild Card Round game against the Bengals, do you see the Steelers looking at Dri Archer to help provide some playbook knowledge and receiving out of the backfield, the lack of which I think has led to Ben Roethlisberger’s increased interceptions due to trying to force the ball downfield instead of dumping it down. Archer’s speed is scary.

You do understand that Dri Archer was cut by the Steelers on Nov. 5, and after declining offers to join Pittsburgh’s practice squad and several other teams’ practice squads, he finished 2015 out of football. Against the Bengals, if DeAngelo Williams cannot play, it will be Fitzgerald Toussaint and/or Jordan Todman handling the running back duties.

TIM McDOWELL FROM WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y.:
The owner of the Dolphins was quoted this week as saying that his organization was the best in the NFL in every facet, with the exception of the results on the playing field. I only have experience with the Steelers’, and indirectly (because I moved to Buffalo) the Bills’ organizations. How do the Steelers compare as an organization, and does this even matter to players? If it does, in what ways?

I’m not going to disparage other organizations, and I also admit not to having any experience with any others, but I will try to offer you some insight into the Steelers’ organization. I have been told by many players who spent time with other NFL teams – as well as both Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin – that the Steelers are all about winning. Winning games, winning championships, and every decision they make is with that in mind. And while it might seem intuitive that all NFL organizations would have the same goals, that’s not necessarily the case. Sean Morey was a member of the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles that won the NFC Championship and then lost Super Bowl XXXIX to New England, 24-21, and he was with the Steelers in 2005. Morey told me that, as a perk to their big-money sponsors, the Eagles allowed those sponsors to ride on the players’ buses and interact with them on the trip to the stadium before the Super Bowl, and that it was uncomfortable because those people were a distraction – wanting to engage players in conversation, etc. – at a time when guys just wanted to be inside their own heads and get themselves ready for the biggest game of their lives. The Steelers never do things like that. It’s always about what facilitates winning, as opposed to what might generate the most revenue. And those six Lombardi trophies lined up in a row sure prove their point. More than one prospective free agent or pre-draft visitor have been stopped in their tracks when they turn the corner in the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex and get hit with that visual.

BILL HILTY FROM SANDUSKY, OH:
How do they pick next year’s opponents, and why do they wait until after the regular season is over?

Starting with the 2002 season when the expansion Houston Texans joined the NFL, the league has been made up of 32 teams divided equally into eight divisions of four teams each – with four divisions in each conference. This has made for a simple – and what the NFL sees as a fair – method of a schedule rotation.

It goes like this: each team plays a home-and-home against each of the other three teams in its division, for a total of six games.

Each team plays once against each of the four teams from another division within its own conference, with that division chosen based on a three-year rotation, for a total of four games. For the Steelers, the rotation had them playing the AFC West in 2012, the AFC East in 2013, the AFC South in 2014, and so it was the AFC West again in 2015. In 2016, it’s going to be the AFC East. The location of these games alternates – for example, in 2012, since the Steelers hosted San Diego and Kansas City while traveling to Oakland and Denver, so when it came time for the AFC West again in 2015, they played in San Diego and in Kansas City, while hosting Oakland and Denver. In 2016, it’s home against New England and the New York Jets, with the road games being at Buffalo and at Miami. A total of four games.

Each team also plays once against each of the four teams from a division in the other conference, with the assigned division based on a four-year rotation. For the Steelers, it was the NFC East in 2012, the NFC North in 2013, the NFC South in 2014, and the NFC West in 2015. That means it’s the NFC East again in 2016, with the sites of the games alternating from the sites the last time the Steelers faced the NFC East. In short, it will be Dallas and the New York Giants at home in 2016, with the Eagles and Redskins on the road. A total of four games.

Each team also plays once against one team from each of the remaining two divisions within its conference, and those opponents are based on the final division standings from the prior season, with one at home and one on the road. The Steelers won the AFC North in 2014, and so in 2015 they played the first-place team from the AFC East (at New England) and the first-place team from the AFC South (vs. Indianapolis at Heinz Field): A total of two games. And since these two games are based on where teams finished the previous season, that’s why the NFL waits until the end of the regular season to announce a team’s complete list of opponents for the following season. In 2016, these games will have the Steelers playing the second-place teams from the AFC West and AFC South, which translates into hosting the Chiefs and visiting the Colts.

BONNIE GONG FROM BELLEVUE, WA:
I admit I was thoroughly discouraged by the loss to the Ravens and gave up on the postseason. It seems that it takes my complete and utter surrender of any season for the Steelers to rise up and succeed. Am I the only one who feels this way? Considering my trepidation, I think we may do well.

In 2005, I also gave up mentally on the Steelers making the playoffs after they lost to the Bengals at Heinz Field to fall to 7-5 with four games to play. I remember the Steelers’ scenario at the time included winning all four games and needing Miami to upset San Diego. In 2008, the Steelers were 9-3 and hosting Dallas. The Cowboys held a 13-3 lead going into the fourth quarter, and with upcoming games at Baltimore and at No. 1 seed Tennessee in the next two weeks, a three-game losing streak that would knock them out of the playoffs seemed a real possibility. But in 2005 they won-out and got the help they needed, and in 2008 they came back to defeat the Cowboys, 20-13, on Deshea Townsend’s pick-six inside the two-minute warning and finished the regular season at 12-4. This season, like you, I thought the loss to the Ravens was a killer because I didn’t expect the Jets to lose in Buffalo. So, no, you aren’t the only one who gets those feelings.

JEREMY JAMES FROM CARY, N.C.:
I love Asked and Answered and make it the first thing I read on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Will you be taking a break during the off season from asked and answered? If so, when can we expect it back?

The general offseason plan for Asked and Answered is going to be to continue it on its usual schedule – Tuesdays and Thursdays. There might be an occasional mental health day for me, but for the most part it will remain a regular feature on Steelers.com on a year-round basis. That is, as long as there are enough questions for me either to answer, or to make fun of.

JOHN H. HUNT FROM LEXINGTON, KY:
Loved your answer to Carlos Powell from Reston, Va.  When I (and my wife Ann, from Hazelwood) first viewed the Steelers’ 2015 schedule last April, we predicted 8-8 or possibly 7-9. Never thought the playoff's were even possible. You're telling it like it is. Thanks.

You’re welcome.

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