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Asked and Answered: Game Day Week 1

Posted Sep 10, 2017

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

CLEVELAND – Let’s get to it:

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Steelers will wear their black jerseys for today’s game against the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.

JASON WOOD FROM LITCHFIELD, IL:
All the talking heads seem to think Troy Polamalu will have an easy time getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I hope so, but I disagree, as a frequent reader of Asked and Answered. You have frequently stated that Casey Hampton's stats aren't exactly eye-popping. Neither are Polamalu's when you look at his stats 15 years from now. You've also said that Hines Ward's X-factor as an, ahem, aggressive blocker, isn't enough to make up for stats. But I also think I’ve read that you believe Polamalu will get elected. If he makes it in, would he have to do it early, otherwise will a long Jerome Bettis-like wait derail his chances?

ANSWER: First, I want to clarify a couple of things: What I stated about Hines Ward was in response to a question regarding whether he would be a slam dunk on the first ballot. It wasn’t a criticism of Ward’s career, but rather an observation on the increasing difficulty wide receivers are having getting elected to the Hall of Fame. Here are some examples: Terrell Owens (1,078 catches for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns) and Randy Moss (982 catches for 15,292 yards, a 15.6 average that’s tops among the top 20 receivers in NFL history, and 156 touchdowns) haven’t been elected yet. Marvin Harrison, the No. 4 receiver of all-time, Cris Carter, the No. 5 receiver of all time, and Tim Brown, the No. 6 receiver of all time, all had to wait multiple years beyond the five-year threshold to get elected. That’s what is happening to receivers.

For the record, Ward finished with 1,000 catches for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns.

Now, on to Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu’s statistics, for a safety, are quite representative, and he earned enough other honors and recognition to have a portfolio very worthy of Canton. In 158 games, Polamalu finished with 32 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries for 39 takeaways. He also had 12 sacks and 108 passes defensed. Polamalu was voted first-team All-Pro four times (2005, 2008, 2010, 2011), and he played in eight Pro Bowls. Most significantly, he was the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year.

I have heard members of the Board of Selectors make the point that players should have been dominant in their era, and by being a first-team All-Pro four times and also winning a Defensive Player of the Year Award, Polamalu checks that box. While my opinion is that both Ward and Polamalu are deserving of being enshrined in Canton, based on the way things are trending with the voting I would guess that Polamalu is elected before Ward.

One last note on Polamalu as a shout-out to Kevin Colbert. In the 2003 NFL Draft, Colbert swung a deal with Kansas City to move up 11 spots (from No. 27 to No. 16) to pick Polamalu, and with the three picks it cost to make the trade the Chiefs got RB Larry Johnson, defensive back Julian Battle, and quarterback Brooks Bollinger.

TOM WHITLEY FROM MANCHESTER, TN:
Do you see an advantage for an established veteran at the demanding position of running back not participating, or limiting his activity, in the preseason? It seems running backs have a limited number of career carries.

ANSWER: This is certainly a departure from the typical submissions I have been getting about Le’Veon Bell missing training camp and the preseason, but the reality is that I have no idea how this is going to play out.

Maybe Bell pulls an Emmitt Smith, who in 1993 missed all of training camp, the whole preseason, and the first two regular season games. The 0-2 Cowboys then signed Smith to a contract that made him the highest paid running back in the NFL. Smith then rushed for 1,486 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and helped the Cowboys become the first team to win a Super Bowl after starting the season 0-2. He was voted NFL MVP and Super Bowl XXVIII MVP. Or maybe Bell has a sub-par season, and he and the Steelers both suffer the consequences.

Here is what Mike Tomlin said: “The consequences of his rust or lack of exposure will be revealed to him and to us over time. How much football he can absorb, the detail of his play, his overall level of football conditioning, his ball security, all of those things are consequences or potential consequences of time missed. The totality of those things I’m just not interested in speculating on because I won’t know until time reveals it, and that’s part of this process. Like I said in Latrobe, there are definite consequences for the time missed. What those consequences are and the extent of it, time will tell him and us.”

VINICIUS PALEY FROM VINHEDO, SAO PAULO, BRAZIL:
Why did we draft Josh Dobbs instead of Nate Peterman?

ANSWER: I don’t know specifically, but I’ll take a shot at answering this for you. Let’s start with Josh Dobbs beating out Nate Peterman when both guys were competing for the starting quarterback job at Tennessee, which is why Peterman ended up at Pitt. Here are their respective college statistics: Peterman completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 5,236 yards, with 47 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and what would have been a 98.1 passer rating if compiled by NFL rules; Dobbs completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 7,138 yards, with 53 touchdowns, and what would have been an 88.7 rating. Dobbs also gained an additional 2,160 yards rushing and scored another 32 touchdowns.

Also, because of the fact Dobbs didn’t have a position coach during his time at Tennessee, there was a belief that he still had room to grow, while Peterman was seen as more of a finished product coming out of college.

JAMES JAYE FROM SPRING, PA:
Why did they cut Brad Houston and keep Josh Dobbs, when Dobbs has consistently shown during the preseason and his college career that he cannot throw the long ball? Brad Houston came in twice during the preseason and in limited playing time threw the long ball well. It looks like Dobbs’ throwing motion and footwork is not NFL quality.

ANSWER: I have stated many times that Josh Dobbs needs work on his mechanics, and the Steelers understand that. His mechanics are the reason why he was not a threat to beat out Landry Jones for the backup job, but it’s clear that Dobbs has more upside than Bart Houston, who never even was a full-time starter in college at Wisconsin. As for deep throws, I’m guessing you missed – or chose to ignore – that 51-yard touchdown pass Dobbs threw to Justin Houston in the fourth preseason game, vs. Carolina.

DAREN FIKE FROM COLORADO SPRINGS, CO:
Any thoughts on the challenges the schedule brings this season, specifically the abundance of road games in the first half? A fast start would go a long way to competing for home field advantage come the postseason.

ANSWER: I agree that getting off to a good start is going to be critical to ending the regular season with enough wins to qualify for things like home-field advantage and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. But I’ve come to realize that trying to evaluate the degree of difficulty of a game against a particular opponent many weeks in advance of the actual game is a real crapshoot because of unforeseen issues such as injuries and how a particular team might be playing at a specific point in a season. For example, just look at the Miami Dolphins. The Steelers were roundly criticized for losing in Miami to the Dolphins in mid-October, but that loss didn’t seem so unforgiveable when Miami ended up at 10-6 and their opponent in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. What I will find to be a significant test personally is a stretch after the team’s bye where the Steelers will play four straight games in prime time.

HAL TROLLER FROM ROCKY MOUNT, VA:
I heard J.J. Wilcox was real good running back kickoffs and punts in college, will they try him out at that, have you heard?

ANSWER: J.J. Wilcox attended Georgia Southern, and during his career there he had one punt return for 0 yards and 33 kickoff returns for 791 yards (24-yard average). Those are hardly the statistics of a “real good” returner, and Wilcox has not done any of it since coming to the NFL.

HEATHER GOLDMAN FROM BEDFORD, NY:
I noticed that there are different players who return punts and then kickoffs. Is there a reason why the return groups aren't interchangeable? Seems like if you can do one, you can do another.

ANSWER: Actually, the skill-sets for the respective jobs are very different. To simplify it as much as possible, a punt return is more about short-area quickness and shiftiness, while a kickoff return requires more straight-line speed and timing. One requirement for both jobs is courage.

MIKE SCHROEDER FROM HOUSTON, TX:
Why aren't the players wearing their jersey numbers on front of the helmets? That used to be a Steelers trademark.

ANSWER: Starting today, they will. It long has been a Steelers tradition that players’ jersey numbers are not put on the front of the helmets until they make the 53-man roster for the start of the regular season.

BRIAN BOYCE FROM SPRINGBORO, PA:
NFL Network runs a list of the top 10 players at each position across the bottom of the screen. How does Ben Roethlisberger not rate as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL?

ANSWER: Do what I do: Don’t watch NFL Network.

MARK LABASH FROM TULSA, OK:
James Harrison had a sack in a preseason game. Will that sack count in his overall sack total or does it have to happen during a regular season game?

ANSWER: When it comes to the NFL tabulating a player’s career statistics, only things done during regular season games are counted. There is a separate category for playoff statistics, but preseason games don’t count at all.

ROSS HUNT FROM LISBURN, NORTHERN IRELAND:
I use the Steelers app on my phone, and the newest update/format no longer provides individual player statistics for each game. Can you find out why this was removed? As someone who lives abroad and can't always get to see all the games due to the television stations over here, I found it was very helpful to see who was playing and how they performed. It would be nice to have it back.

ANSWER: Try this: click on the "Recap" button of past games or the "Game Center" button of the current game. Within that page, on the "stats" tab there is a "players" button just below the quarter-by-quarter scoring. This will take you to a page with individual players statistics for that game broken down by team by tabs at the top of the page.

TRACY STEELE FROM NEWARK, NJ:
What is Ladarius Green’s role this year? Is he the Steelers’ No. 1 tight end?

ANSWER: The Steelers cut Ladarius Green last May. He is currently out of football.

DONATO D'ALESIO FROM BURLINGTON, ONTARIO, CANADA:
I always enjoy Asked and Answered, but the Sept. 7 edition was at a new level. Very entertaining and insightful. So glad society provides you enough fodder every week to allow you to entertain us.

ANSWER: Society has been doing a heckuva job with that lately.




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