Let’s get to it:
MATTHEW BARISH FROM LAKE HAVASU CITY, AZ: I feel like the Steelers have had an unusually high number of injuries this year. Is this just my imagination or are other teams facing similar numbers of injuries? Is there anything that can be done to lessen them in the future?
ANSWER: One of the determining factors in every NFL season is which teams manage to stay healthy, or at least not lose any of their significant players for long periods of time. Coach Mike Tomlin always has been proactive in the area of trying everything possible to avoid injuries, but football is a physical sport that contains a lot of high-speed collisions between big and strong men. Massage, pool therapy, hot and cold pools, and all of the most up-to-date equipment is available to the Steelers, and there are regular weekly visits to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex by orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, and doctors specializing in internal medicine. All teams employ a staff of medical and training people, and if there was a surefire way to prevent injuries somebody would’ve figured it out by now. I have come to believe a lot of the difference between a team getting through a season with most/all of its important players staying healthy and sustaining a rash of injuries to those same players comes down to luck. With injuries, the Steelers have not been lucky this season.
CASEY WALSH FROM BRIDGEWATER, NJ: Going into the season, many of us expected Vance McDonald to play a larger role in the passing attack due to the absence of Antonio Brown. Can you explain why he has been so lightly targeted all year, especially in light of all the recent injuries?
ANSWER: The answer to any and all questions about the offense’s or individual player’s lack of production can be traced to the absence of Ben Roethlisberger. There have been fewer pass attempts, and therefore fewer targets for everyone. The running game has suffered because without Roethlisberger to worry about, defenses are able to stack the box and wait for the running backs to be handed the football. I just hope this season teaches Steelers fans to appreciate what Roethlisberger has meant to and contributed to this offense for the last 15 years.
NICK PITNER FROM RUSSELL, PA: I know that NFL players are not allowed at team facilities or practices and such when they are on suspension, but are they allowed to purchase tickets to attend games as a fan and sit in the stands?
ANSWER: Players on suspension are not prohibited from buying a ticket to watch a game from the stands, but I can assure you that would never, ever, never, ever happen.
DAVID PRICE FROM CRYSTAL LAKE, IL: Are teams required to name starting quarterback five days before game day? Seems like we are giving away the advantage of making the Browns have to prepare for both options at quarterback. Now they only have to focus on preparing to face Devlin Hodges.
ANSWER: Teams are not required to disclose in advance who will start at quarterback. With a position as important as quarterback, though, Coach Mike Tomlin believes it’s important for the team to understand the direction that will be taken for the upcoming game. And once all of the players are told, there is no realistic way that will be kept a secret through an entire week. Besides, that “advantage” to which you refer is not nearly as significant as whomever starts at quarterback not turning the ball over.
NICK PITNER FROM RUSSELL, PA: I read your article on “Tommy Bell and the 1976 AFC Championship Game,” and it gave me goosebumps. I did not know just how bad the blood between the Steelers and Raiders was until finishing it. I mean, for the NFL to bring in 80-plus years of officiating experience to work the game is mind-blowing. At the end of it, you wrote, “The referee for Sunday’s game between the Steelers and the Browns will be Clay Martin.” Could you provide some insight as to who Clay Martin is? Is he today's version of Tommy Bell?
ANSWER: Clay Martin entered the ranks of NFL officials in the 2015 season as an umpire, and he was promoted to referee for the 2018 season after the retirement of both Terry McAulay and Gene Steratore. Outside his NFL job, Martin is a high school basketball coach at Jenks High School in Jenks, Oklahoma. He is neither as experienced nor as renowned as Tommy Bell was when he worked the 1976 AFC Championship Game. It’s also fair to remind you that in 1976, that was a playoff game, and today it is just one of 16 regular season games on the schedule.
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: General Manage Kevin Colbert was on the sideline last Sunday during the game in Cincinnati, and shortly after, the Steelers made a quarterback change. Is Colbert typically on the sideline, and would he be an influence in said quarterback change?
ANSWER: During road games, Kevin Colbert often will choose to watch the game from the sideline, but he absolutely, positively does not insert himself in any of the in-game decisions such as play-calls or personnel decisions, etc.
RYLAN FALLIS FROM INDIANAPOLIS, IN: I noticed that Jaylen Samuels barely got to see the field on Sunday against the Bengals. Was this a decision by Coach Mike Tomlin or was it because of some other matter?
ANSWER: Some other matter, such as Benny Snell rushing for 98 yards on 21 carries (4.7 average) and Kerrith Whyte rushing for 43 yards on six carries (7.2 average).
ROBERT GIBSON FROM KNOXVILLE, TN: I love the features where the Steelers work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Do all NFL teams do this?
ANSWER: I cannot speak for other NFL teams, but the Steelers long have had a relationship with Make-A-Wish where the players and coaches host at least one child a week through the weeks when the team is together either practicing and/or playing.
DONALD NOLAN FROM SEVIERVILLE, TN: I am calling it now: Steelers win the Super Bowl. They'll beat the Bills in the Wild Card Round, 27-13. They'll beat the Colts in the Divisional Round, 35-21. They'll beat the Chiefs in the Conference Championships Game, 24-17. They'll beat the Packers in the Super Bowl, 45-10. Duck wins MVP. Heard it here first. How do you see it playing out?
ANSWER: In some other way than that.
MATT CONFER FROM KITTANNING, PA: Do you see Duck as the next Charlie Batch for the Steelers?
ANSWER: Can we keep this Devlin Hodges thing in perspective, please? Charlie Batch entered the NFL as a second-round pick of the Detroit Lions, and he started 46 games there not because of injury but because he was judged the best quarterback on their roster for a number of seasons. Batch even earned a second NFL contract as a starting quarterback before he was judged to be too expensive and cut. Batch had a 12-year NFL career, mostly as a backup, but he also was a legitimate NFL starting quarterback. At this early, early stage of his NFL career, it’s not even a sure thing that Hodges can be a long-term NFL-caliber backup.
STEPHEN SEGAL FROM CHULA VISTA, CA: Can the media, not you, put the Carson Wentz is the next Ben Roethlisberger to rest? Wentz is looking less and less like an NFL franchise quarterback each week.
ANSWER: Can the fans, not you, put the Devlin Hodges is the savior of the Steelers to rest? Judging by the two previous submissions, I would say you have your work cut out for you.