Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Dec. 10

Let's get to it:

JAY DRAGERT FROM WEST DES MOINES, IA: During the broadcasts of Steelers games, the commentators will mention the winning percentages of coaches Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher, and Chuck Noll, with Tomlin having the best one. I think that's a great stat for what a winning franchise the Steelers have been since 1969. Do you think the stat about those coaches' winning percentages is comparing apples to apples? Which coach's tenure had the most challenges? The reason I ask is that it seems like there are a bunch of NFL teams that now are losers but used to be winners in past decades.
ANSWER: This is how I view it: Chuck Noll is the greatest coach in Steelers history and deserves to be considered closer to the top of the coaches listed as the greatest in NFL history, regardless of winning percentages or any other statistic that can be unearthed or created.

That's because Noll had to change a culture of losing, a culture that had taken root and grown unchecked for almost 40 years. Before Chuck Noll was hired in 1969, the Steelers franchise had been a part of the NFL for 36 seasons, and in those 36 seasons, they had finished with a winning record just eight times. Plus, in the 10 NFL Drafts before Noll was hired, the Steelers traded away their first-round pick five times, their second-round pick five times, and their third-round pick seven times. Such was the state of the franchise's "personnel department" that it cut John Unitas, traded Len Dawson, and traded the draft pick to Chicago that the Bears used to pick Dick Butkus.

And as a coach, Noll turned around a franchise that did that kind of stuff to one that won its first Super Bowl, and he accomplished this resurrection from the dead in a span of just six seasons. As far as Cowher and Tomlin, neither one of them had to overcome what Noll had to overcome, and the foundation for their success was Dan Rooney, the man who first identified Noll and then presented him to his father as the man the Steelers should hire in 1969. Dan Rooney built the organization and then maintained it in a way that allowed Cowher and Tomlin the opportunity to have success, and both men proved themselves capable of doing just that. All three of those coaches won Super Bowls, and when it's all over I believe Tomlin will join Noll and Cowher in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

JACK FOSTER FROM ROUNDUP, MT: I've heard on from Missi Mathews and the guys that the Steelers had to play three games in 12 days. Can you please clarify for me where that is? I count three games in 16 days.
ANSWER: The Steelers played the Ravens in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Dec. 2; then they played Washington on Monday, Dec. 7, and their next game is in Buffalo against the Bills on Sunday, Dec. 13. That's three games in 12 days.

BRIAN MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: In regards to the Steelers offensive line issues, maybe putting Matt Feiler back to right tackle and inserting Kevin Dotson in at left guard could help? Status quo isn't working. Do you believe any personnel adjustment can be made this year that could help this team, or is it simply something that has to be addressed in the draft next year?
ANSWER: I don't disagree with the notion that Matt Feiler is better at tackle than at guard, especially in the run game, but I don't believe that fixing the running game can be accomplished with making that one change on the offensive line. I could see the Steelers using more than one draft pick on offensive linemen in 2021, but for right now the best path is to try to perform better with what they have, because making multiple changes in an attempt to fix one thing could mess up something else.

MICHAEL WOLOZYN FROM OIL CITY, PA: Here's a really dumb question for Mike Tomlin, Randy Fichtner, or you: Please take a shot at explaining how we can have seven blockers for a between-the-tackles running play against five defensive players and yet cannot consistently seem to make a hole for the runner to run through it to gain a modest 4-7 yards?
ANSWER: That's a question for the seven blockers, because they obviously are not, and have not been, doing their jobs.

LUKE OTT FROM PEACHTREE CITY, GA: Your article on the loss to Washington was outstanding. Thank you. You identified the critical issues and what the Steelers need to do going forward. This is not a question for Asked and Answered, but I didn't know how else to message you. Thank you again for you excellent work and have a Merry Christmas.
ANSWER: I appreciate the kind words, and a Merry Christmas to you and your family as well.

RONALD WINTERS FROM LEARY, PA: Any chance you think we'll see James Washington and Vance McDonald targeted for more passes in the coming weeks? It seems to me they're consistent in catching the ball.
ANSWERS: Coach Mike Tomlin has reached the end of his rope with the drops, I can tell you that for sure. When asked if there was anything to be done about the sudden rise in dropped passes, Tomlin said, "Yeah, they can catch the ball or they can get replaced by those who will catch it. It's just as simple as that. As I have often said, I expect guys to make routine plays routinely. When there is a pattern of that not happening, then we have to look at who we are throwing the ball to. The coaching of catching the football for those who are employed to do it at this level is not something that I have a lot of patience for, it's not something that any of us have a lot of patience for. Those guys job is to catch the football, particularly routine ones. Where there's a pattern, you should expect to see less opportunities. That is just fair, that's just part of this business and what this game is about."

WILLIAM PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, PA: In the game against Washington, should there have been a penalty when quarterback Alex Smith absconded to the sidelines with the football after a third down play when the field goal unit was rushing onto the field at the end of the first half? That's what forced the "administrative" timeout with eight seconds left and allowed Washington to kick a field goal.
ANSWER: No penalty was necessary, but stopping the clock is against the rules. Here's what former NFL official Terry McAulay, who serves as a FOX rules analyst, tweeted about the sequence: "My take on the (Washington vs. Pittsburgh) end of half: Teams know that in a last second FG situation, officials will use the ball from the previous play. When Smith took the ball off the field, any delay in getting another ball in is on Washington. The umpire was asking for the ball at the end of the play. He then stopped the clock at :08 as he tried to get a new ball from the sideline. He should not have done that. Washington caused the delay and should not have benefited from it. This is no different than a normal 2-minute drill when the same ball is used and players get the ball to the nearest official to help get the ball spotted. If they force officials to get a new one, the time it takes to do that is on them."

When Coach Mike Tomlin was asked whether he ever got an explanation from the officials, he said, "I didn't need any explanation. I knew they were wrong. I was trying to help them get it right. I'm not looking for explanations."

To bottom-line the whole thing: referee John Hussey didn't know the rule, and his improper interpretation/enforcement of the play allowed Washington to kick a field goal and score three points it didn't deserve and shouldn't have had. Let's call it the officiating version of running five plays from the 1-yard line and not scoring a touchdown. It shouldn't happen in an NFL game, and it's unacceptable.

WAYNE D. SNYDER FROM MIFFLINTOWN, PA: Since the NFL is copycat league, what protocols are needed by the NFL to prevent players like Alex Smith from leaving the field of play with the ball? It was an ingenious way to add an additional timeout.
ANSWER: The only protocol needed is for the NFL to make sure its referee KNOWS THE RULES. And if the referee doesn't KNOW THE RULES, he shouldn't be WORKING THE GAME.

DOUGLAS PORTER FROM COVINGTON, KY: With Bud Dupree and Devin Bush out for the rest of the season, and now Robert Spillane out for some amount of time, why wouldn't the Steelers see what James Harrison's interest is in returning?
ANSWER: I'm thinking Greg Lloyd, because he would be better in coverage. By the way, what's the address for the Fountain of Youth? I seem to have misplaced it, and since you believe a 42-year-old who hasn't played since 2017 can walk back into an NFL season in December and have an impact, you must have that address.