Let's get to it:
BOB BENTLEY FROM BUTTE, MT: What constitutes a sack? During the Cardinals game I could swear there were five sacks of Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray in the first half but they kept saying there were only three. Does it have to do with the quarterback being in or out of the pocket?
ANSWER: It has less to do with where the quarterback is tackled and more to do with what the quarterback was trying to do with the football when he was tackled. A sack is tackling the quarterback at or behind the line of scrimmage on obvious passing plays, and the way it typically works is that if the quarterback is Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger or Drew Brees, or someone with that style of play, it's assumed any time one of them gets tackled with the ball in his hands it was not a designed running play. And scrambling out of the pocket after finding no one open is not considered a designed running play. With guys like Kyler Murray or Lamar Jackson or any of the new wave of dual-threat quarterbacks, the decision on whether to award a sack (if judged to be a pass play) or simply a tackle for loss (if judged to be a running play) is made by the home team stats crew. All of that is then reviewed later by Elias Sports Bureau, which serves as the official statistician for the National Football League. One example of what I'm talking about occurred early in the second quarter on a second-and-goal from the Steelers' 3-yard line. Murray took the snap and proceeded around the end when Minkah Fitzpatrick attacked the backfield and dropped him for a 1-yard loss. That was judged to be a designed quarterback run and scored a tackle-for-loss by Fitzpatrick, and I agreed with that ruling at the time after seeing the play live.
LEE JOHNSON FROM MIDLAND, VA: Now that Coach Mike Tomlin won an eighth game this season, which means he still never has had a losing season as coach of the Steelers, has there been any other coach who never had a losing season? Thanks for you humor. We love it here in Virginia.
ANSWER: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Mike Tomlin beginning his head coaching career with 13 straight non-losing season ties Don Shula for the second longest career-opening streak in NFL history. Marty Schottenheimer holds the record with 14.
NATE GEISLER FROM SLIPPERY ROCK, PA: This matchup this weekend against the Bills made me think about the 2004 NFL Draft. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I heard a story about how Buffalo was trying to trade with Houston for the 10th overall pick to be able to select Ben Roethlisberger before the Steelers made their pick at 11th overall. The trade didn't happen, and I believe the Bills drafted quarterback J.P. Losman from Tulane University.
ANSWER: Yes, the Buffalo Bills were looking to trade up above the Steelers in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, and the player the Bills wanted to select was Ben Roethlisberger. But their targeted trading partner was Jacksonville, which had the ninth overall pick, because Houston was said to be fixated on using their selection at No. 10 overall on cornerback Dunta Robinson of South Carolina. But the Jaguars wouldn't trade because they were set on picking wide receiver Reggie Williams from South Carolina. The Jaguars picked Williams, the Texans followed by picking Robinson, and that left Roethlisberger for the Steelers at No. 11. With the next pick, the Bills chose wide receiver Lee Evans from Wisconsin, and with their second No. 1 pick – 23rd overall – they picked quarterback J.P. Losman.
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: The Steelers defense is well represented in the NFL top 100. Rod Woodson was one I had a chance to see play at Three Rivers Stadium. How 'rare' of an athlete was Woodson?
ANSWER: During his time at Purdue, Rod Woodson also ran track – his event was the 110-meter hurdles – and so with the 1988 Summer Olympics set to begin the following September in Seoul, South Korea, his negotiating team let the Steelers know that if their contract proposal was judged inadequate the client was perfectly happy turning his attention to the pursuit of an Olympic gold medal. The United States track stars of that era were Edwin Moses and Carl Lewis, and so initially Woodson's threats seemed to ring hollow. But then shortly after committing himself to training for the 110-meter hurdles, and with only two weeks of serious work, Woodson posted a time of 13.29 seconds, which was a personal best, the third-best time recorded by an American that year, and tied for the fourth-best time in the world that year.
All of a sudden, track and the pursuit of a gold medal didn't sound like a hollow threat. In a story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Steelers spokesman Joe Gordon was quoted as saying, "Cornerback is our weakest position. Prior to the draft, we knew (Woodson) had some potential as a track man. At that time, he did not appear as hot a prospect as he is now. Realistically, we have to feel now, track is a possibility." Back in those days, another weapon at the teams' disposal during stalled negotiations was to threaten to force the player to re-enter the draft the following season and roll the dice as to whether he'd get picked as high, and consequently get paid as much. But this tactic didn't seem as though it would work with Woodson, because he had run a 4.29 in the 40-yard dash and had made himself into a world class hurdler with just a month worth of serious training. An athlete, and a cornerback at that, with those credentials certainly would get picked in the first round of the next NFL Draft. It still took time, but the sides eventually agreed to terms and Woodson signed his rookie contract on Oct. 28. He made his first appearance with the Steelers on Nov. 8 in a victory over Kansas City, and then two weeks after that, he had his first professional pick-six in a victory over Cincinnati.
CARLETTA JANE FROM BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS: Assuming both are healthy at the beginning of training camp next summer, what would Devlin Hodges have to accomplish through the remainder of this season to arrive as a first-string quarterback contender vs. Ben Roethlisberger?
ANSWER: I have been asked this question before, and I will answer it now the same way I answered it then, and I am 100 percent serious: Win the Super Bowl. I don't know if that would do it, but anything short of that would be dismissed out of hand.
BUMPER SHORT FROM LANCASTER, OH: In my opinion, there never has been a year when Coach Mike Tomlin's 'Next-Man-Up' philosophy has been more exemplified. Who would be your non-starter, or 'Next-Man-Up' MVP for the year thus far?
ANSWER: My understanding of "next man up" is that it goes beyond one individual replacing another individual, even though that certainly is part of it. And here's an example of what I mean: Take the case of the defensive line and Stephon Tuitt's season-ending injury. Cam Heyward was a starter when Tuitt was healthy, and he's a starter now. But since Tuitt's injury, Heyward has played 85.3 percent of the defensive snaps in the seven full games the Steelers have been without Tuitt, while before the injury Heyward was playing 79.6 percent of the defensive snaps. What often will happen is the team will ask for more from guys already in the lineup in addition to expecting the injured player's replacement to contribute winning football to the cause. An injury to James Conner, as another example, impacts the running game, and picking up the slack falls on the blocking for the running game as well as the individual carrying the ball. So, I'm just going to say that I agree with your assessment that these Steelers have exhibited a laudable ability to overcome injuries during this regular season.