Let's get to it:
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM CDMX, MÉXICO: If Vince Williams and Robert Spillane can't play today in Buffalo, who is likely to replace them, and who will wear the helmet with the green dot to receive the defensive calls from the sideline?
ANSWER: Vince Williams is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and yesterday the Steelers placed Robert Spillane on injured reserve with the knee injury he sustained against Washington. Yesterday, the Steelers added Ulysees Gilbert to the 53-man roster, and so I expect Avery Williamson to be one starting inside linebacker and to wear the green dot on his helmet. The other spot, I believe, will be manned by some combination of Gilbert and Marcus Allen.
PETER DEWAR FROM MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: When was the last time the Steelers had a quarterback controversy?
ANSWER: I would say it was Kordell Stewart-Tommy Maddox in 2002, because in 2004 the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger and the starting job has been his without debate since then.
NICK FRYE FROM PHILADELPHIA, PA: I know you hate these nagging questions about the future of our quarterback position, but do you think it's possible the Steelers may target Sam Darnold in a trade with the Jets in the offseason? Wouldn't he be worth a second-round pick?
ANSWER: I don't believe this is Ben Roethlisberger's final NFL season, and I absolutely am not a believer in wasting resources until it's known that Roethlisberger is ready to retire. Onto the next issue: What tangible evidence can you cite that would indicate Sam Darnold is better than Mason Rudolph? What you think about their respective talent levels, or what you saw when they played in college don't matter. That's not tangible evidence. In the NFL, albeit with drastically different number of appearances, Rudolph has a higher completion percentage, a higher touchdown percentage, a lower interception percentage, and a higher passer rating than Darnold. I'm not making the case that Rudolph is capable of replacing Roethlisberger, because I don't know that he is, but just because Darnold was a high first-round pick is not a credential attesting to his potential. You are right about one thing, though: I hate these nagging questions about the future of the Steelers quarterback position, especially when Roethlisberger is playing very well and the team is 11-1.
KEITH MILLER FROM WAYNESVILLE, NC: Since 2017, the Steelers are 4-7-1 in their last four games of the season. Do you think that is an indicator of the league seeing them doing the same things, adapting, and the Steelers not adapting? Or do you see a different reason for late season declines?
ANSWER: I believe you're making things more complicated than they deserve to be and looking for trends where there may not be any. To support my contention, let's look at the final four games of each of those seasons individually, but before we get to that, the Steelers' combined record in the final four games of the last three seasons is 6-6, not 4-7-1, because they were 3-1 in 2017, 2-2 in 2018, and 1-3 in 2019. Anyway, in 2017, the Steelers should've been 4-0 in their final four games instead of 3-1 because JESSE JAMES CAUGHT THE BALL. In 2018, they finished 2-2 in the final four games, with one of those being a three-point loss against a 13-3 Saints team in most likely the toughest venue in the NFL, and in that game the Steelers were driving to what might have been the game-winning points when JuJu Smith-Schuster lost a fumble at the Saints 34-yard line with 32 seconds remaining. Then in 2019, the Steelers played all but six quarters of the season without Ben Roethlisberger, and in the final four games their starting quarterback was Devlin Hodges, and the offense scored only 10 points in each of the three losses. In summary, the Steelers got hosed in one of the six losses and had no real chance in three of the others because they were unable to field an NFL-caliber offense.
JIM BUSEE FROM MONTROSE, CO: I believe Mike Tomlin has done a masterful job. He deserves consideration for Coach of the Year. I agree with everything he said in the postgame (following the loss to Washington). But I don't understand why you don't try a 20-yard field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line when you haven't been able to budge the strength of Washington's defense.
ANSWER: You go for it, because a championship contending team has to be able to find a way to gain 1 yard when it absolutely has to gain 1 yard, but also the situation in the game meant that even if the Steelers didn't, or couldn't, gain that yard, Washington would take over inside their 1-yard line and have to try to punch the ball out against a top-ranked defense. As it turned out, the Steelers defense forced a Washington punt, got good field position, and put the ball into the end zone for a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
KENNY BAEZA FROM CHEYENNE, WY: Do you agree with the Steelers drafting a running back in 2021?
ANSWER: Yes. I don't know that it has to be a No. 1 pick, or even a No. 2 pick, but there has to be an expenditure of resources to upgrade the running game, and for me that also will include drafting a couple of offensive linemen.
GUY COURTNEY FROM FREDERICKSBURG, VA: Defensive players used to fake rushing across the line before the ball was snapped in hopes that the offensive lineman would commit a false start. Are defensive players still allowed to fake moving towards the line of scrimmage before the snap, or is it now a violation?
ANSWER: If a defensive player crosses into the neutral zone while "faking," then that's encroachment and a 5-yard penalty on the defense.
DON SEGRETI FROM NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, TX: I thought that not going for the field goal (vs. Washington) near the end of the fourth quarter and the lead was a big mistake. I understand that the kicker (Matthew Wright) was a fill-in for Chris Boswell, but the worst that could have happened was a miss and putting our defense back on the field, which is what happened when going for it on fourth down failed. What happened to Mike Tomlin's "next man up?"
ANSWER: So you actually are going to go on record as saying if you were in charge of making the decision, you would have trusted Matthew Wright, a kicker with nice college statistics but who had been cut by the Steelers once and then cut by the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL, over an offense quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger? I could get on board with criticizing the play-call of a pass, or Roethlisberger's decision to throw the ball deep down the field to a rookie running back (Anthony McFarland), but I'm going with my two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback over an undrafted and twice-cut first-year kicker every day of the week.
THOM TOTH FROM CHARLOTTE, NC: Do you think Coach Mike Tomlin will start using Derick Watt more on offensive plays as a complement to James Conner to secure more yards and scoring possibilities?
ANSWER: If your question is about handing the ball more to Derek Watt, I will point out that in his 64 NFL games before coming to the Steelers, Derek Watt had a total of 19 carries and 10 receptions. If you're referring to using Watt as a lead blocker on running plays, Watt was on the field for a couple of those failed runs from the Washington 1-yard line. I'm not suggesting the failures down by the goal line were Watt's fault, but his presence doesn't automatically guarantee success, either.
BOB PEGHER FROM UPPER MACUNGIE, PA: In retrospect, don't you think you were a bit harsh on the person who suggested giving James Harrison a call to fill in for our depleted linebacker corps? The film I saw of him on TV tackling that guy in his front yard reminds me of Jack Lambert in his prime. Jerome Bettis also looks like he still has what it takes on his TV commercial. Don't you agree?
ANSWER: You know, you're absolutely right. The Steelers should start signing players based on how they look doing commercials for FanDuel. Good idea. I'm going to make sure I suggest that to Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin. Forget watching video from four years ago when the guy showed he had nothing left (in the case of James Harrison) or from the 2005 season (in the case of Jerome Bettis), because he looked good in a commercial.
JIM GRAVES FROM WATERTOWN, NY: I read your last Asked and Answered and see fans are clamoring for a return of James Harrison. This made me wonder, why not ask Hines Ward if has any interest in coming back, too? He never dropped any passes. While we're at it, why not call Jerome Bettis and see what he's up to? He would solve all the issues with the running game. And Jack Lambert might be able to fill in at linebacker now that Robert Spillane is out.
ANSWER: As you could tell from the previous submission, the significant factor in these types of moves has to do with performance in a commercial. Jack Lambert did that hilarious commercial with Myron Cope 35 years ago to promote a roller-coaster at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, and so he would qualify. But I don't know whether Hines Ward has a commercial on his resume to warrant a return to the Steelers.
LESLIE PRESSEL FROM RALEIGH, NC: Just wanted to thank you for the information and insights, but mostly for the fun and the connection, your column has brought me in these isolated times. I'm so grateful. Thank you and Merry Christmas.
ANSWER: Merry Christmas to you as well.