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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Dec. 14

Let's get to it:

R J HOWSER FROM WINTER PARK, FL: Why did we waste a draft pick on a punter? Pressley Harvin hardly ever allows us to flip the field for a possible defensive stop. Wouldn't an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman have better served our needs?
ANSWER: I will not disagree that Pressley Harvin has been an inconsistent punter through this point of his rookie season, but you make it sound as though quality offensive and defensive linemen are readily available in the seventh round of an NFL Draft. Harvin was pick No. 254 and there were 259 players picked in the whole draft, so essentially, he was an undrafted rookie, and since there were no linemen selected on picks Nos. 255-259 the Steelers didn't pass on any linemen they couldn't then have signed as undrafted rookies. Maybe this is delusional, but I'm willing to give Harvin time to develop as an NFL punter, which requires learning the knack of directional punting and adjusting to the K-balls the league uses, which players say are much more challenging to punters and placekickers than the balls used in college. And while his punting has been inconsistent, Harvin quickly established himself as an NFL-caliber holder, which is reflected in Chris Boswell having made 24-of-26 field goal attempts (92.3 percent) so far this season. And don't underestimate the importance of being a reliable holder for Boswell when it comes to the job description for the Steelers punter.

JASON NORTON FROM JOHNSTOWN, PA: After this weekend of football, it seems very possible that we may finish last in the division. It may be selective memory loss, but I don't remember a time that the Steelers were last in our division. How many times (if at all) has this happened since Chuck Noll.
ANSWER: Since Chuck Noll was hired in 1969, the Steelers have finished last in their division twice, and in both of those seasons Noll was the coach. It happened in 1969 when the Steelers were last in the NFL Century Division with a 1-13 record, and they finished last in the AFC Central Division in 1988 with a 5-11 record.

BRADLEY DYLL FROM HERMITAGE, PA: I have a question about the Steelers attempting a 2-point conversion when trailing by 9, 29-20, with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Steelers did not succeed, and it put them in a 2-score situation late in the game. I thought that was the wrong call when an extra point would have kept them within one score. Watching the Ravens-Browns, the Ravens did the exact same thing. Am I missing something about going for the 2-point conversion instead of the extra point?
ANSWER: If it were my decision on Thursday night, I would've kicked the extra point to make the score, 29-21, because I always have believed the best way to handle it was to go for a 2-point conversion only when it became necessary either to tie a game or take a late lead.

After the loss to the Browns, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh was asked about why he made the same decision in Baltimore's loss to Cleveland. "It was pretty much a standard, really, non-decision," Harbaugh said. "You do it at that point in time because you're gonna have to get a 2-point conversion. So you understand if you get it or don't get it early, where you are going from there, how many possessions you're going to need and what you're gonna have to do. If you wait until the last 2-point conversion and you don't get it, the game is over. You've lost. So you try it early. We're in a 7-point game? We know where we stand. We don't get it, we're in a 9-point game and we know that we need two possessions."

When CBS switched back to the studio in New York after the Ravens-Browns game ended and before coverage of San Francisco-Cincinnati began, Bill Cowher criticized Harbaugh's decision and blamed analytics. During the segment, Cowher made the point that instead of consulting analytics, coaches instead should use more common sense. I don't know that one viewpoint is definitively correct, but those are two successful coaches explaining why they believe what they believe.

TOM WUCKOVICH FROM VALRICO, FL: Why didn't anyone ask Coach Mike Tomlin why he went for a 2-point conversion when it was 29-20 against the Vikings? Why did he give Minnesota the psychological edge when they knew after the failed 2-point try that the Steelers needed two scores?
ANSWER: I think you're putting way too much emphasis on the impact of a failed 2-point conversion attempt on the psyche of a Vikings team that finished with 242 yards rushing. If the Vikings were feeling "threatened," all Coach Mike Zimmer had to do was order Kirk Cousins to hand the ball to Dalvin Cook, who finished with 205 yards rushing on 27 carries (7.6 average) and two touchdowns. The way the Vikings were controlling the lines of scrimmage had much more of an impact on which team enjoyed the "psychological edge."

MATTHIAS ELFGEN FROM OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA: Thanks for the continued entertainment you bring to our homes. Got a question about replay review. I agree that replay review is messing with the game too much and too often. But what is the alternative to replay review? Sure, the officials could be better, but the technology exists. It's maybe not used in the right way. What do you think could be a viable alternative?
ANSWER: The key word in your question is "viable," and I am personally very pessimistic that instant replay review can be "fixed." Pandora's Box was opened back in the 1980s, and I don't believe there is any way to go back to the way things were. There are two things that I believe illustrate the futility of the whole process: the amount of time it often takes to decide on a challenge when the system is designed to fix "clear and obvious" mistakes; and also when the broadcast networks will go to their rules analysts – always former NFL referees or NFL executives such as Mike Pereira or Dean Blandino – and have them offer their opinion and/or interpretation of the play, and then the decision comes down contrary to what the rules analysts just said. I don't have the answer, and what has become apparent over the last 30-plus years since instant replay was implemented is that the NFL doesn't have the answer either.

RON KOLCZYNSKI FROM CHESTERFIELD, NJ: I think the Steelers need to draft about three players for the front seven on defense, and a couple of offensive linemen. How do you see their draft priorities?
ANSWER: A little bit of a reality check first: According to your analysis, the Steelers should spend five draft picks on the defensive front seven and the offensive line. In the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft, pending the awarding of compensatory picks, the Steelers have five picks: A No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, a No. 6 from Kansas City from the Melvin Ingram trade, and a No. 7. My perception as of now is that the best use of a first-round pick would be on a defensive lineman, but I don't believe there is any way the Steelers would use three picks from the same draft on one area of the team.

LARRY DUSAK FROM LEXINGTON, KY: With all of the criticism of the offensive and defensive lines, why can't we get a straightforward status update on Stephon Tuitt and Zach Banner? They are integral parts of those underachieving lines.
ANSWER: Zach Banner is on the 53-man roster and has been active for the team's last five games. Since Banner is a regular participant in practice and has been on the gameday roster for the last five weeks, there is no update to give on him. Stephon Tuitt is on the injured reserve list, and the NFL does not require "straightforward status updates" on players on the injured reserve list. I am confident that if Tuitt was ready to return, the Steelers would be as interested in it happening as you are. Outside of that, "we" are not entitled to any more detailed information about his status.

LUCAS SCHRADER FROM PORTLAND, OR: Do you think that Ben Roethlisberger's performance in the second half of last Thursday's game in Minnesota will quiet the fans' calls for seeing someone other than him under center? Didn't it seem like many of his passes were just punched into tight windows with precision like we haven't seen in some time?
ANSWER: I cannot speak for Steelers fans who seem to be more interested in moving on from Ben Roethlisberger than they are in enjoying what could turn out to be the final games of his Hall of Fame career. I think Roethlisberger has played great overall this season, and it should be understood what he's doing is happening behind a young and inexperienced line, with a rookie running back, with equally young and inexperienced receivers, and with an offensive coordinator in his first year on the job at the NFL level. And in crunch time, Roethlisberger has been one of the best in the league, as his status as the No. 7 fourth-quarter passer (107.0 rating) in the NFL this season suggests.

RICK SPENCER FROM KEY WEST, FL In your opinion, do you think Matt Ryan would be a good option for the Steelers next year? Seems like Atlanta is willing to part ways with him.
ANSWER: Matt Ryan is under contract through the 2023 season, which makes it highly likely Atlanta would be looking for some compensation before being "willing to part ways with him." Ryan will be 37 in May, and his contract calls for him to earn approximately $24 million in 2022, and based on NFL rankings, Ryan is behind Roethlisberger in overall passer rating this season and in fourth-quarter passer rating this season. I imagine you can discern my opinion based on those facts.

TED STICE FROM SAINT PETERSBURG, FL: What is your opinion of the defense running to the end zone for a "photo shoot" after the interception by Ahkello Witherspoon when the score was 29-7? Seems a little ridiculous to me when the defense had done nothing up until that point. Also, what does Coach Mike Tomlin think of actions like that, and does the team levy fines for it?
ANSWER: I'm not a proponent of displays like that, and in a situation when the team is losing, 29-7, I find it cringe-worthy. But I also admit to being old and cranky. I also believe it deserves mention that the NFL actually encouraged those "photo shoots" during the 2020 season, possibly as a way to bring excitement to the telecast of games that were being played in empty stadiums, which makes the league somewhat complicit. Fans also should realize the league has embraced and even marketed player celebrations. At its 10th Annual NFL Honors Show, televised nationally in prime time by CBS, host Steve Harvey presented an award to the Seattle Seahawks for the best touchdown celebration of the year, and he actually handed a trophy for that to Russell Wilson. Another award handed out during that telecast was for the "Bud Light Celly of the Year." NFL Films has done a half-hour show on the Top 10 End Zone Celebrations; NFL Network recognizes "Best End Zone Celebrations" each week; and carries a weekly video titled, "Tap into the End Zone," in which fans are invited to "Check out the top End Zone celebrations from Week (1 through 18) of NFL action." My point is that these kinds of things have been and still are endorsed, promoted, and used as content by the NFL, so if you're expecting a team or a team's coach to fine or otherwise discipline players for those kinds of things, forget about it. That ship has sailed.