Let's get to it::
GREG GRANDS FROM CORAL SPRINGS, FL: Why are they not playing Chase Claypool anymore? I notice the last three weeks he hasn't been on the field much, meanwhile all the other wide receivers are dropping balls left and right. Why not have Claypool on the field for his big play capabilities?
ANSWER: In terms of snap counts, Chase Claypool's have been relatively consistent for a while now compared to the other wide receivers. In most games, Claypool finishes third in snap counts, with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson being first and second, respectively. Against Washington, however, Claypool's offensive snaps were fourth, behind Smith-Schuster, Johnson, and Washington. What have declined, in Claypool's case, are his targets and receptions within those games. Against Washington, Claypool was targeted only four times and he finished with two catches for 38 yards, and against the Bills he was targeted six times and he finished with three catches for 15 yards. Opposing defenses are catching onto Claypool's abilities as a receiver, and they're paying closer attention to him and using better defensive backs against him. Another factor at play is trying to prevent Claypool from "hitting the rookie wall," because at Notre Dame he never played more than 13 games in any season, and in 2020 he already has played in 13 with the most significant ones still to come. When asked whether Claypool had hit the rookie wall, Coach Mike Tomlin said, "I'm not acknowledging that he has, but I'm acknowledging that there is a potential for that, and one of the ways you help a young man work through that is reduce his number of snaps, which is what you see us doing."
RAYNE KNIGHT FROM SHERIDAN, PA: If the Steelers win in Cincinnati, do they clinch the AFC North Division title?
JIM CLARK FROM LEMOORE, CA: During the radio broadcast, Craig Wolfley made a comment that Coach Chuck Noll used to say the first series of the third quarter was the most important in a game. What do the Steelers do at halftime, go in the locker room and have a couple of cold drinks and then come out for the third quarter? The games I have been able to watch this season the third quarter has been a disaster for the Steelers. Do they make halftime adjustments?
ANSWER: I guess you haven't been able to watch many Steelers games this season. During their 11-0 start, the Steelers outscored their opponents, 98-39, in the third quarters, including 14-0 against a 5-1 Ravens team in Baltimore on Nov. 1. Had you made the point that the Steelers have not come out of the locker room and performed to the standard in the third quarters of the losses to Washington and Buffalo, I would have agreed with that, but the blanket assertion you make is flat wrong.
BURTON HARRIS FROM GREENSBURG, PA: Looking at the other teams in our division, they all went younger at the quarterback position and let them start. Can you see the Steelers buying out Ben Roethlisberger's contract, and getting a quarterback like Zach Wilson from BYU who I think could be a starter in the NFL.
ANSWER: Let's begin with this: If Baltimore, Cleveland, or Cincinnati had Ben Roethlisberger on their rosters, they wouldn't have gone "younger" at the position, and in the cases of the Browns and Bengals they wouldn't have been in the kind of position at the top of the draft order to select the quarterbacks they ended up drafting. Other issues: there is no such thing as "buying out" an NFL contract; and I caution you and other Steelers fans currently jumping on the "replace Ben" bandwagon, because I have a feeling that once you all get what you want you'll realize what you had wasn't all that bad.
JIM ANDERSON FROM TOLEDO, OH: Do the Steelers have a realistic chance to make it to the Super Bowl, or will it be Kansas City going back to the Super Bowl?
ANSWER: My Magic 8-Ball is in the shop for repairs. Your question is one that cannot be answered with anything but a guess, and your guess is as good as mine.
PAUL MARTIN FROM SAEGERTOWN, PA: Have the Steelers had any players this year who did not clear the NFL's concussion protocol and, if so, how long was their return delayed?
ANSWER: Every Steelers player who was placed in the concussion protocol was cleared through the stages of the concussion protocol and returned to practice and then play according to the terms of the protocol. Based on your question, I also believe it's relevant to point out that players are not permitted to practice and/or play until they pass through the stages of the concussion protocol, no matter how long it takes. There is no number of days after which the requirements of the protocol suddenly expire and the individual is assumed to be "healed."
MIKE LEITZEL FROM PILLOW, PA: Benny Snell and James Conner are not a concern of any opposing defense. What are your thoughts on giving Anthony McFarland a chance in these last three games of the regular season to see what he can do? What do we have to lose?
ANSWER: This is not training camp, nor are these last three games preseason games. The preseason or when a team is eliminated from the playoffs are the times to give a player a chance "to see what he can do." If McFarland has been showing in practice that he deserves more playing time, then I am in favor of acknowledging it with more playing time, but being honest I haven't seen anything from him in games so far that would convince me to increase his role significantly. You write, "What do we have to lose?" The answer to that is: regular season games that could prevent the Steelers from winning the AFC North, negatively impact their playoff seeding, and potentially lead to a quick exit from the playoffs. This isn't a video game, and the teams in the NFL are in the business of winning games. There are real-life consequences for losing.
BARRY BROSEY FROM ELIZABETHTOWN, PA: I think it's time to try a backup quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger looks exhausted and frustrated as well. He could rest and maybe get some arm strength back for the playoffs. Also, the young guys have fresh legs. What do you think?
ANSWER: What do I think? Since you asked, I think you have absolutely no concept or understanding that the NFL is a business, that people's lives can be impacted by the failure to win games – impacted in areas such as selling your house, moving to another city that's maybe in a vastly different region of the country, pulling your kids from school where they may be flourishing and putting them in another school where they may not do as well – just because somebody "thinks" it's a good idea to "try something" because someone he doesn't know "looks" tired to him on television. That's what I think.
SCOTT SWEENEY FROM HICKORY, PA: You wrote in the Dec. 15 edition of Asked and Answered that sitting starters for the last two regular season games would be a mistake, and I agree that is too long of a layoff. After we beat the Bengals and the Colts and the No. 2 seed is locked, could we just forfeit the Browns game (which may stick it to the Ravens, always a bonus) and treat it like a bye week? Do the NFL rules allow that?
ANSWER: If the Steelers enter the final week of the regular season with nothing at stake in terms of playoff seeding, then that is the time to rest starters in preparation for the postseason. That's when you "see what (insert player's name here) can do." That's the time for those kinds of things. But you don't forfeit. Never willingly. There are 1,000 reasons why that should never happen, including some significant financial reasons. Treat it like a preseason game, OK. You don't forfeit.
CLARENCE CRAWLEY FROM SMYRNA, TN: Can an inactive player become active during a game? Is that possible?
ANSWER: No. Ninety minutes before kickoff, both teams must submit their lists of inactive players, and once those are turned in, there are no changes permitted.
JOHN ROEBUCK FROM ALTOONA, PA: If a player retires but has a year or more left on his contract what are the salary cap implications?
ANSWER: The impact on a team's salary cap is no different if a player retires with a year or more left on his contract, or if a team cuts a player who has a year or more left on his contract. For the sake of explaining this situation, let's pretend that the Steelers signed John Roebuck to a four-year contract that included a $4 million signing bonus. That contract will cost the team's salary cap one-fourth of Roebuck's signing bonus plus his base salary each year. If Roebuck retires, or is cut, with two years remaining on his contract, the team is charged with the remaining installments of his signing bonus to their cap as "dead money." In this example, after playing two years and then retiring or being cut, the team is charged $2 million in "dead money" on its cap.
TJ HOFFMAN FROM ERIE, PA: Does the NFL still have the rule where if the No. 3 quarterback enters a game, the other two quarterbacks cannot come back into the game? I know Josh Dobbs doesn't usually dress for games, but it seems like he is intelligent and quick on his feet. This might be useful for a few short yardage packages. If nothing else, it may at least give the opposing defense something else to prepare for?
ANSWER: That rule no longer exists, and when it did exist the player designated as the No. 3 quarterback for a game didn't count towards a team's limit on the number of players it could have active for that game. Now, only players on the active list for a game can play in that game.