Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Dec. 19

Let's get to it:

STEVE BARRIERO FROM DAYTONA BEACH, FL: Early in Terry Bradshaw's career, wasn't he benched on occasion for Terry Hanratty and Joe Gilliam due to performance, or am I remembering that wrong? My point in asking that question is to consider whether some quarterbacks struggle to adapt to the NFL game. Would you think maybe Mason Rudolph also might overcome that transition? Not to imply Mason is as good as Bradshaw, but I'd still like to give our front office the benefit of the doubt that he's worthy of the draft grade they gave him.
ANSWER: Terry Bradshaw was the first overall pick of the 1970 NFL Draft, but history will show he earned a Super Bowl ring before he earned the full-time starting job. And it's also true that Bradshaw owned a Super Bowl ring before he was able to finish a regular season with more touchdown passes than interceptions.

For Bradshaw, the low point had to be the 1974 regular season. When training camp opened in 1974, the NFLPA was on strike, and Bradshaw was among the bulk of the veteran players walking the picket line, while Joe Gilliam and some others reported to Saint Vincent College. Gilliam took advantage of the opportunity to impress Coach Chuck Noll, and then shortly after the strike was settled and the bulk of the veterans reported to camp, Bradshaw sustained an injury that prevented him from practicing, and he ended up losing the starting job. Gilliam started the first six games, and even though the team went 4-1-1 in those, Noll wasn't happy with the direction of the offense – too much passing, with the quarterback calling his own plays – and Gilliam didn't help his cause by throwing eight interceptions vs. four touchdown passes in those games.

Bradshaw started the season's seventh game, a win over Atlanta, and then the next two after that, but in his third start, a 17-10 loss in Cincinnati, he completed 13-of-35 for 140 yards, with no touchdowns, one interception, and a rating of 37.8. Noll started Terry Hanratty the following week in Cleveland, but when he was 2-for-15 for 63 yards, with one touchdown, three interceptions, and a rating of 27.2 in a 26-16 loss to the Browns, Noll went back to Bradshaw the following week in New Orleans.

Beginning with that game against the Saints, Bradshaw started the final four of the regular season, and the team finished 3-1 in those, but the quarterback play was hardly scintillating. He completed 32-of-68 (47.1 percent) for 358 yards, with six touchdowns, four interceptions, and a rating of 68.13. For the season, Bradshaw completed 45.3 percent, with seven touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a rating of 55.1.

In the playoffs, the Steelers were punishing teams with their running attack and defense and all they needed from Bradshaw was to quit throwing interceptions. In the wins over Buffalo, Oakland, and then Minnesota in Super Bowl IX, Bradshaw completed 29-of-50 (58 percent) for 394 yards, with three touchdowns, one interception, and a rating of 94.9.

Clearly, not every quarterback's career gets off to the kind of start Ben Roethlisberger's did.

MIKE BANYAS FROM ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, PA: Why was Trey Edmunds active against the Bills rather than having Isaiah Buggs available as an extra defensive lineman against a very strong running team? There was no need to have five running backs active in the first place. I fear that Mike Tomlin did it just so there would be three Edmunds brothers active in the game.
ANSWER: Your fears are unfounded. Trey Edmunds was active against Buffalo, and I believe he will continue to be active throughout this season, because he is a core special teams player, along with Tyler Matakevich, Robert Spillane, Johnny Holton, Anthony Chickillo, and Jordan Dangerfield. Only Matakevich, with 21 special teams snaps against Buffalo, played more than Edmunds' 18. Isaiah Buggs is not a core special teams player.

HARLEY PIFER FROM HERMITAGE, PA: Wide receiver screens. That play ends up losing yards or resulting in a very minimal gain. Is that my imagination working overtime?
ANSWER: The play is designed to stretch the defense horizontally by quickly getting the ball to a playmaker on the perimeter. I don't have any comprehensive statistics on the success rate, but I have hated those plays all along.

JEREMIAH MUNOZ FROM CALIFORNIA, PA: Is there a chance Le'Veon Bell could be re-signing with the Steelers this offseason?
ANSWER: Sure. There also is a chance I will win the next Powerball jackpot, but the chances of that happening are listed at 292,000,000-to-1. I would say that sounds about right for Le'Veon Bell's possible return to the Steelers in 2020.

ROBERT ESSWEIN FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: If both the Titans and the Steelers each win one of their remaining two games, is there a scenario that the Titans could overtake the Steelers for the No. 6 seed in the playoffs?
ANSWER: There are still many scenarios in play, but if both the Steelers and the Tennessee Titans finish 9-7, and the Titans get to 9-7 by beating the Houston Texans, it's likely the Titans would make the playoffs and the Steelers would not.

BOB IVES FROM SCOTTSDALE, AZ: Assuming that the Steelers beat the Jets and lose to the Ravens, what else has to happen to lock down the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs?
ANSWER: Under your scenario, the Steelers would finish the season at 9-7. The Indianapolis Colts were eliminated by losing to New Orleans last Monday night, so at 9-7 the Steelers would make the playoffs if the Titans lose their final two games – vs. New Orleans on Sunday, and at Houston on Dec. 29 – to finish at 8-8, or if the Titans finish 9-7 by losing to the Texans in their final game of the regular season.

SHAWN WEIMER FROM FALLBROOK, CA: Not getting into "who" will be the future at quarterback for the Steelers, or how much longer Ben Roethlisberger can play at an appropriate level for that position, but there is still a former first-round quarterback on the roster in Paxton Lynch. Not saying he is the answer, but how was he been in practices and in his professionalism as he remains the No. 3 quarterback? Is his role solely as an emergency-backup-last-resort, or is he getting a legitimate opportunity to move up the depth chart?
ANSWER: From all indications, Paxton Lynch is happy to be here and is going about his business in a professional manner. But because Lynch wasn't with the team at all during the offseason program, training camp, or the four games of the preseason, the chances of him seeing playing time during the regular season likely would be limited to the kind of emergency situations created by injuries. I fully expect Lynch, who is signed for the 2020 season at a reasonable number, to be in the mix for a roster spot next year. It would be next spring and summer when Lynch will get a chance to show the Steelers what he can do.

JAY HICKS FROM BERNARDSVILLE, NJ: I am concerned about the offensive line not protecting Devlin Hodges well enough and not opening lanes for the running backs. The Jets have a solid defense against the run. Should Coach Mike Tomlin consider tossing out the wildcat and just focus on feeding James Conner and Kerrith Whyte?
ANSWER: The answer can be found in your first sentence. I will admit that there have been occasions when the wildcat worked for the Steelers this season, but living and dying with gadgets usually ends up in death. If the offensive line is having problems protecting the quarterback – and properly protecting the quarterback goes beyond not allowing sacks but consistently providing the passer with a clean pocket – and there aren't lanes for the running backs, there is no play-call or scheme to overcome that.

KWAME FREEMAN FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: This 2019 season has seen a return to classic defensive/running the football season for the Steelers. When Ben Roethlisberger returns, do you expect them to get away from this style of football? Also, if Ben does his usual light reps during training camp, and sits out all of the preseason games, how would you expect him to start 2020?
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin is, and has been, a believer in managing the wear and tear on Ben Roethlisberger's right arm, and you can expect that to continue during the post-surgery process. The goal during the offseason will be to get Roethlisberger back from the surgery and then to prepare him for the 17 weeks of the regular season. It's going to be a process, and these kinds of processes often don't progress smoothly. Be patient. He doesn't have a bionic arm. As for the style of offense you can expect once Roethlisberger returns to the lineup, well, I really don't envision him attempting 45-plus passes a game on a weekly basis, but I also cannot imagine the Steelers utilizing the same type of offensive plan they have been forced to employ since he had the surgery.

WYATT SHOLLEY FROM BILLINGS, MT: I'm wanting to buy a Minkah Fitzpatrick jersey, but I'm unsure if he will keep No. 39 after this season. What do you think will happen?
ANSWER: Far be it for me to spend your money, but what I think will happen is that Minkah Fitzpatrick will wear No. 39 during his career with the Steelers. If Fitzpatrick would want to change, the NFL would require him to pay for every No. 39 Steelers jersey the league has in stock. Based on his popularity and the fact Fitzpatrick was voted to the Pro Bowl, that could be a bigger bill than he's willing to pay, even if he were inclined to make a switch.