Let's get to it:
ROD KEEFER FROM EDMOND, OK: You've written numerous times about Dwayne Haskins' lack of NFL readiness based on half of a preseason game against a first-team defense. If you were evaluating the current starting quarterback's performance, how would you assess him based on the first halves of the three games that preceded last Sunday's game vs. Tennessee, during which the team scored six points in six quarters?
ANSWER: First things first: What I have written about Dewayne Haskins has been in response to fans either assuming he is the heir apparent because he once was a No. 1 draft pick or suggesting he should be used in some of these final regular season games to "see what he can do" in order to prepare him to assume the starting role in 2022 if Ben Roethlisberger retires. So, how would I assess Roethlisberger's performance as a starter during the first halves of the games against Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Minnesota? Let me explain it this way: If I tried to re-watch those games it would be difficult even to see what was on the television screen because of the glare from the diamonds in Roethlisberger's two Super Bowl rings. If Haskins had won a Super Bowl, that would be credited to any evaluation of him. And if you don't think that's a factor in evaluating a quarterback, you're mistaken.
JOE DIRENZO FROM BOLTON VALLEY, VT: Are we rooting for the Browns or Raiders tonight?
ANSWER: This question was submitted before the Monday Night Football Game on Dec. 20 between Cleveland and Las Vegas, and this installment of Asked and Answered wasn't published until Tuesday, Dec. 21. But with that qualifier, I am answering this before that game started to make the following point: I believe the Steelers best, and maybe only, route to the playoffs this season is by winning the AFC North Division. Going into the final three weekends of the regular season, Cincinnati is leading the AFC North right now with an 8-6 record, while the Steelers are close behind at 7-6-1, but when it comes to the Wild Card race, Indianapolis, the Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo,, and Baltimore all are ahead of the Steelers, and then right behind Pittsburgh is Miami and Denver, both at 7-7, and if Las Vegas defeated the Browns on Monday night, the Raiders also would be 7-7. To answer your question, I'm rooting against the Browns.
TODD WALKER FROM PORT ST LUCIE, FL: I always thought Steelers Nation generally was an intelligent fan base that knew football. I do not think that anymore. Is it not common sense that Devin Bush's knee injury was serious, and he won't be 100 percent until probably 2022? Is it not common sense when you lose two great run stoppers in Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu that your run defense will be worse? And finally, isn't it common sense you can't have play-action without a running game? And of course, this is all Mike Tomlin's fault.
ANSWER: You better be careful. I believe I read somewhere that injecting common sense into arguments is against the rules.
JACK L. KINCAID JR. FROM MASSILLON, OH: Thanks so much for your perspective and telling it like it is. My thinking is this could be one of the most important offseasons in recent memory with so many issues to address. I know Ben Roethlisberger has stated he wants his entire career to be in Pittsburgh, but what percentage do you give that Ben is back next year with the Steelers, or what percentage chance Ben is back with another team?
ANSWER: I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which Ben Roethlisberger returns to play in 2022 with a team other than the Steelers, and I also believe it's highly likely he will retire after the 2021 season.
CHRIS WELBURN FROM GLASTONBURY, CT: Is it beyond hope and/or possibility (pertaining to NFL rules) that Stephon Tuitt returns to save our run defense at this point?
ANSWER: Sticking with the theme used in the previous answer, I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which Stephon Tuitt – who hasn't practiced or played a single snap of even practice football since the 2020 season – would be able to come off the injured reserve list, return to practice in order to work his way back to playing shape, be activated, and then get himself onto the field to "save" the Steelers run defense with three games left in the regular season. I don't know anything definitive about Tuitt's situation but based on the current timeframe I cannot envision him coming back and playing in 2021.
KEN WALDROP FROM ONTONAGON, MI: First and foremost, congratulations to T.J. Watt. What he is doing is unlike anyone or anything I've ever seen. My question: Am I a bad fan for liking the result but not liking the play? I know we can play so much better.
ANSWER: As long as you remember that the result is what matters the most.
RICHARD DURBIN FROM MASSILLON, OH: In the Steelers postgame press conference, how is the order in which reporters get to ask their questions decided?
ANSWER: There is no pecking order, as there was during White House press briefings when Helen Thomas of The Associated Press always had the honor of asking the first question. If the postgame press conference is done via Zoom, there is a "raise your hand" feature, and media interested in asking a question click on that and then the moderator calls on people, usually in the order in which a hand is raised. If it's done in person, there are a couple of moderators working the room with microphones so that the questions can be heard, and someone interested in asking a question gets the attention of a moderator who then comes over and provides a microphone.
WILLIAM YOUNG FROM BADEN, PA: Another week, another questionable call by the officials in the spotting of the ball on that fourth-and-7 play at the end of the game. This one almost cost us the game. Do you think the NFL ever will go to full-time officials over part-time officials?
ANSWER: At this stage, I truly don't know whether taking the current crop of NFL officials and making them full-time alone fixes the recurring issues.
BOB WALKER FROM BRENTWOOD, TN: The Steelers may not make it to the Super Bowl this year (who does), but man they play hard and are very entertaining. Isn't that what it's all about?
ANSWER: Based on my interactions with fans two-to-three times a week via this forum, it's not what it's about for the majority. There is an expectation that borders on entitlement from a percentage of fans who don't seem able to grasp the concept of how difficult it is to get to a Super Bowl and win one. I have had fans write and complain that Coach Mike Tomlin "should have won two or three more Super Bowls" and is therefore unsuccessful as a head coach. As if "two or three more" should have been a given, almost automatic, without understanding that in the 52 years the Super Bowl has been played, no franchise has won more than six.
JASON NORTON FROM JOHNSTOWN, PA: Has a defensive player ever won the NFL MVP Award?
ANSWER: The Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player Award has been given out annually since 1957, and only three of the 64 winners so far have played a position other than quarterback or running back. In 1971, Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page won; in the strike-shortened 1982 season, Washington placekicker Mark Moseley won; and in 1986, Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor won. The only Steelers player among those 64 is Terry Bradshaw, who won the award in 1978.
JOSHUA KARPER FROM DELAWARE, OH: I do not understand the clock management strategy to end the first half of Sunday's game against the Titans. Why did Coach Mike Tomlin wait until 21 seconds left to call a timeout while the Titans had the ball if he planned to push the ball down the field for a possible field goal attempt? It was a valiant effort to get up the field with only 18 seconds remaining but using the timeouts before the Steelers had the ball would have provided much more time to get down the field and provide an easier field goal attempt.
ANSWER: Following the Steelers' 19-13 win over the Titans, Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about that, and he said, "I was more concerned with stopping them than I was with creating a drive opportunity for us. I wanted them to make decisions ongoing from second down to third down on time unless they burned one of their timeouts. They chose not to, so the clock ran. We can get excited about subsequent drives, but you've got to get the stop first. And I didn't take that for granted."