Let's get to it:
MICHAEL SNEARLY FROM JOPLIN, MO: What T.J. Watt is doing this year is crazy incredible. Since sacks didn't become an official statistic until 1982, what's the likelihood that one of the Steel Curtain members would hold the season and career records for sacks?
ANSWER: At some point in the relatively recent past, the Steelers did (or commissioned) a review of game film from the start of the Chuck Noll era and based on that one of the things the team was able to come up with were team sack statistics from 1969 until sacks became a recognized NFL statistic in 1982, and individual sack statistics from 1972-82. Based on that research, L.C. Greenwood finished his career with 73.5 sacks, Joe Greene had 66, Dwight White had 46, and Ernie Holmes had 39.5. In terms of team sack statistics, the 1969 team had 33; the 1970 team had 28; the 1971 team had 37; the 1972 team had 40; the 1973 team had 33; the 1974 team had 52; the 1975 team had 43; the 1976 team had 41; the 1977 team had 32; the 1978 team had 44; the 1979 team had 47; the 1980 team had 18; and the 1981 team had 40. Just to put those individual sack totals of the Steel Curtain into perspective, Bruce Smith is the NFL's all-time leader, and he retired with 200; Reggie White is next with 198; and Deacon Jones, who is my pick as the greatest pass-rusher in NFL history, is estimated to have had 173.5. Here is what NFL.com has on its site about Jones as a sacker of quarterbacks: "Quarterback sack totals didn't become an official NFL statistic until 1982; that's extremely unfortunate given the plethora of outstanding pass rushers who toiled in the NFL long before then. This means that the man who coined the term "sack" is excluded from the record books. Thankfully, there are people who have gone back through the old game footage to record Deacon Jones' incredible sack totals. In 1967, Jones (unofficially) registered 26 sacks, a standard that would eclipse the current single season record of 22.5 by Michael Strahan. That total becomes more impressive when you realize that it was accomplished in a 14-game season. For an encore, Jones (unofficially) had 24 sacks in 1968." And to put the above Steelers team sack totals into perspective, the seasons through 1977 contained 14 games, which means the 1974 Steelers had 52 sacks in 14 games, and there was almost no blitzing at all. The five primary defensive linemen – Holmes (11.5), Greenwood (11), Greene (nine), White (8.5), and Steve Furness (three) – accounted for 43 of those 52 sacks.
JAMES SLOAN FROM HAMPTON, GA: I know I'm late, but is Pat Freiermuth OK? I saw him take a bad hit in the game vs. the Titans.
ANSWER: Pat Freiermuth sustained a concussion on the play that came with six minutes left in the third quarter, and he is now in the concussion protocol. It's the second time Freiermuth has been in the concussion protocol in the last month or so. Freiermuth did not practice yesterday.
SEAN VARGO FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Why have the Steelers gone away from the block number jersey throwback uniforms that were worn a couple of years ago? The updated version of them was extremely nice. Any chance they would make a move to go back to the block numbers on a full-time basis in the near future?
ANSWER: When the NFL switched from Reebok to Nike as the league's official uniform provider for the 1997 season, Dan Rooney approved some slight alterations to the team's jersey. Those changes included adding a small logo patch on the front of the jersey and switching from block numbers to a more rounded version of the numbers. As of late, the Steelers have used the block-numbered jerseys as one of their throwback choices, and I have heard of no plans to return to that style on a full-time basis.
BRYAN CLARK FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: Is T.J. Watt the best pass rusher ever? Show us some pertinent stats, please, and give us your opinion. MVP seems a lock this year.
ANSWER: Why does it always have to go immediately to the extreme? "Is T.J. Watt the best pass-rusher ever?" "Is Kenny Pickett the next coming of Dan Marino?" Can't we just acknowledge and enjoy the season T.J. Watt is having and hope for the best that he gets recognized as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year? Best pass-rusher ever? MVP? Come on. You want pertinent statistics? OK, Watt currently has 67 career sacks, and the NFL's all-time leader is Bruce Smith with 200. Reggie White is No. 2 with 198. Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O'Neal are tied for 14th with 132.5. The Steelers' all-time franchise leader is James Harrison with 80.5. The all-time sack leader among any player ever to wear the Steelers uniform is Kevin Greene, who's No. 3 all-time with 160. T.J. Watt isn't even leading his childhood home in sacks, because his brother, J.J. Watt has 102. And the only thing that's a lock about this year's MVP Award is that it will be won by an offensive player, because in the 64 times the Associated Press has handed out the NFL MVP Award since 1957, only three of the winners 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. Watt is having a great season; he's the Steelers best defensive player; he should be voted first-team All-Pro for the third time; and he's the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. Let's stick with those.
ROGER MURRAY FROM TUCSON, AZ: How important is it for a veteran, future Hall of Famer like Ben Roethlisberger to get reps during the week at practice? Do you think Ben's lack of practice is the reason for his slow starts? He seems to be, at least this year more than any other year, a second-half quarterback.
ANSWER: The guy is 39 years old, has played 18 seasons and 246 games leading up to this week, and he has taken a physical beating. So, you think the answer to that is to have him taking more practice repetitions on Wednesdays during the season? Why is it all Ben Roethlisberger's fault for the offense's sluggishness in the first half? Go back to 2018 – the most recent season when Roethlisberger wasn't surrounded by young and inexperienced players – when he had starting wide receivers who caught 215 combined passes, two tight ends who caught 80 more, a 1,000-yard rusher, an offensive line that allowed 24 sacks in 16 games, and a veteran NFL offensive coordinator. During that season, the Steelers scored 236 points in the first halves of games, an average of 14.8 points per first half per game. They scored at least two touchdowns in the first half in 11 of their 16 games, and only once were they shut out in a first half. Roethlisberger wasn't practicing on Wednesdays that season, either.
BRIAN FIORE FROM SUAMICO, WI: In a situation like the one that occurred on the Titans final drive where the ball appeared to be spotted closer to the line to gain than it should have been, had the officials ruled it a first down, would Coach Mike Tomlin have been able to challenge the call, contending the ball was spotted incorrectly?
ANSWER: Because that play happened with less than two minutes remaining in the half, all reviews are originated from the booth. Coach Mike Tomlin would not have been able to challenge the play, and neither would Coach Mike Vrabel.
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: How do you feel about Ahkello Witherspoon's play? Has he earned more playing time? Also, a big thank-you to everyone at Steelers.com for all you do. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The Dec. 19 Asked and Answered picture of Joe Greene is about as terrifying as it gets, by the way.
ANSWER: I hate to be an "I told yinz so" kind of guy – actually, I love it – but Ahkello Witherspoon has turned out to be exactly what I said he was brought to the team to be. And that is insurance against an injury to an outside cornerback, which is what the Steelers faced when Joe Haden was sidelined for four games with a sprained foot. In those four starts for Haden, Witherspoon had 12 tackles, including one tackle for loss; two interceptions; and four passes defensed. When Haden was able to return to play against the Titans, Witherspoon played 56 snaps and made two tackles, which allowed Haden to be eased back into action, and his 27 defensive snaps produced a fumble recovery and two tackles, one of which clinched the outcome of the game. Oh, and for everyone whining about the trade, how do they now feel about the Steelers acquiring Witherspoon for a fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, which is two years away? And full disclosure: I was just repeating what I was told about Witherspoon at the time of the trade. I don't claim to be a personnel expert. I leave that to the personnel experts.