Let's get to it:
BONNIE GONG FROM BELLEVUE, WA:
I don't think there is anyone who appreciates both your snarky attitude and your knowledgeable answers as much as I do. I understand Mike Munchak to be the best offensive line coach in the league, and he has produced for us in spades. I don't think he gets enough credit. Also, I love seeing Joey Porter on the sideline. Do you have any info on what kind of outside linebackers coach he is shaping up to be?
I have no direct knowledge of Joey Porter's performance in his first season as the team's outside linebackers coach, but I share your opinion that he is an asset, and I believe he is an asset in two different ways: he played the position he's coaching at a high level; and he played the position he's coaching at a high level for the Pittsburgh Steelers.**
JASON GROOM FROM DAYTONA BEACH, FL:
Thanks for doing this column. I always read it every week, because it's informative and occasionally funny. My question doesn't pertain to the players, but Heinz Field. I know Heinz Field isn't strictly for the Steelers. Pitt plays there, the WPIAL championship games are there, and it hosts many other events. But why haven't the end zones been painted yellow like they were at Three Rivers Stadium? I understand not doing it during Pitt's season, it wouldn't be cost effective. But once Pitt's season is over that problem would be eliminated. Or is it because Heinz Field is real grass and Three Rivers was artificial turf and all that paint might kill the grass?
Yes, it's because the Three Rivers Stadium playing surface was artificial turf, and painting that a solid color was easy and didn't do the kind of damage that would be done to real grass. The seats are yellow, though. And only occasionally funny? I guess I'll just have to try harder.
MIKE SMITH FROM UNIONTOWN, PA:
Why is Jacoby Jones still on the roster? If he's not going to be on the field returning kicks, shouldn't his spot go to someone else?
Including Jacoby Jones, there are 53 players on the roster, and there are 10 more on the practice squad who are working with the team daily in meetings and on the field in the event of an emergency/injury. That's 62 players right there – not including Jones – and remember, there are only 46 who are allowed to be in uniform for each game. I don't see how keeping Jones is utilizing a spot that could be used on another player who actually would be helping the Steelers win games now. Instead, I believe you just don't like Jones and want to see him cut for whatever reason. Maybe there comes a time in the near future when the Steelers do need to create a spot on the 53-man roster, and if/when that happens then maybe the spot is created by cutting Jones. Until then, to quote Aaron Rodgers, "R-E-L-A-X."
RICKY CORRADO FROM WESTCHESTER, N.Y.:
Huge fan of Asked and Answered, and I have two questions: I was wondering who calls the plays on offense? I am assuming just from watching every game that it's Todd Haley with Ben Roethlisberger obviously seeing things at the line of scrimmage. And also what role does Coach Mike Tomlin play in this process? Also, Tomlin noted that Pouncey could be ready this week vs. Baltimore? Is it safe to say he'll be available for the playoffs?
That's actually four questions, but hey, I'm in a festive mood today. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley will send plays into Ben Roethlisberger via the coach-to-player communicator that's in the quarterback's helmet. That happens a majority of the time, but also happening a fair amount of the time is Roethlisberger calling plays himself, when the team is running the no-huddle or hurry-up offense. Sometimes Roethlisberger will be given options from the sideline – say a running play and/or a pass play from which to choose – and then he also has the freedom generally to change the play at the line of scrimmage. Mike Tomlin isn't the type to micromanage a play-call – Bill Cowher was known to do that on occasion, by specifically overruling something the coordinator called and calling something different himself. What Tomlin will do is chart the course for the offense, based on game situations, such as instructing Haley and/or Roethlisberger to go with running plays to force the opponent to utilize its timeouts, or to try to make a first down in a situation where one first down sends the Steelers into victory formation to take a knee and kill the clock.
As for Maurkice Pouncey, Tomlin NEVER has mentioned a specific time, date, or opponent as a being the target date for Pouncey's return from the injured reserve-designated to return list. And it is definitely not safe to say Pouncey will be available for the playoffs. Maybe he returns this season. Maybe not. But just so you understand, according to the rules for IR-designated to return, there is no deadline for the team to make a move with a player on that list. It could happen tomorrow, or it could happen the week before the Super Bowl. The only criteria is that the player spends at least eight weeks on the list.
MIKE FOLEY FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA:
Please explain the reluctance of the Steelers to play Brandon Boykin. He came in during the second half of the Denver game. Ross Cockrell took over for Antwon Blake and Boykin played the slot, and there was a major difference in coverage. Is there any possibility of seeing this secondary moving forward?
Take a look at the 2008 regular season matchup against the Ravens in Baltimore. The Steelers defeated the Ravens 13-9 and clinched the division.
On Tuesday, Coach Mike Tomlin was asked whether Brandon Boykin was under consideration to start in place of Antwon Blake. His answer was: "No. We're going to continue with the rotation that we have, and it hasn't changed. Sometimes, the numbers may change in terms of the number of snaps over the course of a game, but I wouldn't read too much into that. Our rotation has been the same as it's been for the last three or four weeks now."**
And just to inject a couple of facts into this answer, in the game in Cincinnati, Antwon Blake played 31 defensive snaps and Brandon Boykin played 39; and against the Broncos, Blake played 44 defensive snaps and Boykin played 50. So in terms of actual playing time, Boykin has been getting more than Blake.
LEE NORMAN FROM OMAHA, NE:
I believe many fans understand the game, but the organization stays on top of it. Saying that, I wonder if the Steelers jumped the gun with some retirements this time. I miss Ike (Taylor), as well as the greatest defensive coordinator of all time (Dick LeBeau) and his recitation of "Twas The Night before Christmas." Maybe the offense can keep it up and the game is changing, but defense still seems to win in the end. How are they going to win a low scoring game?
I miss Joe Greene and Mel Blount and Jack Ham. Players get old and have to retire because their skills have eroded to the extent that they not only cannot do the things they used to be able to do on a football field, but also because their presence on the field becomes a detriment to their team winning games. The time comes for even the greatest of the greats to call it quits, and it was time for the Steelers to move on from Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel, and even Dick LeBeau.
How are the Steelers going to win a low-scoring game? My thought is that if the game is low-scoring, then the Steelers offense hasn't done its job, because already this season, the Steelers have scored 30 points in Seattle, 33 in Cincinnati, and 34 against the Broncos top-rated defense. And if they would still happen to find themselves in a low-scoring game, say in these playoffs, I can guarantee you that a 35-year-old Ike Taylor and a 34-year-old Troy Polamalu wouldn't be much help.
JULIE MILLER FROM POLAND, OH:
No question. I just want to say how much I enjoy your writing every week. I have been a Steelers fan my whole life. I have lived in Ohio for the past 26 years, but I still go home to Pennsylvania to Mom and Dad's house to watch the game every week. My kids, who are in college now, still continue the tradition along with my nephew who lives in Pittsburgh. Many thanks for the entertainment. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Go, Steelers.
Happy to be able to entertain you. Merry Christmas to you and your family as well.