Let's get to it:
JC CHUTA FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: When Mike Tomlin said, "One man's misfortune or lack of use is another man's opportunity. Those are great opportunities for growth and development in guys like Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs," was he suggesting he would replace Ben Roethlisberger if need be?
ANSWER: Here is the entirety of Coach Mike Tomlin's answer to a question about whether he believes the offense's slow starts in games could be tied to Ben Roethlisberger being excused from practice on Wednesdays: "We've taken that practice approach with him for a number of years now in terms of the long-term preservation of his physical skills, particularly over the course of a season. That is nothing new for us. One man's misfortune or lack of use is another man's opportunity. Those are great opportunities for growth and development for guys like Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs. That's always been our approach. The train does not stop whether he is participating in practice or not. It doesn't change the trajectory of our practice or the focus, particularly on a Wednesday as we lay some of the foundational things of our plan, some of the high-volume things that it is that we do. (Ben) has a 17-plus year body of work that he can call upon in this system that makes some of that stuff a more fluid endeavor. We believe we are providing what is best for all parties involved with that approach, but I'm not opposed to changing it if the circumstances dictate it. Like I mentioned, we will always have a hardcore plan, but I think it's important that we're open to altering that plan based off current circumstances, if needed."
I don't believe Tomlin was suggesting anything, but I also believe that if Tomlin came to the conclusion that Roethlisberger's play, or any player's play, was a primary reason the Steelers weren't winning, he would not hesitate to make a change at that position.
JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: Do you think if the Steelers beat the Colts and lock up the AFC North Division, the Steelers-Browns game on Jan. 3 still will be flexed? I don't like how we've performed in primetime other than in the season opener.
ANSWER: There are three ways the Steelers can clinch the AFC North Division title this weekend: by beating Indianapolis; or if Cleveland loses to the Jets; or if both the Steelers and Browns finish their games on Sunday in a tie. If the Steelers clinch the AFC North Division this weekend, my opinion is that Coach Mike Tomlin will take advantage of the opportunity to rest as many of his key players as possible, which would make the regular season finale vs. Cleveland less attractive to NBC. In my opinion, the other attractive/significant games in Week 17 that possibly could be flexed are Cardinals-Rams, Washington-Eagles, and Giants-Cowboys. But if the Cardinals defeat the 49ers this Sunday, they would clinch a playoff for both themselves and the Rams, and if Washington defeats Carolina on Sunday, it would clinch the NFC East. If you're rooting against the Steelers game being flexed on Jan. 3, this is what I would suggest: hope the Steelers beat the Colts and the Browns defeat the Jets, because that way the AFC North would be clinched by the Steelers, and a playoff spot would be clinched by the Browns. That would render Pittsburgh-Cleveland almost completely meaningless, except possibly for seeding.
SCOTT BRAMBLE FROM ANNAPOLIS, MD: On the hit on JuJu Smith-Schuster by Vonn Bell that caused a fumble in the first quarter, it looked like Bell lowered his helmet and hit JuJu in the facemask with his helmet. Do you think this should have been a penalty?
ANSWER: When I first saw the play in real time, I thought Vonn Bell made initial contact with his shoulder and then there was subsequent contact with his helmet and JuJu Smith-Schuster's facemask. Seeing it on replay in slow motion made the issue cloudier, but that's what I thought initially. I'll be interested to see if Bell gets a fine after the fact, because if he does then I would believe the NFL office agreed with you.
DAVE NEGRYCH FROM WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA: If you were General Manager Kevin Colbert, would you fire a minor assistant coach to make a point in the locker room after this latest, awful-to-watch performance vs. the Bengals?
ANSWER: The Steelers don't fire coaches during the regular season unless there would be some egregious conduct by that individual, and regardless of that, General Manager Kevin Colbert has no authority over the hiring and firing of assistant coaches. He can, and does, have an opinion, but not the authority.
BEN ROMES FROM TEMPLE, GA: Are we going to the playoffs after that loss to the Bengals?
ANSWER: Actually the Steelers already had clinched a playoff spot based on the outcomes of the games the previous week of the NFL schedule. Beating the Bengals would have clinched the AFC North Division, but the Steelers still can get that done by winning either one of their final two regular season games – vs. Indianapolis or at Cleveland.
TA ERLENBUSCH FROM COLORADO SPRINGS, CO: Is Derek Watt an option in a short-yardage situation to run the ball and make a first down or score a touchdown? Can't remember seeing him run the ball, but maybe I have been missing it?
ANSWER: To this point in his NFL career – 74 games over four full seasons and 10 games in a fifth – Derek Watt has 19 carries for 49 yards and one touchdown, plus 10 catches for another 152 yards. So to answer your question, I surmise Derek Watt is not an option in short-yardage and never has been during his time in the NFL.
ROBERT FOSTER FROM RIVERVIEW, FL: Is Mark Barron healthy enough to pick up and use? Now that he's been released by Denver?
ANSWER: I would question whether Mark Barron ever will be healthy enough to play in the NFL again. When Denver Broncos lost rookie linebacker Justin Strnad to a season-ending wrist injury halfway through training camp, the team scrambled for a replacement. The Broncos decided on Mark Barron, who signed a one-year contract worth $2.5 million. Barron sustained a severe hamstring during his second practice and went on injured reserve. According to Coach Vic Fangio, Barron also sustained a weight room injury while on injured reserve that prolonged his inability to help the Broncos. When Barron finally was healthy enough to practice – on Dec. 22 – the Broncos cut him. There's no way the Steelers would sign someone with that recent injury history, nor should they.