Let's get to it:
BILL PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, FL: In reference to the question a reader submitted on backup long-snappers, why is it that teams don't have the regular center equipped to at least fill in due to an injury? I remember the day before long-snapper was not even a roster position, the center did the duties. What are the reasons teams don't use the center in an injury situation?
ANSWER: There are a few reasons. One is that long-snapping is an entirely separate skill that really has little to do with playing center, with the exception that the ball passes through the players' legs. Another reason has to do with the fact teams spend days studying and scheming to block punts and field goals, and the time between snap and getting the ball off has to be less than two seconds, and even two seconds is considered below NFL-caliber. A successful snap in the shotgun formation can be a bit off target, or a bit slow getting to the quarterback without blowing up the play, but that cannot happen on an attempted punt or a placekick. I, too, remember when the center handled the long-snapping duties, and I remember when Mike Webster snapped the ball over the head of the Steelers punter a couple/three times on a rainy Sunday in Cleveland; I also remember the 1988 season when the team had six punts blocked, and it wasn't because Harry Newsome was a bad punter. And a lot of NFL centers may never have done any long-snapping in their entire football lives, and so trying to learn it at the NFL level and then execute it just isn't a realistic expectation.
PETER HAMMERER FROM BALTIMORE, MD: In all the playoff scenarios it does not mention that if the Ravens-Browns game ends in a tie that the Steelers would win the division when they beat the Bengals. With the tie both the Steelers and the Ravens would be 9-6-1. Since they split and with the Steelers having the better division record wouldn't the Steelers win the division or is there another tiebreaker I'm missing?
ANSWER: Your reference to "all the playoff scenarios" must not include the NFL's own official version, because the following is the way the league details the Steelers' playoff chances heading into Week 17 of the regular season:
Pittsburgh clinches AFC North Division title with:
1) PIT win + BAL loss or tie
2) PIT tie + BAL loss
Pittsburgh clinches a playoff berth with:
1) PIT win + IND-TEN tie
TODD FURST FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: With Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Alejandro Villanueva from the offensive line and running back James Connor voted to the Pro Bowl, the running game doesn't seem to be an area the Steelers need to improve upon. However, the team is currently ranked 31st in the league in rushing offense, and this years' downward trend started before Connor was injured. Also, last year the Steelers were ranked 20th in rushing and in 2016 they were 14th. Any thoughts on why the team is running less and less over the last three years when the team definitely has the personnel to run?
ANSWER: What the Steelers would say to this is a portion of their offense that officially is categorized as passing yards actually is more of a run-game alternative. Let's use 2017 as an example, and I'll explain their rationale: Le'Veon Bell rushed for 1,291 yards and he also caught 85 passes for another 655 yards. Most of Bell's receptions with quick-throws or screens, or dump-downs, which the Steelers perceive as run-game alternative. For argument's sake, let's say 400 yards of Bell's receiving total is run-game alternative, and in that category you also can add all of those quick wide receiver screens. All of those kinds of plays – running plays, quick passing plays to a back out of the backfield, and quick sideline throws to a wide receiver who catches the ball behind a blocker or two – all serve the purpose of drawing the defense to the line of scrimmage, which is the same as the quarterback handing the ball to a running back. You may not agree, but that's how the team views it.
JACK HARGRAVES-DIX FROM LAWRENCEVILLE, NJ: On the fourth-down pass interference call on Joe Haden in the fourth quarter of the game against the New Orleans Saints, it seemed like the ball was ripped at the line of scrimmage. If so, wouldn't the penalty be nullified?
ANSWER: Yes, a ball that's tipped/deflected at the line of scrimmage nullifies any subsequent pass interference penalty on the same play. And that's one of the few instances where replay can be utilized to overturn a called penalty, but in that instance the play could not be challenged because inside two minutes of each half all reviews have to be initiated by the replay official in the booth. On that particular play, Al Riveron said since a determination was made that the ball was not tipped, there was no need for a booth review to be in initiated.
BRIAN CARPENTER FROM IVA, SC: Can the Steelers take advantage of the Redskins' craziness and try to get safety D.J. Swearinger?
ANSWER: The Redskins did indeed waive veteran safety D.J. Swearinger, but the first thing to understand is that at this point in an NFL season, all players – even the vested veterans – are subject to the waiver system. What that means is that all interested teams can put in a claim, and the player is awarded to the claiming team with the worst record. In this particular case, that team was the Arizona Cardinals. The second thing to understand is that Swearinger has played for four different teams over the first six seasons of his career because of his habit of publicly criticizing the coaches and the organization of whatever team he happened to be on at the time. According to an item on ProFootballTalk.com, "The former Washington safety, cut after repeatedly bad-mouthing the coaching staff, has indicated on social media that he's returning to Arizona." Another report, this one on ESPN.com, read: "A source told ESPN that the decision to release Swearinger was an easy one because he had been warned several times about his critical remarks about the team."
DANIEL SUNSERI FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Can you explain why the clock does not stop when a player runs out of bounds? Early in the fourth quarter, Antonio Brown run out of bounds after a catch and the clock continued to run.
ANSWER: I've been over this a few times already. In NFL games, the clock only stops when the player with the ball goes out of bounds in the final five minutes of the first half and during the final two minutes of the second half. At all other times, the clock continues to run.
JOHN MINCER FROM PANAMA CITY, FL: The Steelers secondary, and pass defense in general, has been a weakness for several seasons. The Patriots, by comparison, seem to be able to field a pressuring with coverage defense every year with players who are not well known. What do you think is needed for the Steelers to solve this problem?
ANSWER: If you want to make a point that the Steelers pass defense must improve and then pose a question about making that happen, OK. But please spare me the platitudes concerning the New England Patriots. Through 15 games of 2017, the Steelers defense is statistically superior to the Patriots in every category except interceptions. To refresh your memory, those categories include: total yards per game, total yards passing, rushing yards per game, average gain per rush, passing yards per game, completion percentage allowed, sacks per pass attempt, third-down efficiency, red zone efficiency, and points per game. Also, the mighty Patriots defense, in Super Bowl LII, allowed Philadelphia's backup to quarterback the Eagles offense to 538 total net yards (164 rushing, 374 passing), convert 10-of-16 (63 percent) on third-downs, complete 65.9 percent of his passes; possess the ball for 34 minutes and 4 seconds of the 60-minute game, and score 41 points. And the Eagles won that Lombardi Trophy.
JAKE MCMANNUS FROM HAYS, KS: Thank goodness James Conner finally got rid of that awful haircut. Do the Steelers enforce a dress code that would include clothes, haircuts, facial hair, etc.?
ANSWER: A dress code for hair length? How do you believe Troy Polamalu would have reacted to that?
CORY TSCHIDERER FROM PERRY, NY: Can I apply to be an NFL official? I think I can do a better job.
ANSWER: Don't see why not. You couldn't be any worse.
ISRAEL PICKHOLTZ FROM JERUSALEM, ISRAEL: Regarding the NFL's contention on the accuracy of the calls made by its officials, if you or I crossed the street successfully "95 percent of the time," we'd be dead.
ANSWER: Good one.