Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Dec. 29

Let's get to it:

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today's installment begins with some submissions emailed in anger during the first half of Sunday's game that didn't exactly age well, given the Steelers comeback to defeat Indianapolis to snap a three-game losing streak and clinch the AFC North Division. Some of those "highlights" are offered below, without comment.

DAVID MAURO FROM GRAYLING, MI: Watching the massacre by the Colts, can you explain what is happening with our team? Is it time to bring back "SOS," Same Old Steelers from years ago?


DAVID PICKEL FROM SPRING LAKE, NC: I do not understand what has happened to the Steelers. They look totally inept on offense, and their defense is starting to show signs of getting worn down. I know the injuries on defense are having a major impact on that unit, but the offense is a shell of its former self. Is there any chance of them sitting (Ben) Roethlisberger for a series or two and seeing if (Mason) Rudolph can give that unit a spark? I know it is asking a lot, but why not try it?

CHIP BENNETT FROM TAMPA, FL: What is the exit strategy for Ben? It has become embarrassing. Does (Randy) Fichtner call these short passes because this is his offensive philosophy, or does he call them because at this point in his career it's 50-50 if Ben completes a 4-yard pass? Everyone's time comes to an end. Some know it, some need to be shown the door.

MATTHEW WEGLEWSKI FROM PHOENIX, AZ: It has become clear that Ben cannot drive the ball down the field, as is evident from the lack of a Hail Mary throw before the end of the first half against the Colts. Why is there hesitation to move to (Mason) Rudolph and let him run the offense? Ben continues to be dreadful, and I do not believe we can deliver a playoff win with him at quarterback. Something needs to happen to spark this offense.

TODD WALKER FROM PORT SAINT LUCIE, FL: What is your professional opinion on what's going on with the Steelers offense? I consider myself somewhat intelligent with football, but I don't understand. Tony Romo said they haven't adjusted the offense in a month. Jim Nantz says they're tired. I am completely stumped.

BRIAN MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: Definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. For whatever health reason that Ben can't throw downfield, what can it hurt to shake things up a little and bring in Mason? This team can't move the ball as is, maybe Mason has more mobility that could open up the offense?

WILLIAM GRAY FROM MCHENRY, IL: Is Ben truly physically healthy because the thought occurred to me that the lack of deep passing in our offensive schemes may be reflective of limitations to our quarterback?

JOHN LATTE FROM NEWTOWN, CT: No question. Just a comment. What a %#@*&$ embarrassment. Play calling, Roethlisberger, tackling ... wish they could give their playoff spot to a deserving team.

And now, back to our regular programming …

BRENT BROWN FROM STONE MOUNTAIN, GA: I've read several articles about quarterbacks coach Matt Canada contributing certain kinds of plays. Could you explain the quarterbacks coach's role compared to the offensive coordinator's role in the Steelers organization?
ANSWER: Matt Canada's primary role in his job as the quarterbacks coach is to coach the quarterbacks, and in the case of the Steelers' group, different players need different things from him because they're at different points in their careers. Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs, and Devlin Hodges are young, developing players who can benefit from work on their fundamentals. As a proven 17-year veteran, Ben Roethlisberger doesn't need that same type of instruction, and so Canada works with him on other things pertaining to the quarterback position. And when it's time to put together a plan for the upcoming opponent, Canada joins coordinator Randy Fichtner, running backs coach Eddie Faulkner, wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard, tight ends coach James Daniel, and offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett in the meetings that produce that week's plan.

SHAUN CHALMER FROM BENDIGO, AUSTRALIA: Do you think Kevin Dotson will crack the starting lineup next season and potentially have Matt Feiler move back to right tackle?
ANSWER: There are a lot of moving parts involved, one of which is the fact Matt Feiler can become an unrestricted free agent in March. And that's also the case with Zach Banner, who won the starting right tackle job in training camp and would be starting there now if he had not torn an ACL in the regular season opener. However things shake out with other guys, Kevin Dotson is the kind of guard I would like to see in the starting lineup, and as a matter of fact I believe it would be a good thing if the Steelers could add another offensive lineman like him in the 2021 NFL Draft.

ANDREW SCHERBIK FROM CHESAPEAKE, MD: Now that the Steelers wrapped up the division and the Chiefs clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the regular season finale against the Browns is meaningless for the Steelers. What is more important, resting the starters or having them play a series or two to maintain some continuity?
ANSWER: My opinion is to rest as many starters as is reasonable, because the Steelers didn't get to have a true bye week this season. But then again, I would be leery of how that layoff might impact an offense that hasn't been getting off to good starts lately, to say the least. It's a tough decision, and I'm just glad it isn't mine, because I see pitfalls whichever way Coach Mike Tomlin decides to go.

BOB ADAMS FROM WAKE FOREST, NC: Since Week 7 of the 2020 NFL season, the Steelers have just one game with over 100 yards rushing, and that was against the Jaguars. During that streak, in six games the rushing total was under 50 yards. Against Washington and the Colts, the total was 41 yards (both games combined). My question is what can be done to improve this at this point in the season? As with any business (this is most certainly a business) people must be held accountable for results.
ANSWER: The results for which people in the NFL ultimately are held accountable are wins and losses, not statistics in certain phases of the game. The Steelers are 12-3, won the AFC North, and likely will enter the playoffs as a No. 3 seed. Those are the results that matter, not necessarily how many yards rushing they have. That said, the running attack is sub-par and has to be improved, but that cannot happen this season at this point. The Steelers of 2020 are a passing offense, and that's how they have to move the ball and score points. If they cannot do it that way, it won't get done. On the CBS broadcast last Sunday, Tony Romo made the point that there are ways the Steelers can compensate for the lack of a reliable running game within the framework of continuing to use short passes as they have through much of this season. That's what I believe should be done about it now, and then more substantive corrections can be made during the offseason.

GERALD ZEIT FROM TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA: Watching the Colts game, it looked to me that T.J. Watt was being held on nearly every passing down, and often it was happening on the other side as well to Alex Highsmith. What is the legal definition of holding in the NFL, and is there a "working definition" that the officials are using? Why is this never called?
ANSWER: I laughed out loud when I read your question, and it was nothing personal. But holding T.J. Watt frequently is the same thing that happened to James Harrison, particularly the tactic where the offensive tackle wraps his arm around the neck and bends Watt, and Harrison before him, backward. It makes no difference what the legal definition of holding is, and it makes no difference if there's a "working definition" either. NFL officials will call what they're going to call, and they're going to ignore what they're going to ignore, and the rules are written in such a manner that they can be interpreted to reach whatever conclusion is the one they want to reach. It was the same thing with what's a catch. And with what's roughing the passer. Today they call it one way, the next week it's called another way, and both times the calls are justified by the league even though they're at odds with one another. When you're watching NFL football on one of the networks that employs a rules analyst – usually a former NFL referee – pay attention to the number of times the broadcast crew goes to the rules analyst and asks him to analyze a call or a coach's challenge and explain what he saw or what will happen after the instant replay review is completed. These guys are correct less than half the time, because even people who worked the job for decades never know what decision will be reached from instance to instance. In December 2017, the pass to Jesse James that gave the Steelers a victory over New England was ruled incomplete, and six weeks later in the Super Bowl the Eagles defeated the Patriots when two of the exact same kind of plays were ruled catches. I've given up trying to explain it or figure it out. The officials will call what they're going to call. The only thing to do is laugh, accept it, and move on.

GLAUCIO CAFALCHIO FROM TAUBATÉ, BRAZIL: Are there some starters or relevant players who are expected to return from injuries for the first round of the playoffs?
ANSWER: In terms of guys who have a chance to come off injured reserve, I believe both Robert Spillane and Matt Feiler have a chance to be back in the lineup for the playoffs.