Let’s get to it:
PÁL PÉTER BÁRDOS FROM GÖDÖLLÖ, HUNGARY: Devin Bush got a lot of attention early in the season and was praised for his production, even in comparison to Ryan Shazier. I get the impression, that since Minkah Fitzpatrick has been added to the roster and with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree delivering exceptional performances, Bush's performance has faded. Could you please provide some insight on how he has been performing throughout the season so far, and if he is keeping up the good production he had early on?
ANSWER: Heading into the game against the Browns at Heinz Field, Devin Bush led the team in tackles; the only linebackers with more tackles for loss than his five were 10 apiece by Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt; his two interceptions were second on the team to Minkah Fitzpatrick’s five; his four passes defensed were second among linebackers to Watt’s five; and his four forced fumbles led the team. Bush has appeared in all 12 games and started 11 so far, and he has played in at least 75 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in nine of the season’s 12 games, and his total of snaps is now at 687. That’s a lot. By comparison, during his entire rookie season of 2014, Ryan Shazier played in nine games and started five. He finished with 40 tackles, two tackles for loss, no sacks, no interceptions, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries, and one pass defensed. I realize that’s a lot of recited statistics, but I believe those numbers help make the point that Bush is a big part of what the Steelers are accomplishing on defense, and he has played a lot of football for a rookie at a position (inside linebacker) that is very demanding at the NFL level. I don’t know whether Bush will win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, but there’s isn’t another rookie on defense in the NFL this year that I would rather have than him.
HARVEY HECKER FROM LAKEWOOD RANCH, FL: I was not impressed with Diontae Johnson’s play against the Browns on Sunday. He stopped running on a route that ended up being an interception, and then he didn’t seem to make an effort to touch the Browns player down after the interception, which then was returned for 28 yards. He ran out of bounds after making a catch with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter, which stopped the clock for the Browns. Is this the best candidate to be on the field?
ANSWER: I’m not going to disagree that the game against the Browns was not Diontae Johnson’s best of the season, but it’s also absolutely true that he’s one of the top three wide receivers currently on the roster. Johnson is a rookie, and sometimes rookies do things that make people scratch their heads, and I’m sure those issues will be addressed. But he does not deserve to be benched for a couple of lapses in one game of his rookie season. That would be an overreaction, in my opinion.
JC CHUTA FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: I was surprised by Coach Mike Tomlin's response when asked after the win over the Browns if Devlin Hodges had earned a start for the next game. He provided a vague answer indicating that he will explore that decision as the week progresses. Can you elaborate? I see zero reason why he would be “undecided,” much less start Mason Rudolph instead of Hodges.
ANSWER: This cracks me up. Last week, I was getting submissions criticizing Coach Mike Tomlin for being so quick to name Devlin Hodges the starter for the game against Cleveland instead of delaying the decision to force the Browns coaches to prepare for both him and Mason Rudolph. This week, the criticism is that he didn’t immediately name Hodges the starter for the game against Arizona.
JEFF RUTH FROM EPHRATA, PA: A question about the false start called on Devlin Hodges during the game Sunday. It was pretty obvious he didn't do anything, but how can a quarterback get called for that in the first place? I see them moving around before the snap all the time, running up to an offensive lineman or out to a receiver. What is the rule on that?
ANSWER: Earlier in the season, rookie quarterback Kyler Murray was being flagged for a false start because he was using the hand-clap motion to call for the snap while in the shotgun formation, as it’s typically done in college football. In the NFL, officials will flag the quarterback for things like that, because the rule is that any sudden motion by the quarterback in the shotgun could simulate the receiving of the snap and thus draw the defense offside. Using sounds, such as a hard count, to draw the defense offside is legal, but any kind of quick and sudden motion will draw a flag, or should, every time. But in that particular instance, I also thought it was a bad call. A case of referee Clay Martin being over-officious.
TIMOTHY PREGANA FROM KAPOLEI, HI: Has any NFL team rotated two quarterbacks in a single game? Not due to a lack of performance, but to keep the defense more honest and the offense less predictable?
ANSWER: I seem to remember the Dallas Cowboys and Coach Tom Landry trying that back in the 1970s with Craig Morton and Roger Staubach, and it wasn’t very effective. Certainly not as effective as Landry’s decision to go with Staubach as the full-time starter. I always remember being told, “If you think you have two quarterbacks, you really have none.”
LOUIS BOLOGNIA FROM HERMITAGE, PA: Could you please explain the procedure of determining where a kick goes out of bounds? I always see an official running up the sideline and then stopping suddenly. Just wondering how he knows where to stop.
ANSWER: The correct procedure is for the referee (wearing the white hat) to stand behind the punter, and from there he has a good angle to see where the ball crosses the sideline. Once the ball goes out of bounds on the fly, the referee will raise his arm. The official working the sideline where the ball went out of bounds then raises his arm and while watching the referee starts moving up the sideline. When the official working the sideline reaches the point where the referee has determined the ball crossed the sideline, the referee will bring his arm down in a chopping motion. That’s how the ball is spotted.
JERRY MCGINNIS JR. FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Given the state of NFL officiating, how about we give the coaches six challenge flags to equal the teams’ combined timeouts?
ANSWER: Instant replay doesn’t work. Never has. Never will.
PAUL MARTIN FROM SAEGERTOWN, PA: What does the phrase "ball placement" refer to as it applies to a running back?
ANSWER: I recently asked this of Coach Mike Tomlin. Here is his explanation: “Ball placement is the desired place in which you want the ball to hit based on the contour of the defense and the offensive play-call. A back’s ability to find that place is significant in terms of run game efficiency and the percentage in which they hit it. The vast majority of the time, they have to find that space, but we’re talking a 98 percentile back as opposed to an 89 percentile back. That’s a significant difference in terms of how it plays out in yardage.”