Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Dec. 3

Let's get to it:

Been a fan of Markus Wheaton since his Oregon State days, and I know the Steelers receivers are a selfless group, but now that he has shown his talent against a good secondary, do you think Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley will find more ways to get Wheaton involved?


I always have respected the way Markus Wheaton goes about his business, and it started during his rookie season when he wasn't permitted to take part in any of the Steelers offseason program because of Oregon State's graduation schedule. Even though he reported to training camp way behind the rest of the wide receivers, Wheaton still got himself up to speed on the offense quickly enough to start the fourth regular season game of his rookie season. Playing a position typically filled with big egos at the NFL level, Wheaton seems to be understanding of the hierarchy with the Steelers, what with Antonio Brown being the clear No. 1 player at the position here, and with Martavis Bryant being someone with a potentially dynamic combination of size and speed. Maybe fans doubted Wheaton, but the Steelers never have. I believe the team realizes what they have in him, and when game situations dictate, there would be no qualms about making him more of a focal point of the offense. But finding ways to get a particular player involved at this stage of the season – when games have to be won in order to qualify for the playoffs – just isn't something that's high on anyone's priority list. The best thing Wheaton did in Seattle was show Ben Roethlisberger he can be trusted if the opponent is taking special measures to limit Brown. But as was the case starting with the 2001 season and going for some time after when Hines Ward was "the leader of the wideouts," Antonio Brown is the No. 1 player at that position now. That's just the reality.**

We have a great quarterback, a very good running back in DeAngelo Williams, a great wide receiving corps, a good defensive line and linebackers. Can the secondary really be the root of a 6-5 record at this point? I like Mike Tomlin as a coach. What are your views of the cause of this slightly above average season?

Did I miss a meeting? Is the season over? Or are there still five weeks left in the regular season, with the Steelers still being in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt? For starters, yes, the secondary is this team's weak link, and in an NFL where the rules and enforcement of same emphasizes the passing game, not being good enough in that area can be the difference – between contending for a championship or not, between making the playoffs or not, between finishing with a winning record or not. Through the first 10 games, the Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and the rest of the defensive coaching staff had done a nice job of camouflaging the inadequacies of this secondary, and there have been some guys stepping up and playing maybe above their innate skill levels. But that can only work for so long in a league where studying video is a compulsion, and that's why Tomlin said a couple of days ago that he's open to the possibility of personnel changes there.

Let's also not forget that the "great quarterback" has missed four full games and parts of two others, that the first-team All-Pro center hasn't played a snap, that the first-team All-Pro running back started six games and then landed on injured reserve, that the starting left tackle is on injured reserve and will end up missing 10 regular season games. Despite all that, the Steelers remain in the thick of the playoff chase. I disagree with your portrayal of that – under the circumstances just listed – as a "slightly above average season." And did I mention that the season isn't over yet?

I was disappointed that you and Tunch Ilkin did not address the two fourth downs where Mike Tomlin decided to kick field goals instead of going for touchdowns during the Live show that recapped the Seahawks game. The first one was on a fourth-and-1 from the Seahawk's 2-yard line, which, if converted, would have given the Steelers another set of downs and potentially an eleven-point lead, and we all know the Steelers record when leading during a game by 11 or more points. Might that not have been a chance to really put the Seahawks behind the proverbial 8-ball? The other one was the obvious one towards the end of the game, a fourth-and-goal from their 3-yard line. If Tomlin is truly "being aggressive" and "not living in his fears," then wouldn't that have been the time to potentially win the game with our best unit? What during the fourth quarter would lead Tomlin to believe that our defense would produce a three-and-out at that stage?

The first scenario you reference came with just under six minutes remaining in the third quarter with the Steelers leading, 18-14. A touchdown plus a PAT there makes it a 25-14 lead, but this was not the kind of game where either offense was going to be able to take the air out of the ball and just kill the clock, especially with that much time remaining, and a team never can do that without a defense that's playing very well, which you admit was not the case. Neither running game was having that kind of success, but a case can be made for going for a touchdown, even though I doubt it would have been a final nail in the coffin.

The second scenario came with 3:02 left and the Seahawks up, 32-27. A touchdown and let's say a successful two-point conversion give the Steelers a 35-32 lead. Seattle then gets the ball back with three minutes left, with all of its timeouts plus the two-minute warning.

This was Mike Tomlin's explanation of his decision to kick a field goal there: "Whether or not we kicked a field goal or went for a touchdown and got that touchdown or didn't get a touchdown, a subsequent stop was going to be required. With that understanding, I wanted to increase the amount of positivity in terms of us moving the ball down to that field position. I took the three points. It was going to be required that we have a stop regardless in order to win the game. I wanted to tee the defense up from a momentum standpoint, a positive momentum standpoint. We kicked a field goal. I wasn't concerned really about our ability to get back down the field again, based on what had transpired in the game to that point. Offensively, we had no problems moving the ball, particularly between the 20s. So, I took the burden in hand, if you will. I put the three points on the board with the understanding that regardless of what happened down there for us offensively, we were going to need at least one more stop defensively. And back to the offense, we hadn't had issues in terms of getting the ball into that field position."

Agree or disagree with kicking a field goal vs. going for a touchdown, but Tomlin is correct in saying the Steelers defense was going to have to make one more stop to win that game. On that ensuing Seattle offensive possession, Russell Wilson fumbled the ball on second down but got a lucky bounce and was able to recover. And then on third-and-10, Wilson's throw barely got under the arms of an on-rushing Bud Dupree. Close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I really wonder whether your disappointment was that this specific issue wasn't addressed in a show that touched on other Steelers failings – turnover ratio, third-down failures, red zone failures, the ill-advised gadget play on a field goal attempt – or whether your disappointment was driven by not finding people sharing your opinion.

The Steelers prepare for the week 13 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.

Are players on injured reserve allowed to practice at all with the team if they are physically able? Specifically, how involved can Senquez Golson be, and what can he be doing with the team to prepare for 2016?

No. Players on injured reserve are not allowed to practice or play in games. They can attend meetings.

What exactly happened to Senquez Golson and what is his status? Also, why don't the Steelers go into free agency and sign a top flight cornerback? Is it just about the money?

Senquez Golson injured a shoulder, I believe, on the second practice of rookie minicamp, which was held the weekend after the draft at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. He opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list. When the injury didn't get better in a sufficiently timely fashion, he had surgery. He is on the injured reserve list. Last March, the Steelers sent out feelers to Darrelle Revis to gauge his interest in the Steelers. When Revis' representatives made it clear their client was looking for top dollar – and with an extension for Ben Roethlisberger on the agenda – the Steelers backed away. There are cap issues to consider, because the Steelers always are close to the cap every year, but the reality is that there just aren't that many "top flight cornerbacks" who come available via free agency.

Can you explain why Markus Wheaton's catch on the sideline that was ruled incomplete was ruled as such when he did not lose control of the ball with both hands, just his right hand, which he put back on the ball between his two steps inbounds. My point is, he caught the ball with two hands, had control with two hands, let go with his right hand, while maintaining possession with his left. Why are all of Odell Beckham's one-handed catches not ruled incomplete?

You're asking me to explain NFL officials' rulings? You're asking me to explain what is and is not now a catch in the NFL? I cannot do either of those things. Truthfully, I have no idea. None. And I would bet that if you got a dozen zebras in a room and showed them video of the kinds of plays you describe in your question, there would be no unanimity among them either. That's the problem. I cannot solve it, nor can I explain it. And for a change, I'm not being a smart-aleck. I truly do not know, nor do I know anyone who knows.

I haven't found an interview that addresses the trick play. Who called it and an explanation why they thought it a good idea.

Like you, I'm not a fan of gadget plays. And I believe there is a vast difference between being aggressive and trying to be tricky. With that distinction out of the way, you didn't try very hard to find that interview, because Mike Tomlin addressed it after the game, and both the video and text of that session were posted on on Sunday night. I could have understood if you said you didn't agree with his reasoning, or his answer didn't satisfy you. But the interview was on the website.

Did the Steelers have an opportunity to draft Richard Sherman instead of Cortez Allen?

Since Richard Sherman was a fifth-round draft pick, the Steelers and every other team in the league passed on the chance to draft him at least four different times. That's the way it is with these late-round draft picks. Every team in the NFL passed on Antonio Brown at least five times before the Steelers picked him in the sixth round; every NFL team passed on Tom Brady at least five times before the Patriots picked him on the sixth round, etc. Cortez Allen was a fourth-round pick in 2011, and so, yes, Richard Sherman was available when the Steelers picked Allen.

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