Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Dec. 31

Let's get to it:

MARIO ZINNA FROM PALM BAY, FL: Who was the Steelers offensive coordinator when Terry Bradshaw played, and what role did he have when Bradshaw called his own plays? Why not have Ben Roethlisberger call own plays in the beginning of game instead of waiting until we have to play catch up? Ben seems a lot more involved and focused when he does.
ANSWER: Chuck Noll served as the team's offensive coordinator from the day he was hired until the end of the 1982 season, when he appointed wide receivers coach Tom Moore to the job, which made Moore the first offensive coordinator by title in franchise history. So Moore served as the offensive coordinator starting with the 1983 season, but since Bradshaw played only one game that year because of an elbow condition, it's fair to point out that the only offensive coordinator Bradshaw had during his NFL career was Noll. In the NFL of the 1960s-70s, it wasn't all that unusual for head coaches to serve as the offensive coordinator, but Noll held onto the dual assignment longer than most of his peers. But unlike the Cowboys, whose first named offensive coordinator was Jim Myers in 1970, Noll allowed Bradshaw to call all of the plays during games, while Tom Landry did not do the same with Roger Staubach nor did Bill Walsh do that with Joe Montana. This is a bit off the subject of your specific question, but the fact Bradshaw was 4-0 in Super Bowls while calling all of his own plays is something I believe should be recognized on his resume whenever the NFL's all-time best quarterbacks are being debated.

As for Ben Roethlisberger calling his own plays, a lot of that already is going on. Roethlisberger not only has freedom to change the play he gets from the sideline, but often times what is sent in from the sideline is an RPO – run-pass option – and Roethlisberger also determines whether it's to be a run or a pass based on what he sees once the offense breaks the huddle.

NED LEDICK FROM FRONT ROYAL, VA: Let's assume Coach Mike Tomlin decides to airmail himself to the playoffs, and left you in charge of Sunday's game. Assuming everybody is healthy, who do you put on the inactive list?
ANSWER: Going with six inactives: Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, T.J. Watt, Joe Haden, Cam Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt. And then Minkah Fitzpatrick would be standing next to me before the end of the first quarter and stay there for the rest of the game. I also wouldn't make any decisions that could overly stress Chris Boswell's hip or groin.

KIMBERLY SHAFFER FROM AMBLER, PA: Mike Hilton seems to have fully recovered from his injuries and returned to his typical high level of play. Is he one of the top one or two slot corners in the league in your opinion?
ANSWER: Mike Hilton is an important part of the Steelers defense, and coordinator Keith Butler has done a good job of crafting a role for him that emphasizes his strengths. Hilton is very good at attacking the backfield, either in run support or by joining the pass rush as a blitzer. He is not someone who is really good at lining up over a receiver and locking him down in coverage. Because he is a nickel cornerback, Hilton has to be used in coverage, but the Steelers have learned there are ways to do that without exposing him too much. I cannot rank Hilton among all the nickel cornerbacks in the NFL for two reasons: I only get a chance to watch the Steelers and the teams on their schedule, and because teams employ players at this position in different ways – not many, if any, use them as a regular part of the pass rush, as an example – it's not always an apples-to-apples comparison. I will say Hilton is an important part of the Steelers success on defense.

BOB WALKER FROM BRENTWOOD, TN: Have the Steelers ever had at least 12 wins and not made the Super Bowl?
ANSWER: That has happened five times: in 1994, they were 12-4; in 2001, they were 13-3; in 2004, they were 15-1; in 2011, they were 12-4; and in 2017, they were 13-3.

CHARLES GOLLMAR FROM KENNESAW, GA: I've seen a ton of articles talking about how the Browns game is basically meaningless as far as the Steelers seeding (which seems to be true given the various playoff predictor tools out there). However, if the Steelers beat the Browns then they probably don't even make the playoffs and we get to play the Colts in the first round. If the Browns win, then the Steelers will probably have to turn around and play them again in the first round of the playoffs. Am I wrong to be worried about the prospects of facing a Browns team that just got their confidence back by beating us the week before?
ANSWER: You are free to be worried about anything you like, but I believe it's better for the Steelers to have a "healthy" and rested Ben Roethlisberger (and some other select veteran players) for the start of the playoffs, especially during this COVID-impacted season that prevented the Steelers from having a "real" bye.

PHILLIP COLGROVE FROM CHELMSFORD, UNITED KINGDOM: I'm guessing that there could be a results scenario where the Steelers have a back-to-back game against the Browns. Have the Steelers ever had a back-to-back against an opponent, and how did it go?
ANSWER: My assumption is this question has to do with the possibility of the Steelers ending the regular season with a game against the Browns and then coming back the next weekend in the Wild Card Round with another game against the Browns. In that scenario, the answer is "no" with a slight explanation: In 1978, the Steelers regular season finale was in Denver against the defending AFC Champion Broncos, and then they opened the playoffs by hosting the Broncos in a Divisional Round Game. But as the AFC's No. 1 seed in 1978, the Steelers had a first-round bye, and so the playoff game vs. Denver was two weeks after the regular season game vs. Denver. I would say that's not back-to-back, but if you disagree and believe it is, I'm not going to argue too vehemently. And in 1978, the Steelers won the regular season matchup, 21-17, and then the Divisional Round Game, 33-10.

SCOTT SWEENEY FROM HICKORY, NC: Did Coach Mike Tomlin ever explain why he didn't call a timeout when they had the Colts backed up at the end of the first half?
ANSWER: Asked about it during his weekly news conference, Coach Mike Tomlin said, "Really, I was taken aback by the screen we gave up just prior to that. I was more concerned about getting that unit off the field without (allowing) anymore splash plays. It's really unsettling when you give up a field-flipping play such as that. Thankfully that play was called back due to a block in the back, but we were fortunate there. Our execution was poor, and it really kind of changed my whole mentality about how the end of the half was unfolding."

To recap the play Tomlin was referencing: On a second-and-5 from the Colts 24-yard line, Philip Rivers completed a screen pass to Nyheim Hines, who ran it all the way to the Steelers 8-yard line for a gain of 68 yards. Because of the poor execution of the defense on that play, Tomlin said, he changed his mind about the end of the half apparently because he wasn't completely confident the defense would get off the field on a third-and-18.

ANN FERRARI FROM WILMINGTON, DE: I hear from the national media that Ben Roethlisberger has been playing with a hyper-extended knee. Isn't that supposed to be on the team's daily injury report?
ANSWER: If it's true, and the injury is impacting Ben Roethlisberger's practice participation, then yes. But when asked about that, Roethlisberger said, "I mean, I'm 38 years old. I've played football for 17 years. I've had multiple surgeries. I saw that report. I don't know where it came from. I think it was the one that said the Steelers were concerned. I would love to know who that was or who told him because the week before against Washington I was having issues with my knee, landed on it, had something going on, but other than just an old knee and arthritis, my knee actually feels really good this week, especially after playing on an artificial surface. Typically, that is another issue that makes it kind of ache. After last week, it feels pretty good. That report to me is just one of those phony kinds of things that people sometimes want to make up. I actually feel pretty good." And beyond the typical Wednesday off Coach Mike Tomlin has been giving him for years, Roethlisberger has been a regular participant in practice.

STEVE KEISTER FROM KINNELON, NJ: Given this year's performances and pending free agency, do you think it's too early to start thinking about the next draft?
ANSWER: It's not too early for you to start thinking about the draft, if that's how you choose to spend your time, but it's too early for me. With the NFL indicating it will go to a 17-game regular season schedule in 2021, that means the league will have additional inventory to sell to networks or streaming services, and that extra money would impact the 2021 salary cap in a way where it's less of a doomsday scenario for many teams, including the Steelers. That could impact the draft, certainly, and the fact the Steelers are division champions and in the upcoming playoffs is what currently has my attention. Besides, college players have until sometime in January to decide whether to declare for the 2021 draft, and so we don't even know for certain, as an example, whether Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is going to return for his final season of college eligibility or not.

ERIC MICELI FROM PHOENIX, AZ: Its obvious you printed the questions submitted during the first half of the Colts game to mock the submitters. But except for the ones wanting to bring in Mason Rudolph, they weren't wrong.
ANSWER: "Except for the ones wanting to bring in Mason Rudolph …" How about the ones trashing Ben Roethlisberger? And here's a news flash for you: This is a question and answer forum, not a place for fans to vent their frustrations and offer their opinions. You do that on a talk show. This is not a talk show, and I'm not your therapist. And one more thing: When a submission rambles on and on and on with opinion, and then closes with: "Your thoughts" is not a question.

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