Let's get to it:
PETE BURG FROM GARWOOD, NJ:
I've heard announcers question it, and I have been trying to figure it out for years. As big as Ben Roethlisberger is, why wouldn't he take it himself on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line? I've seen smaller quarterbacks throughout the years go for it and make it a good percentage of the time. Do you know why the Steelers almost never call a quarterback sneak when they're close to a first down or a touchdown?
ANSWER: Because I don't think Ben Roethlisberger is very good at the quarterback sneak. I've seen him attempt many over the course of his career, and while he was OK at it when he was young I believe that skill has eroded as he has gotten older. The Patriots ran a quarterback sneak against the Steelers, and Tom Brady took a couple of hits and lost a fumble that Javon Hargrave recovered. It wasn't ruled that way on the field, but that's in fact what happened, and for me I'm not real interested in exposing my quarterback to that kind of punishment, especially when I have Le'Veon Bell or Le'Veon Bell running behind an offensive line containing an All-Pro center and an All-Pro guard. If that combination cannot find a way to squeeze out the necessary footage, there are bigger problems to solve. And please, spare me the opinions of "announcers." I know a lot of those guys, and the people who submit questions to me for this forum often know more about the Steelers than they do.**
JIM RUSSO FROM WEBSTER, NY:
Mike Tomlin was outcoached from the onset. Two-part question: Why would we sit Demarcus Ayers and give Sammie Coates a helmet when he has not played in six weeks on offense? Also, I'm real tired of seeing a deep pass play called on third-and-short. Why not just get the first down?
ANSWER: Demarcus Ayers likely was inactive because Ayers is a slot receiver, Eli Rogers is a slot receiver, and you only need one slot receiver who really doesn't otherwise contribute on special teams. Two-part question back at you: If Sammie Coates catches the ball that went right through his hands on third-and-short and then ran away from the lone Patriots defender, who was behind him at the time, to score a touchdown, are you still on record as being in favor of "just get the first down?" And if Coates makes the catch, is Mike Tomlin still being out-coached?
ROBERT ZEWE FROM ERIE, PA:
Why didn't the Steelers adjust and come out of the zone defense versus the Patriots. They have the players to play man, why not do it? Why not use Justin Gilbert more?
ANSWER: What you're describing is not an adjustment but an overhaul of the way they had been playing in the secondary during the nine-game winning streak, and that cannot happen on the sideline during a game. You say the Steelers have the players to play man coverage, but I disagree heartily when the opponent is Tom Brady. Forget the receivers, the real opponent for the pass defense is Brady. If you think Brady wouldn't have carved up man-coverage on Sunday, you're delusional. It's not as simple as just assigning a defensive back to a wide receiver or a tight end or a running back and saying, "Cover him." The Patriots put guys in motion, they run crossing routes. With the rules the way they are, how's a defensive back supposed to deal with that? Certain guys need help, and everybody has to know if they're getting help or not, and if they're getting help where it's coming from. And you're gonna try to draw that up on the sideline between series? Brady's accuracy will eat you alive, and for bigger chunks of yards than he was getting Sunday night.**
I don't disagree that the Steelers pass defense was awful in that game, but how positive are you that it was scheme and not player error? It's likely that it was some mix of the two, but the scheme can only ask the personnel to do what's realistic for them. On Sunday, the Steelers started three virtual rookies in their secondary – Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Stephon Tuitt – and against that quarterback in that venue with those stakes, asking them to play man-coverage would have been like juggling nitroglycerin.
Maybe the plan could've been tweaked to prevent the Patriots receivers from always getting a free release off the line of scrimmage, and maybe the plan was made to look worse than it was by mental errors and poor play. Agreed, it was below the line, but where I disagree is that it's too complex with too many moving parts to believe it could've been changed/fixed mid-game.
CRAIG BROWN FROM WILLOUGHBY, OH:
Now that the Steelers season is over, I was looking at the draft and they have the 30th overall pick. I say every position is on the table expect for quarterback and running back, because you can never have too many defensive linemen or outside linebackers. Am I right?
ANSWER: I can't tell by your question whether you mean possible positions for the first-round pick, or possible positions to be addressed in the whole draft. If you're talking about the first round, I'd also eliminate tight end and offensive line. If you're talking about the whole draft, I believe picking a running back in the middle rounds would be a possibility. They wanted to do it last year but couldn't find the right value.
Take a look at the best photos from the AFC Championship against the Patriots. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 36-17.
IAN SMITH FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
The way the game unfolded it turned out to be a blowout. Is this a case of the New England coaching staff doing a better job of preparation and execution, or is just a bad overall performance by the Steelers in general?
ANSWER: In terms of the preparation and time spent on it, things were more intense the week before the New England game than they had been before Miami or Kansas City. The deeper a team gets in the tournament, if anything, the sense of urgency becomes more palpable. This is not a video game, and it's the players who have to execute. Let me just throw this out to you: if it's really all about Bill Belichick's genius plans, how come those plans never won him anything when he was coaching the Browns? If Josh McDaniels is so smart, how come none of his offensive genius showed through during his time in Denver as the head coach of the Broncos? Want to know why? Vinny Testaverde in Cleveland, and Kyle Orton in Denver. Tom Brady could make me look like an offensive genius.
ERIC SMITH FROM ORANGE, CT:
Overall, a B-plus season. Won the division, won two playoff games, got to the AFC Championship Game, and lost to New England. It's not like we lost to a team we clearly should have beaten. With that said, two questions about the game based on what I saw and, yes, I know I'm not a coach. On offense, once it was clear the running game wasn't working and we were having trouble stopping the Patriots, why didn't we switch to a hurry-up offense after our first series in the second half? We could have at least had a chance to make it a shootout. On defense, I know we don't have players to play true man coverage, but why didn't we at least try to jam the receivers at the line or as they came out of the slot as we dropped into our zones? That would at least disrupt the timing a little bit and possibly disguise the coverage more?
ANSWER: I agree with you about the defense, but only if the personnel is capable of executing the bumps and disguises, because if not Tom Brady would punish that plan as assuredly as he punished the zone. It's easy to say disguise the coverage, but the Steelers have a lot of young guys on that defense, and Brady won't be fooled easily. On offense, the problem in my opinion was the young receivers. First it was dropping the ball, and then there also seemed to me to be some instances where Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball to one spot and the receiver was running to another. And the Steelers only ran the ball six times in the whole second half, as it was.
ROSS HUNT FROM LISBURN, NORTHERN IRELAND:
Do you think Steelers Nation will somehow try to find a way to blame the Championship Game loss on Landry Jones?
Answer: As of right now, he might be the only one not getting any of the blame.