Let's get to it:
VICKI RIZZO FROM ST. CHARLES, MO:
After watching Tom Brady take a beating in the AFC Championship Game against Denver, props certainly should be given to our offensive line for keeping Ben relatively clean in the AFC Divisional Round Game. What are the chances that the Steelers will make every effort to keep these guys together, plus Kelvin Beachum and Maurkice Pouncey, for the 2016 season?
Take a look at Team Photographer Karl Roser's selection of greatest photos from the season. Part 1 of a 4 part series.
There is a 100 percent chance the Steelers will make an effort to keep this group of offensive linemen together, but when it comes to NFL free agency, effort often isn't enough. Both Ramon Foster, the starting left guard, and Kelvin Beachum, the starting left tackle at the time of his knee injury in mid-October, can test the market as unrestricted free agents, and it'll be interesting to see what level of interest either can generate on the open market. Often, circumstances are such that free-agents-to-be and their current teams are better off staying together, but just as often, one or both sides don't realize that until it's too late.**
Foster turned 30 on Jan. 7, and he's valued by the Steelers for the help he gave Alejandro Villanueva in easing his transition into the starting job after Beachum was injured, as an example of an under-the-radar contribution. Beachum was a starting left tackle, but what could he command on the open market just five months after sustaining a serious knee injury? So while the Steelers have a couple of their core offensive linemen due to become unrestricted free agents, it's no slam dunk that they'll be losing one, or either of them, just as it's no sure thing that everyone will be back for 2016. As for Maurkice Pouncey, he is signed for four more years, through the 2019 NFL season.
CHARLIE ULSAMER FROM FORT COLLINS, CO:
I have a question about a play from Sunday's AFC Championship Game. On a punt it appeared the ball crossed the plane of the goal line and was batted back into the field of play by the kicking team, and then the official placed the ball where it landed (about the 3-yard line). But shouldn't this have been a touchback since the ball crossed the goal line even though neither the player (before batting the ball) nor the ball ever touched the end zone?
No. That play was ruled correctly. The "crossing the plane of the goal line" applies for scoring touchdowns, but in the example you cited about the punt, the goal line can be considered the same as any other boundary line on the field. As long as the player on the kicking team doesn't touch either the goal line or any spot in the end zone, he can bat the ball backward and have it downed by a teammate who also has not touched either the goal line or a spot in the end zone.
MAURICE JONES FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
I love Asked and Answered. Thanks for the humor during this national time of mourning in Steelers Nation. In my opinion there were some missed pass interference calls in the playoff game in Denver, with Aqib Talib getting there early on Markus Wheaton without looking for the ball and him reaching around Martavis Bryant to grab his arm before the ball got there and then batting the ball away. I think everyone who roots for other teams also feels like some flags that should be thrown don't get thrown and flags that shouldn't do. When these calls can cost a team the game, it seems like some of them should be reviewable. Has there been any talk of making certain penalties reviewable?
Yes. Bill Belichick is on record as being in favor of having everything, absolutely EVERYTHING in a game subject to instant replay review but without expanding the number of challenges currently available to each team during a game. My preference is to hire competent officials and have the game adjudicated on the field. Too many reviews spoil the flow of a game, and what's rarely mentioned is the plight of the paying customers sitting in the stands – maybe cold, maybe wet – while some suit in New York is trying to teach an on-site referee the rules of the sport.**
DEREK MURPHY FROM RADISSON, SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA:
Which Steelers player surprised you the most this past 2015 season?
Since you use the word "surprised," I'm going to go with Landry Jones over Al Villanueva. I decided on Jones, because he had a longer history here and that history had led me to think of him in one way, and that changed dramatically this season. Through training camp and the five-game preseason, I had little confidence that Landry Jones would be capable enough physically and tough enough mentally to help the Steelers win even one regular season game if called upon, and he proved me wrong in fairly decisive fashion. That Villanueva was able to step in at left tackle and perform so capably was a pleasant and important development for these Steelers, but Jones had a longer history of not showing much and quarterback is a more difficult position even than left tackle.
JAMES LYTLE FROM GENEVA, OH:
What goes on in the offseason for players? Are they effectively on vacation until summer? I assume they're responsible for maintaining their physical fitness, etc., but do they have other responsibilities? Thanks for keeping us educated and entertained.
In a final interview with the media after the loss to the Broncos in the playoffs, William Gay was asked whether he was going to come back for the 2016 season, which would be his 14th. Harrison said he wasn't sure just yet, that he didn't know if he wanted to put his body through the demands of the kind of offseason program that's necessary to prepare oneself for the rigors of an NFL season. So even though players cannot be required to engage in any offseason conditioning or weightlifting or any other activity that could be characterized as something to prepare one for the demands of an NFL season, there is an implicit requirement attached being that NFL contracts are not guaranteed and players who get cut don't get paid. In fact, as a team that has a returning head coach, the Steelers are not even permitted to begin their offseason workout program until April 18. It's often said that championships are won through the work that gets done when nobody is watching, and that's an apt description for what you refer to as "other responsibilities" in your question.
RIAD TANTASH FROM CLEVELAND, OH:
I am very appreciative of the efforts put forth this season by the players and coaching staff. The difficult schedule and overcoming some key setbacks speak to the heart, vision, and determination of these Steelers. As a leader of men, Coach Mike Tomlin continues to impress me as an individual who leads by example and with brevity makes his point. Well done, gentlemen.
I concur, but also, after watching the AFC Championship Game, I became even more disappointed at how the season ended. The Steelers did a better job competing with the Broncos in Denver during the playoffs than New England did.
ALBERT JOHNSTON FROM DOVER, DE:
I noticed on NFL.com that Senquez Golson is listed as an unrestricted free agent. How can this be? He hasn't even played a down for the Steelers after being selected in the second round just one year ago. Can you explain? Thank You.
My explanation would be this: don't believe everything you read on NFL.com. Senquez Golson cannot be an unrestricted free agent, being that he was drafted into the NFL in 2015 and never has been cut and cleared waivers.
BRIAN URQUIDEZ FROM SUN VALLEY, CA:
Do you think Ben Roethlisberger will play in another Super Bowl?
Yes. I love the easy ones.