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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Jan. 3

Let's get to it:

RICH FIORI FROM CAVE CREEK, AZ: I have seen this stat for defensive backs, but I really don't understand the full meaning. When the stat sheet says a player has x-number of passes defensed, what does that mean? Does it mean that the defensive back actually had an active role in stopping the pass? Does it also mean that the defensive back was in a position that caused the receiver to not catch the pass? Does it also mean that just by being there the receiver didn't catch the pass?
ANSWER: I asked Coach Mike Tomlin to explain what qualifies as a pass defensed, and this was his answer: "Ball targeted toward a receiver and a defender doing something physically to ensure that the catch is not made. Breaking the ball up, dislodging the ball, pulling the ball out, hitting the elbow making it somewhat of an uncatchable play. It has to be some physical confrontation from a defensive back to limit the potential for a catch. It's not the closest defensive back on a drop, or the closest defensive back on an overthrow, etc. It has to be some positive action by the defensive back."

CHRIS BILLINGHURST FROM MAIDENHEAD, UK: Do the Steelers have a policy on players using social media and personal phones in the hours leading up to games? In particular, this weekend would the players have been informed of the results of the Jets-Seahawks and Dolphins-Patriots games and therefore known that they were still in the playoff hunt before their own game vs. the Ravens?
ANSWER: The Steelers had all day to spend in their Baltimore hotel waiting to go to M&T Bank Stadium in advance of the 8:20 p.m. kickoff time. There were big-screen televisions in the team's meal room and those televisions were tuned to Dolphins-Patriots so players and staff could watch together before the buses left for the stadium. Said Coach Mike Tomlin about whether he would try to keep the outcomes of other games a secret, he said, "No, I don't fight that in any way. You know, I like to feel like we understand that urgency each and every week. Each and every week, I've always preached that teams walk into stadiums, and what happens in those stadiums is significant and has both short-term and long-term ramifications. And the more we do it, the road gets narrower, and those ramifications become clearer, but you better have the urgency to see the totality of the journey. And so, I'm not going to change that narrative because the road has gotten narrower, and the consequences are becoming clearer. It's just confirmation of what we've been talking about all year. We better focus on the things that are in our control, and that's our play and the winning of this game and no secondary things. Those chips fall where they may. We had an opportunity to do something about that positioning and that component of the discussion, like everyone else did, in September, October, November."

ERIC ASH FROM WELLSVILLE, NY: When there is an opening on the roster or practice squad, the spot is filled immediately. I assume the Steelers have a ranked list of free agents and other teams' practice squad players for each position. Is that correct? If so, who maintains the list? Do the players know they are on the list?
ANSWER: The personnel department has what has been referred to as a "ready list," and on that are the names of players at the various positions and has them ranked in some order. The names on that list, and the order in which the names are listed is proprietary work product, no different from the names on the team's draft board and how they're listed based on grades.

BURTON HARRIS FROM GREENSBURG, PA: How does the NFL decide what the salary cap will be for each team? Is there a process that determines that?
ANSWER: The salary cap is the same for every team over the course of a particular year, and the number is determined by accountants representing both the league and the union, where they audit the books to determine the total amount of designated gross revenue that's earned over a specific time period, and then that amount is divided between the players and the owners in the way stipulated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. From that general process comes the annual salary cap.

DAN MALLOY FROM ATHENS, AL: Roquan Smith has been a big addition to an already strong Ravens' defense. Did the Steelers make an effort to sign him when he became available, and if not, why not?
ANSWER: Since Roquan Smith was under contract to the Chicago Bears at the start of the 2022 NFL season, the Ravens acquired him via trade. Smith did not "become available" on the open market. The Ravens traded second and fifth-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft to the Bears for Smith, and because his contract will expire at the end of the 2022 season, he can become an unrestricted free agent in March 2023. My personal opinion is that a No. 2 and a No. 5 pick for a player you might lose to free agency less than a year after acquiring him is a steep price to pay for a player who very well could turn out to be a short-term rental.

DANIEL PARDUE FROM STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN: How common is it for the Steelers not to give a draft pick a spot on the season's initial 53-man roster?
ANSWER: It is extremely rare for every player in a particular draft class to make the 53-man roster during their rookie season. Two recent examples were Chris Oladokun, a quarterback drafted in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft from South Dakota State didn't make the 53-man roster as a rookie, and Quincy Roche, an outside linebacker drafted in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft from Miami didn't make the 53-man roster as a rookie. There are similar examples every year.

JOHN WOLANIN FROM MASSILLON, OH: Why do the Steelers defer after winning the coin toss? When I played high school football 50 years ago, if you won the toss, you took the ball.
ANSWER: I've read some ridiculous rationalizations but citing what happened when you played high school football 50 years ago as a reason to do something in today's NFL might take the cake. After all, in 1966 (56 years ago), Al Bundy scored four touchdowns in a single game while playing for the Polk High School Panthers in the 1966 city championship game versus Andrew Johnson High School, including the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds against his old nemesis, Bubba "Spare Tire" Dixon. Which makes as much sense as your argument.

DON ROWLEY FROM MARSHALLTOWN, IA: Can you give any insight as to why Franco Harris was selected on draft day instead of Penn State's feature back Lydell Mitchell?
ANSWER: As Hall of Fame General Manager George Young always said, "A good big man is better than a good little man every day." Lydell Mitchell was 5-foot-11, 204 pounds, and Franco Harris was 6-2, 230. In the NFL, now and back in the 1970s, size matters.

GERRY MANDERING FROM SCALP LEVEL, PA: If a quarterback rolls out on an option play and decides to keep the ball and run it himself, would a sack be awarded if the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage?
ANSWER: In such a situation, the on-site stats crew would make a determination as to whether the play called was an attempted pass or a designed run. If it was designed that the play was an attempted pass, the defensive player would be credited with a sack. If it was a designed run, the defensive player would be credited with a tackle-for-loss. Of course, whatever determination is made at the site of the game could be reviewed by the Elias Sports Bureau, the longtime Official Statistician for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the Women's National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, NBA G League and the PGA Championship. Upon that review, the on-site decision could be confirmed or changed, and then that decision is final in the eyes of the NFL.