Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Jan. 7

Let's get to it:

RANDY BROOKS FROM KILLEEN, TX: I am curious about this year's receiving group compared to previous Super Bowl qualifying teams. I didn't research it, but it seems like there is more depth at the wide receiver position this year than any other Steelers team that I can recall. Where would this group of receivers rank among groups that made it all the way to the Super Bowl?
ANSWER: First of all, you're asking to compare groups of receivers who were part of a team that advanced to a Super Bowl with a group of receivers who have yet to win a playoff game; secondly, you don't specify whether tight ends and running backs are to be included as "receivers;" and lastly, comparing groups of receivers from the 1970s when teams rarely deployed more than three at a time to today when the Steelers will line up with as many as five at a time is not apples-to-apples. But I'm in a cooperating mood right now, and so let's play:

THE CURRENT GROUP: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud, and tight end Eric Ebron. Granted, this group is young and the players are in the early stages of their careers, but the only decorated player is Smith-Schuster, who has been voted to one Pro Bowl.

THE 1975 GROUP: Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Frank Lewis, and tight end Larry Brown. Swann has a bust in Canton and was the MVP of Super Bowl X; Stallworth has a bust in Canton; and Lewis was voted to one Pro Bowl (1981) after being traded to the Buffalo Bills.

THE 1995 GROUP: Yancey Thigpen, Ernie Mills, Charles Johnson, Kordell Stewart, and Andre Hastings. Thigpen was voted to two Pro Bowls – 1995 and 1997.

THE 2008 GROUP: Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, and tight end Heath Miller. Ward has been a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was the MVP of Super Bowl XL; Holmes was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII; and Miller was voted to two Pro Bowls: 2009 and 2012.

THE 2010 GROUP: Mike Wallace, Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Antwaan Randle El, and tight end Miller. Wallace was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2011; Sanders was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2014 and 2016; Brown was first-team All-Pro in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017; and Ward has been a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was the MVP of Super Bowl XL.

If a gun was put to my head, I would rank the 1975 group as the best, because two Hall of Fame players trumps all, and it also is worth noting that the two Hall of Fame players largely kept a Pro Bowl player off the field. Next would be the 2010 group, because it was six-deep. The current group has potential to be great, but it's just too early and too many of the players are more potential than proven at this stage of their careers. The bottom line, though, is that the Steelers have had some outstanding groups of receivers despite a long-time reputation as being a running team.

MAURICIO CRUZ FROM CIUDAD DE MÉXICO, MÉXICO: "We've seen enough success to believe in ourselves. We've seen enough failure to have humility, and I think we move and proceed without fear." Coach Mike Tomlin's exact words rank among the two or three wisest things I've read from any coach, from any sport, in any era. I'd love to adopt them as a personal motto, but giving due credit. Is it a fully original Tomlin phrase (or "Tomlinism"), as far as you know?
ANSWER: It is an exact quote, word for word, because I asked the question in a one-on-one interview, and then I transcribed the audio myself. I believe it's also fair to point out that Coach Mike Tomlin had no idea the question was coming, and he answered immediately with those words.

MATT CORSAUT FROM FOLSOM, CA: In your opinion, what specifically needs to change to increase performance on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1?
ANSWER: To the offensive line: "Come. Off. The. Ball." To the running back: "Hit it up in there."

JAMES PRUSACK FROM GRANTSVILLE, WV: If you were looking for a quarterback, would you prefer one who tries to stay in the pocket or one who constantly runs out of the pocket and scrambles down the field risking a season ending injury?
ANSWER: Give me Buffalo's Josh Allen over Baltimore's Lamar Jackson.

SHERRI BRYAN FROM FLEMING ISLAND, FL: This year there are three teams from the AFC North in the playoffs. When was the last time that there were three teams from the same division in the playoffs? Does that make our division the strongest/toughest this year?
ANSWER: Having three teams from the same division in the playoffs is not all that unusual of an occurrence, because since 1983 it has happened 24 times, including 2020. Before 2020, the most recent occurrence was in 2017, when 11-5 New Orleans, 11-5 Carolina, and 10-6 Atlanta all qualified from the NFC South. In both 1994 and 1997, four teams qualified from the NFC Central Division: Minnesota, Green Bay, Detroit, and Chicago in 1994; and Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Minnesota in 1997.

JIM GRAVES FROM WATERTOWN, NY: If Chris Boswell is able to return to the lineup for Sunday's game, is there any possibility that Coach Mike Tomlin decides to keep Matthew Wright around just in case Boswell has any recurrence of injury during the game as a safety net?
ANSWER: My belief is that there will be one placekicker on the Steelers game day roster for the game vs. Cleveland. If there are any doubts about Chris Boswell, that one placekicker will be Matthew Wright. If there are no doubts about Boswell, he will be the one placekicker.

RON WILLIAMS FROM ASTORIA, OR: Has there been any information released on the return of Robert Spillane and Matt Feiler for the playoff game and what is the status for Joe Haden and Eric Ebron from the COVID-19 list?
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin said both Robert Spillane and Matt Feiler will return to practice this week, and then the quality of their work in practice will determine whether one, or both, is added to the active roster in time for the Wild Card Round game vs. the Browns. According to reports, Joe Haden will not be able to play against the Browns, because he tested positive for COVID-19 and will not have cleared the protocol in time for Sunday night's game. The situations regarding Eric Ebron and Cassius Marsh are not as clear-cut, because they were identified as close contacts. There is the possibility they both could be available if they continue to test negative.

KIMBERLY SHAFFER FROM AMBLER, PA: Game on the line. Third-and-1, or fourth-and-1, to be converted to seal a win. What is your play call based on what you have seen so far from the 2020 Steelers?
ANSWER: I put the ball into the hands of my best offensive player (Ben Roethlisberger) and tell him to make a play, and I'd probably call the RPO (run-pass option) that makes him most comfortable/confident. Then it's let Roethlisberger come to the line of scrimmage, look over the opposing defensive formation, and go from there.

LITO ARBALLO FROM COVINA, CA: Any updates on how Devin Bush and Bud Dupree are recovering from their ACL injuries?
ANSWER: There have not been any updates on Devin Bush and Bud Dupree, and there probably won't be for some time. My guess is the first we will hear about either player will be in March when free agency is set to begin, because Dupree can become an unrestricted free agent, and his camp could be interested in getting a status report out in the hopes of comforting teams that might be interested in trying to sign him.

DANIEL UTLEY FROM EUDORA, KS: You previously mentioned Jordan Berry's punting average. I was wondering what exactly determines the length of punt? And are penalties by either team added or subtracted from these yards?
ANSWER: In the NFL, punts are measured from the line of scrimmage to where the ball is caught by the returner. If the ball is not caught by a returner, the punt is measured by where it goes out of bounds or is downed. Penalties do not impact a punter's gross average.

WILLIAM HOFFER FROM CARLISLE, PA: What do you view as the three positions that need to be addressed during the upcoming NFL draft or free agency for the Steelers team in 2021?
ANSWER: The Steelers team in 2020 plays in the Wild Card Round against the Cleveland Browns at 8:15 p.m. on Sunday at Heinz Field. The draft will be held in late April 2021. There are going to be months worth of the offseason to chew on draft possibilities, so why not focus on and try to enjoy the playoffs now? That's what I'm choosing to do.