Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 11

Let's get to it:

DENNIS LONGAZEL FROM BOCA RATON, FL: We have read dozens of sources of Steelers information regarding Jack Lambert. Some state that he was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice, while others state he was voted the award only once, in 1976. Which is correct?
ANSWER: Jack Lambert was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1976, the only time in his career he received that award. Lambert also was voted the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 1974. Slightly off the topic, but since you brought up the Defensive Player of the Year Award, I believe it can be used as further evidence of the dominance of the Steelers defense during the 1970s. Starting in 1972 and continuing through 1976 – a span of five seasons – a Steelers player won the award four times. It went to Joe Greene in 1972, Greene again in 1974, Mel Blount in 1975, and Lambert in 1976.

ERIC TAPPER FROM LINCOLN, NE: The famous Steel Curtain had four defensive linemen. In what year did the Steelers convert from a 4-3 to a 3-4? And any insights as to why the conversion was made?
ANSWER: Let me begin by explaining that the original nickname "Steel Curtain" applied only to the defensive line of Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, and Ernie Holmes, just like the Fearsome Foursome applied to the Rams defensive line of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, and Lamar Lundy; and the Purple People Eaters nickname applied to the Vikings defensive line of Carl Eller, Alan Page, Jim Marshall, and Gary Larsen. Anyway, with Greene, White, and Holmes gone, Chuck Noll switched to a 3-4 defense after the end of the 1981 season, and the 1982 offseason was when Greenwood was cut after training camp. The reason for the switch was that the 3-4 alignment was the hot new thing in the NFL, and it was believed at the time that it made it more difficult for offenses to run the football effectively because the linemen were designed to occupy blockers while the linebackers were freed up to flow to the football.

THOMIE PRYOR FROM LEMON GROVE, CA: With the dominance of the Steel Curtain during the 1970s, how come all four of those defensive linemen are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: It long has been my contention that since the Steel Curtain was one of the most famous and feared defensive lines in NFL history, more than one of the four should have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Both Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen are enshrined from the Rams' Fearsome Foursome, and both Carl Eller and Alan Page are enshrined from the Vikings' Purple People Eaters. The Steel Curtain only has placed Joe Greene in the Hall of Fame, and I long have believed L.C. Greenwood should be elected as well. But I don't have a vote, and so far the Board of Selectors has not seen fit to elect Greenwood.

JOSHUA OSTEN FROM MECHANICSBURG, PA: I was glancing at past Steelers Rookie of the Year Award winners and saw Patrick Bailey won in 2008. How did he do that year, and what happened to him afterwards?
ANSWER: The fact Patrick Bailey was voted Steelers Rookie of the Year in 2008 was more a factor of a bad draft class than anything spectacular he did to win the award. Rashard Mendenhall was the No. 1 pick in 2008, but he had his season cut short by an injury after a Ray Lewis tackle in an early game vs. the Ravens, and the rest of that draft class included Limas Sweed, Bruce Davis, Tony Hills, Dennis Dixon, Mike Humpal, and Ryan Mundy. Bailey was an undrafted rookie that year who made the team because of his special teams contributions. Bailey spent two seasons with the Steelers and then four more with the Titans, and he played primarily special teams his whole career.

EV STEEL FROM DALE CITY, VA: In the June 9 installment of Asked and Answered, you wrote that cutting Johnny Unitas and trading Len Dawson were the two biggest mistakes the Steelers ever made at quarterback. Can we add passing on Dan Marino with the 21st overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft to that list?
ANSWER: In answering the question, I purposely omitted situations where the Steelers could have drafted somebody and didn't, because there are a lot of those kinds of examples during the 85 drafts in which the Steelers have participated. Here are a few examples in addition to the decision to pass on drafting Dan Marino in 1983: In 2001, the Steelers didn't draft Drew Brees; in 2000, they didn't draft Tom Brady; in 1991, they didn't draft Brett Favre; and if you really want to go back into the archives, in 1937, they didn't draft Sammy Baugh. There is no argument from me that not drafting Marino was not a highlight for the franchise, but I just decided that having two Hall of Fame quarterbacks under contract and then cutting one and trading the other was on a different/higher level of incompetence than not drafting somebody.

RITA BYRD FROM LAS VEGAS, NV: I agreed with your assessment of Len Dawson and Johnny Unitas representing two of the biggest quarterback mistakes Steelers history. But if the Steelers kept those Hall of Fame quarterbacks would that have made the team competitive, or would playing on those Steelers teams have made Dawson and Unitas into forgotten players?
ANSWER: There are going to be a lot of big-time "ifs" in this answer to go along with an assumed level of competence the Steelers had not shown to that point in franchise history, but maybe readers will find this entertaining anyway. If the Steelers had kept Johnny Unitas after drafting him in the ninth round in 1955, I contend they wouldn't have used a first-round pick on Len Dawson, another quarterback, in 1957. Had the Steelers not used that No. 1 pick on Dawson, they could have used it on a running back from Syracuse named Jim Brown, who was picked by the Cleveland Browns immediately after the Steelers picked Dawson. Add Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas to a Steelers team that finished 6-6 in 1957, 7-4-1 in 1958, and 6-5-1 in 1959, and maybe the franchise would've won its first championship a couple of decades earlier. In the 1957 season, Unitas led the NFL in attempts, passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt, passing yards per game, and passer rating. In that same season, Brown led the NFL in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and rushing yards per game. During the late 1950s, the Browns and New York Giants were the top teams in the NFL's Eastern Conference, the Colts won back-to-back championships out of the Western Conference, and so an argument can be made that taking Brown away from Cleveland and Unitas away from Baltimore would have changed the power structure in the league, and adding those guys to a Steelers franchise that was close-but-no-cigar during the same era could have resulted in a championship in Pittsburgh.

TONY SMARSH FROM CLEARFIELD, PA: Do you believe our defense will be a little better this year with Ben Roethlisberger back at quarterback?
ANSWER: I do, and I believe that in some areas the improvement could be somewhat significant as a result of Ben Roethlisberger's return. One such area is the run defense, because with Roethlisberger the Steelers offense won't be so toothless, it won't average fewer than two offensive touchdowns per game, the team won't finish last in the NFL in red zone offense and 27th in the NFL in points per game. In 2020, Steelers opponents won't be able to be so conservative on offense because they won't have the safety of knowing they have a very good chance to win by scoring 17 points. With the Steelers putting up points, opponents will have to be more aggressive to match, which will expose those teams to the strengths of Pittsburgh's defense – sacking the quarterback and taking the ball away. And in many cases, running the ball will become less of an option for the opponent.

BILL RICHARDSON FROM SARASOTA, FL: What is your take on the camp battles for starting left guard and right tackle? I've read a number of articles speculating that Matt Feiler will be plugged in at left guard, with Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner competing for the right tackle job. Lately I've seen speculation that Feiler will stay at right tackle with Stefen Wisniewski plugged in at left guard. Wisniewski at left guard and Feiler at right tackle probably gives them their best "starting five," but it risks getting their backup center injured. Also, isn't Okorafor their only "swing" tackle?
ANSWER: A lot of the points you make about the different scenarios are valid, and the most accurate thing you mention is that the various scenarios are speculation. Until the team assembles at Heinz Field for training camp and starts going through on-field drills, everything is speculation.

KEN MAULDIN FROM CLYDE, TX: Your comment in a recent Asked and Answered about Joe Walton really struck a nerve. I don't remember anyone liking that move of hiring him as offensive coordinator, and it appears the move was as bad as we feared. Do you have any more information on why that change was made? I was thinking Tom Moore was asked to leave for some crazy reason?
ANSWER: Tom Moore was the first assistant coach in franchise history to hold the title of offensive coordinator – previously, the head coach and the quarterback mapped out the offensive game plan – and he had been the subject of more and more criticism as the Steelers of the 1980s were unable to duplicate the sustained successes of the 1970s. In 1989, the Steelers enjoyed something of a resurgence. The team finished 9-7 and qualified for the playoffs as a Wild Card, and while the offense wasn't innovative or cutting-edge, by the end of the season it was effective, physical, and complemented the way those Steelers had to play to win games. At the end of that season, fearing he was going to be fired, Moore, then 51 years old, accepted a job with his hometown Minnesota Vikings to be the assistant head coach/quarterbacks under Coach Jerry Burns. It was Moore's departure that created the opening on Chuck Noll's staff that was filled by the hiring of Joe Walton.

DENNIS BROWN FROM OKEMOS, MI: I had a subscription to Steelers Digest through ZINIO. The last issue I received was February 2020. What happened to the next issue?
ANSWER: The Steelers recently reached an agreement with Dollard Publishing, a Pittsburgh-based company, to continue publishing Steelers Digest. Information on upcoming issues will be forthcoming to subscribers. In the meantime, you can call Dollard Publishing at 866-470-0394 or email them at: info@Steelers-Digest.com.

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