Let's get to it:
CHRIS HANN SR. FROM SARASOTA, FL: The Steelers have not finished last in their division in 34 years straight. The next closest team is New England with 22 years straight. During 16 of those years, Mike Tomlin was the coach and has never had a losing record. The Steelers organization is a model of consistency starting from the top. Why do fans, it seems annually, question Tomlin's job status? How would you rate Tomlin as a head coach in the league?
ANSWER: I'll start by answering your second question first, so that all of the readers itching to label me a homer or an apologist will be able to move onto another question or to another story on Steelers.com: If I owned an NFL team, I would hire Mike Tomlin to be the coach. As for why fans "it seems annually, question Tomlin's job status," my opinion is that there is a segment who believe they are entitled to having their favorite team in the Super Bowl and/or win the Super Bowl every few years. Within this group, there seems to be little understanding of how difficult it is to get to the Super Bowl, let alone win one, and they also seem to forget or choose to ignore some of the extenuating circumstances behind some of the failures in the playoffs they are so eager to rehash.
• The Tim Tebow Game. The Steelers finished 12-4 in 2011 and earned a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, which sent them to Denver for a game vs. the Broncos, who were quarterbacked by Tebow. In that game, the Steelers erased a 23-13 fourth quarter deficit to tie and send it into overtime, and at the end of regulation, Tebow had completed 9-of-20 (45 percent) for 236 yards, with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Throughout the game defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's plan was to dare Tebow to make plays, and Tebow did exactly that on the first play of overtime when he completed a slant to Demaryius Thomas who was in single coverage and then ran away from the Steelers coverage for the 80-yard game-winning score. Tomlin is blamed for that play, while LeBeau, who was in total charge of the defense, is remembered as being blameless for the plan and its execution.
• In 2014, the Steelers won 5 of their last 6 games in the regular season, including 4 in a row to finish 11-5 to advance to the Wild Card Round where they would host the Ravens, a team the Steelers had defeated, 43-23, on Nov. 2. But in the regular season finale, a victory the 10-5 Steelers needed over the 9-5-1 Bengals to win the AFC North, Le'Veon Bell was injured after a 19-yard reception in the third quarter of what turned out to be a 27-17 win. The following week, playing without Bell and with Ben Tate and Josh Harris as their running backs, the Steelers lost to the Ravens, 30-17, and of course Bell getting injured also was "Tomlin's fault."
• In 2015, the Steelers won 4 of their last 5, including a 28-12 victory in Cleveland in the finale that allowed them to qualify for the AFC Playoffs as a Wild Card team. During a Week 8 loss to Cincinnati, Vontaze Burfict injured Bell's knee with a tackle that sent him to injured reserve for the rest of the season. When backup DeAngelo Williams also was injured late in the regular season, the Steelers were left with Fitz Toussaint and Jordan Todman as their running backs. After eliminating the Bengals in the Wild Card Round, the Steelers lost in Denver, 23-16, to the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos. Clearly, "Tomlin's fault."
• In 2016, the Steelers finished the regular season on a seven-game winning streak to win the AFC North again. In consecutive playoff victories – 30-12 over 10-6 Miami and 18-16 in Kansas City vs. the No. 2 seeded Chiefs – Bell rushed for 337 yards on 59 carries (5.7 average) and scored two touchdowns. Then in the AFC Championship Game vs. the Patriots in New England, Bell injured a groin in the first quarter, and the Steelers managed 54 yards rushing in a 36-17 loss.
• In 2017, the Steelers won the AFC North for the third time in the last four seasons, finished 13-3, and were the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. The previous regular season, third-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier had emerged as the key figure in the defense, with 3 interceptions, 7 forced fumbled, 3 fumble recoveries, and 2.5 sacks, and he had 2 more interceptions in the 2006 playoffs. In 2017, Shazier had 3 interceptions and had played at least 95 percent of the defensive snaps in every game leading up to the Dec. 4 Monday night game in Cincinnati. That's when Shazier injured his spine and would never play football again. The Steelers were left to sign Sean Spence off the street and try to use him to replace Shazier, and it worked as well as should have been expected. The Jaguars rushed for 164 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 45-42 upset victory.
Had any of those Steelers teams – 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, or 2017 – advanced to the Super Bowl and won one, fans likely would have a much different perspective of the job Mike Tomlin has done, but circumstances/luck did not align in his favor, or in the Steelers' favor. And anyone who doesn't believe that luck is a significant component in every run to a championship in every team sport is sorely mistaken.
WILLIAM McGINLEY FROM GIBSONIA, PA: You commented on Jim Brown's career against the Steelers and how productive he was in a previous Asked and Answered. I'm old enough to remember how well John Henry Johnson played in that era. Didn't he outplay Brown a couple of times?
ANSWER: While there were a couple of occasions where John Henry Johnson out-rushed Jim Brown by a slim margin in Steelers-Browns games, the only time it would be accurate to contend he "out-played" him was in a 1964 game in Municipal Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie. In that game, an injury-riddled Steelers defense limited Brown to 59 yards on 8 carries, while Johnson exploded for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns on 30 carries in a 23-7 Steelers victory, and I'm old enough to have been in the stands that Saturday night in Cleveland.
LUKE McDERMOTT FROM LEECHBURG, PA: NFL Network recently re-broadcast Super Bowl X, the Steelers' first matchup with the Dallas Cowboys with a Lombardi Trophy at stake. As the offensive line was introduced, Mike Webster was notably absent. I knew that Ray Mansfield continued at center the first couple of years Webster was in the league, but I thought Webster started at guard until Mansfield retired. Was Webster injured?
ANSWER: Mike Webster didn't become a full-time starter until 1976, and he also only started one game in each of the 1974 and 1975 seasons. During the early 1970s, Chuck Noll alternated centers by quarter – first that rotation involved Ray Mansfield and Jim Clack, and then later in the decade, the rotation included Webster. As an example, on the play in the 1972 playoffs that came to be known as the Immaculate Reception, the offensive line was made up of Jon Kolb and Gerry Mullins at tackle, Sam Davis and Bruce Van Dyke at guard, and Clack at center. There was a time when Mansfield and Webster rotated at center, and there also was a time when Webster saw playing time at guard. But as for Super Bowl X, Webster played in the game, but he didn't start at either center or guard. In that game, Mansfield started at center, and the starting guards were Clack and Gerry Mullins.
SONNY EDWARDS FROM LIVERPOOL, UK: I've been a Steelers fan for 8 years now in the UK, and I've watched every game live, even at 1:15 a.m. I've loved watching the rivalry against the Ravens, and the wins we got last season. What are the chances of the Steelers playing in the UK during the UK weekends in October?
ANSWER: If you're referring to the 2023 regular season, the NFL already has announced its schedule of international games, and the Steelers were not included.
ED HENRY FROM ROSWELL, NM: Going into Year 2 with Kenny Pickett, Najee Harris, and the receiving corps under offensive coordinator Matt Canada again this season, if this team struggles offensively, how fast does the trigger get pulled on letting Canada go?
ANSWER: Since Dan Rooney assumed control over the team's football operations, the Steelers have not believed in making changes to the coaching staff during the season. I doubt that will change in 2023, no matter what the fans think/demand.
VINCE GRABOWSKI FROM MILWAUKEE, WI: With 1,000 career regular season catches, over 12,000 yards receiving and 80-plus touchdowns, not to mention that in his career he missed only 7 regular season games, it would be great to see these accomplishments of Hines Ward rewarded with an enshrinement in Canton. Hines also was part of two Super Bowl winning teams and was the MVP of Super Bowl XL. Do you feel there are any negatives on his resume keeping him from having a bust or is it just timing?
ANSWER: I personally don't see any holes in Hines Ward's resume, and in addition to the numbers you cited I also believe he is deserving of recognition for being a physical presence at wide receiver as a blocker for an offense that primarily was run-first throughout his career. I just believe it's more difficult for wide receivers to get elected because of the proliferation of passing offenses in the NFL and the rules changes that have made it easier for players to thrive in that phase of the game. Also, I believe there is a bit of Steelers fatigue at work among the Board of Selectors after having 5 members of the organization elected in 2020-21 that while unfair is definitely real.
MIKE ZEKIR FROM MARIANNA, PA: I know it's early, but have you seen anyone stand out at inside linebacker so far? That seemed to be a weakness last season.
ANSWER: At a position such as inside linebacker, padless practices are not a legitimate indicator of how a player is progressing, but the one thing that has been heartening so far is that when the offseason program began it was believed Cole Holcomb would be brought along slowly because of being placed on injured reserve in 2022 by Washington. But Holcomb has been a regular participant this summer, which I contend is a positive development.
SCOTT RANDALL FROM CONWAY, SC: What is the deal with the rookie Cory Trice Jr.? I hear he is a very physical young man. Do you think he has a shot at making the roster as a backup or depth player?
ANSWER: More will be revealed about Cory Trice Jr. once the team reports to training camp and the hitting begins, but I wouldn't label him as a "backup or depth player" at this early stage of the process. Maybe he becomes an interchangeable piece of a revamped Steelers secondary. Stay tuned.
GARRY MILLER FROM MIRAMAR BEACH, FL: I applaud your answers to questions about who was the best-ever in various categories over the course of Steelers history. It's impossible to really compare players from different eras. There have been too many changes to the game, rules, training, and nutrition to take a Franco Harris and compare him to Najee Harris by just status. The best one can do is compare a player's value to the team he was on and maybe his impact on the game in his era. The questions you are asked make me wonder if today's fans watch actual games with real players without thinking that the outcomes can be controlled like a video game.
ANSWER: Or if they're paying attention at all. See below.
MICHELLE SNYDER FROM ATLANTA, GA: Did the Steelers trade Diontae Johnson?
ANSWER: Ah, no.