Let's get to it:
RAYMOND CHASON FROM CONNEAUTVILLE, PA: How has Mike Hilton's injury affected how our defense plays?
ANSWER: In the last couple of games, the Ravens rushed for 265 yards and averaged 5.6 per attempt, and Dallas rushed for 144 yards and averaged 4.6 per attempt. Coach Mike Tomlin has referred to Mike Hilton on more than one occasion as a significant run defender. In a recent Q&A, I asked Tomlin how a 5-foot-9 cornerback can be a significant run defender. Here is his answer:
"The nature of the position he plays, the nickel back position, those guys usually come at you with big-time coverage ability and awareness. When you find one who has an appetite for the run game and a nose for the run game, and an appetite for blitzing the way Mike does, it is unique. We realize that's an asset to us, and it's probably why our sub-package run defense is as strong as it is. And that's why we were really concerned in the stadium last weekend in Baltimore. We were playing without Tyson Alualu in our base defense, and we were playing without Mike Hilton in our sub-package defense, and you're talking about two critical components to run defense – one in base and one in sub. And it's funny, they look and are shaped very differently, but both are very critical in terms of us getting after the run game."
At his weekly news conference, Tomlin said he expected to have both Hilton and Tyson Alualu available for Sunday's game vs. the Bengals, and so I would imagine the Steelers' run defense will be better as a result of their return.
WALLACE HORTON FROM HYATTSVILLE, MD: Do you agree we will be in a world of trouble if Ben Roethlisberger goes down for a period of time? Watching Mason Rudolph makes me nervous every time I see him take a snap.
ANSWER: It takes neither a genius nor a football expert to understand the Steelers would be in trouble if they lost their franchise quarterback, their two-time Super Bowl winning future Hall of Fame quarterback, for a period of time. But guess what? So would the Kansas City Chiefs, the Seattle Seahawks, the Buffalo Bills, the Tennessee Titans, the Green Bay Packers, the Arizona Cardinals, the Los Angeles Rams, and the New Orleans Saints be in a world of trouble if Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Ryan Tannehill, Aaron Rodgers, Kyler Murray, Jared Goff, and Drew Brees would go down for a period of time, and the Dallas Cowboys already are in a world of trouble. Welcome to the NFL.
DANIEL MAZENKO FROM LITITZ, PA: We have heard over and over how the duo of Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger never have had a losing season together. Have they ever been shut out while Ben has been the quarterback?
ANSWER: The last time the Steelers were shut out was in Jacksonville, 6-0, on Sept. 18, 2006. Mike Tomlin was not hired to coach the Steelers until 2007.
JIM HILDRETH FROM EASTHAM, MA: It's obvious that Ben Roethlisberger is playing excellent football, but I have to wonder why he keeps overthrowing receivers on passes deep down the field?
ANSWER: My guess would be that it has something to do with the combination of elbow surgery, plus no offseason program, plus no OTAs or minicamp, plus a weird training camp and no preseason games.
BOB SHAVER FROM THOUSAND OAKS , CA: Why don't more teams do what the Saints did on punt returns: Have two blockers on the outside to get better returns in certain situations.
ANSWER: If you're referring to putting two blockers on each of the gunners, I have seen that many times from many teams. In certain situations.
DODIE RANDA FROM UNION CITY, PA: I am 88 years old and from Pittsburgh. I remember a chant used by Steelers fans in the 1950s when fullback Fran Rogel carried the ball. You are too young to remember it, but did you know that, "Hi, diddle, diddle, Rogel up the middle," originated way back then?
ANSWER: During that era of Steelers history, Walt Kiesling was the coach, and he always started a game with the same play: fullback Fran Rogel on a run up the middle. Everybody knew it. Fans, players, opposing players, opposing coaches, everyone. Steelers lore has it that at one point, Art Rooney Sr. got so tired of the same, often unsuccessful play to start the game that he ordered Kiesling to run a different play to start the next game, and I believe it was a play-action pass that went for a touchdown. But Kiesling was so territorial about having plays called by the owner that he instructed a player to line up offside. The penalty nullified the touchdown, and the Steelers went right back to "Hi, diddle, diddle, Rogel up the middle."
NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: How many carries did James Conner get in the second half? I'm hearing criticism of Conner not cutting it, but it seems to me that the Steelers bailed on the running game way too early. Your thoughts?
ANSWER: In the second half against Dallas, James Conner carried three times for 1 yard. As a team, the Steelers rushed for 15 yards on six attempts in the second half, and 31 yards on 12 carries in the first half. This might seem like bailing on the running game, but I remember as I was watching that it seemed to me to be more about going with what had a chance to succeed. The Steelers did not do a good job running the football in any aspect of it, and it has to improve. But I just don't know how someone could have any confidence in sticking with it when it was ineffective from the start, and against the worst run defense in the NFL at that.
BOB WALKER FROM BRENTWOOD, TN: A friend of mine, a Bengals fan, still complains about how the Steelers used to rough up Kenny Anderson. Didn't Kenny become a Steelers coach?
ANSWER: Ken Anderson was part of Mike Tomlin's first staff of assistants when the Steelers hired him in 2007. Anderson was the quarterbacks coach under Tomlin from 2007-09, and so he won a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers, which you should remind your friend the Bengals fan. Also, tell him that it was nothing personal between the Steelers and Anderson. Those Steelers defenses used to rough up a lot of quarterbacks.
BRIAN ZICKOS FROM SHEFFIELD, AL: It seems that the Steelers have had a noticeable lack of intensity following games against the Ravens. The physical and emotional level of that rivalry game makes it seem inevitable. Does the Steelers record following a Ravens game make this an accurate observation?
ANSWER: Not really. Since 2000, the Steelers' record in games following games vs. the Ravens is 24-16, and this record takes into account things such as Ravens' games preceding bye weeks, coming at the end of a season, and coming in the playoffs.
SHAWN O'BRIEN FROM AUSTIN, TX: Gotta ask about the defensive scheme that results in a linebacker on a legitimate wide receiver. What's going on there? It has happened multiple times in multiple games now, almost always with an obvious negative result. Asking Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt to do it seems to be a reach, but I've also seen Robert Spillane and Vince Williams asked to cover wide receivers many times.
ANSWER: This is the reality of the way the game is played in the NFL. Offenses are going to do whatever possible to create matchups that are favorable to them. This can be done with personnel groupings, but substitution rules now prevent the ball from being snapped until the defense has an opportunity to answer with its own substitutions. Offenses also can use pre-snap motion to create bad matchups for the defense, and sometimes the defensive call might be some kind of pressure package that relies on the pass-rush getting to the quarterback before the wide-receiver-on-a-linebacker matchup has a lot of time to develop. Just another example of why a linebacker such as Devin Bush is so valuable/rare, and why there are no such things as having an extra one on the roster or simply making a trade or a signing to replace one lost to injury. Let me close with this: T.J. Watt has six passes defensed in eight games so far in 2020, and he has 24 passes defensed in 55 games during his NFL career; Bud Dupree has one pass defensed this year, and he has 10 in 78 games in his NFL career. While I understand it's not the best matchup for the Steelers, but those guys aren't totally inept in coverage. Just saying.
JC CHUTA FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Can an official penalize a head coach or another coach on the sideline? I saw Dallas Coach Mike McCarthy really light up an official during the Steelers game.
ANSWER: Yes, there can be unsportsmanlike conduct fouls assessed on all sideline personnel. It's not restricted to coaches.
MK TON FROM PORTLAND, OR: In the game with Dallas on Nov. 8 of this year, the Steelers took to the field in their black jerseys, which I thought are for home games. I may have missed the reason for this during the broadcast, but would you provide the explanation?
ANSWER: NFL rules state that the home team, or designated home team in the case of games played on a neutral site such as the Super Bowl, is given the choice of what jersey to wear. For scheduled preseason and regular season games, every team must submit to the league office by a certain date what color it wants to wear at each of its home games. Then the visiting teams are forwarded that information and plan accordingly. It was Dallas that decided it wanted to wear white at home, and so the Steelers had no choice but to wear black.
ANTONIO CAMPOS FROM TORREON, MEXICO: I was watching some tape, and I believe I saw Minkah Fitzpatrick as the man far behind Ben Roethlisberger in victory formation. What I do remember is watching Troy Polamalu being in the same spot in victory formation. Given that both Fitzpatrick and Polamalu play the same position, is there a reason to align a safety as the last man?
ANSWER: As athletic safeties, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Troy Polamalu would be players well suited to be able to track down and tackle an opposing player should some disaster happen from victory formation, such as a fumble that was scooped up by the defense. Free safeties often are the last line of defense in their primary job, and so putting them far behind the line of scrimmage in victory formation in case of a disaster fits right into their job description.