Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Nov. 19

Let's get to it:

NATHAN HURDLESTON FROM CLEVELAND, OH: When I was a little kid, Louis Lipps was my favorite player. I don't even remember much about him, except a vague memory of a big kick return. What are a couple of Louis Lipps' career highlights that might make me feel young again?
ANSWER: What I always will remember about Louis Lipps was how it began. He was the Steelers first-round pick in the 1984 NFL Draft, and during the 1983 season the Steelers' primary weapons at wide receiver were Calvin Sweeney; John Stallworth, who was injured through much of the season; Gregg Garrity; and Paul Skansi. For that reason adding offensive weapons to the receiving corps was a priority in 1984, and Lipps was the first-round pick. In his first regular season game, Lipps showed immediately that he was worthy of being a No. 1 pick. While Steelers quarterbacks David Woodley and Mark Malone combined to complete 22-of-41 passes (53.7 percent), Stallworth and Lipps showed themselves to be a dynamic combination. Stallworth led with team with six catches for 167 yards and a touchdown, and Lipps caught six passes for 183 yards (30.5 average) and touchdowns of 80 and 21 yards. Lipps finished his rookie season with 45 catches, but he was a big-play machine by averaging 19.1 yards per reception to go along with nine receiving touchdowns, plus another touchdown as a punt returner. After he retired, I would run into Lipps occasionally because he has made Pittsburgh his full-time home, and we would talk about him being too late to play with Terry Bradshaw and too early to play with Ben Roethlisberger.

JAMES MAC PHERSON FROM BEACHWOOD, NJ: Let's say the Steelers finish 13-3 and all of the other teams in the AFC finish with four or more losses. By losing to the Ravens on Thanksgiving, the season series with the Ravens would be tied, but the Steelers end up losing out in the tiebreaker with more losses to common opponents Thus, Baltimore wins the division, but we have best record in the AFC, thus deserving the bye. What would happen then?
ANSWER: If the Steelers finish 13-3, and the Ravens finish with more than three losses, the Steelers win the AFC North. It doesn't go to division tiebreakers if the teams aren't tied atop the division, and the way I know they wouldn't be tied atop the division is because – by your own description – the Steelers have three losses and the Ravens have at least four. Might be time to quit researching tiebreakers and maybe crack a fourth-grade arithmetic book instead.

LARRY DOUGLAS FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: I've heard Coach Mike Tomlin and others talk about being comfortable with Mason Rudolph as Ben Roethlisberger's backup. Of course we aren't seeing what goes on behind closed doors. In your opinion is their decision for Rudolph to remain No. 2 a good one, or are they perhaps hoping for a Brett Favre/Aaron Rodgers relationship to evolve, or do you think within the next year or two we will see a high draft pick at the quarterback position?
ANSWER: First of all, when President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, and Coach Mike Tomlin all said publicly back in January/February that they were comfortable with Mason Rudolph being Ben Roethlisberger's backup, their sentiment didn't have anything to do with how the team might proceed once Roethlisberger decided to retire. In my opinion, Roethlisberger is going to play into his 40s. He's 38 years old now.

RAY WATSON FROM BROMLEY, UNITED KINGDOM: What happens when a kickoff hits the goal posts and bounces back into the field of play?
ANSWER: It's a dead ball, a touchback, and the receiving team takes over on its 25-yard line.

NICHOLAS MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: How much of the struggling run game do you believe is James Conner's fault?
ANSWER: Every individual involved in the Steelers running game, and I do mean every individual, shares responsibility, but in watching the games – and I do not study video – I see more instances of problems getting the plays blocked than I see James Conner missing holes.

BRIAN GRIEDEL FROM EL CERRITO, CA: One question you answered recently was how far back from the line of scrimmage may the placekicker place the ball for an attempt. You answered "as far as he likes." Follow-up question: is there much variation between NFL kickers on this distance or do most pretty much do the same thing?
ANSWER: Had I known there was this much interest in what I initially perceived to be a minor issue, I would've gone into more detail with my first answer. First of all, the decision about where to place the ball behind the line of scrimmage typically belongs to the coaching staff, and it's usually set in the neighborhood of 7-8 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Where it's ultimately placed has to do with the protection and not the strength of the kicker's leg.

JONATHAN PHILLIPS FROM KNOXVILLE, TN: Is there any plausible way a first-round draft pick gets cut before the starts of his rookie season (besides illegal off the field issues)? Has it ever happened before?
ANSWER: Based on all that goes into a team's decision on a first-round draft pick in terms of man-hours and travel expense that make up the scouting process, I would say there is no way a team would cut that player for performance issues before the start of his rookie season. And since the NFL first instituted the draft in 1936 and the process was much less sophisticated, I have no idea if it ever happened before. I can tell you that many men who were drafted highly by NFL teams opted to do something with their lives other than play professional football. One such player was Bill Shakespeare, a Notre Dame halfback who was the third overall pick of the NFL's inaugural draft in 1936. Shakespeare finished the 1935 college football season as Notre Dame's leader in most offensive categories, including passing (19-of-66 for 267 yards), rushing (374 on 104 carries and four touchdowns), punting (40-yard average on 45 punts), kickoff returns (24.6 average on five returns), and scoring (24 points). He was selected as a consensus first-team All-American and finished third in the voting for the first-ever Heisman Trophy, behind Jay Berwanger and Monk Moscrip. Those college credentials made Shakespeare the first-ever first-round pick in Steelers history, but he skipped the chance to play professional football and went to work for the Cincinnati Rubber Company, where he would become the company's president in 1960. He died in 1974 at the age of 61.

DAVE PERKINS FROM PICKERINGTON, OH: I was wondering if anyone has asked why Benny Snell can't get any carries? I love James Conner's story, and I understand much of what the running game does depends on the offensive line, but I can't understand why Benny Snell doesn't get more opportunities than he does.
ANSWER: When the running game isn't productive, nobody gets "enough" carries. Coach Mike Tomlin said again at his weekly news conference that James Conner is the primary running back, and that decision isn't made because of anything but what's best for the team in its effort to win the game each week. There are those who advocate for more playing time for Anthony McFarland because of his quickness and speed, but who trusts him to step up and stone a pass rusher about to smash Ben Roethlisberger? I believe the first step for the running game is to find a way to be successful/effective with Conner, and once that happens other players/plays can be spooned into the repertoire.

ALAN FLEEGER FROM EDEN, UT: Speaking of the lack of a running game I am curious why we aren't playing Anthony McFarland more? While attending the last two games I made it a point to select seats in the end zone because I wanted to watch the plays develop. It has been my observation that the offensive line creates the openings but our backs are too slow to hit the hole. Wouldn't it make sense to let a faster/quicker back get some carries?
ANSWER: Let's pretend you're the coach. When you send Anthony McFarland into the game, are you only interested in running plays that call for a quick-hitting back to find a hole between the tackles? Because if you are, that won't work for very long, because the opposing defense will adjust. If your idea is to have McFarland on the field for a full quarter or a full half, are you confident he can be a part of the pass protection? Because if he mis-reads a blitz or whiffs on a block and Ben Roethlisberger get hurt, then you, coach, would deserve to get fired. The idea is to win the game. Don't forget that. I don't disagree that there are some things McFarland might do well, maybe better than the guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but there is more to being a running back in the NFL than carrying the football. And on this team this season, the ability to block for the quarterback and understand blitzes to do that job is critical.

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