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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Nov. 23

Let's get to it:

CRAIG DUMNICH FROM AVONDALE, PA: Maybe I'm being too critical, but what's wrong with the run game? They just can't seem to crank it up. Is it Najee Harris not finding his rhythm, the offensive line, or the play-calling? Maybe a combo?
ANSWER: In situations such as this, it's very rarely just one element that's sabotaging the entire effort. Specifically last Sunday, even though the Chargers had the worst run defense in the NFL from a statistical standpoint, the way the game unfolded, with Los Angeles literally scoring on every possession, served to eliminate the Steelers' ability to try to establish the running game. In the first half, the Chargers had five offensive possessions, and those ended with three touchdowns and two field goals. And so the Steelers either had to step up and try to match that frequency of point production or get blown out of Inglewood, California.

BROC ROWE FROM WALDORF, MD: After the performance I just watched vs. the Chargers, I'm not impressed with the second, third and even the fourth strings on the field. But when we ran man-to-man coverage, it looked obvious that Justin Herbert wasn't going to throw ball, that he would just wait for everything to clear up and then take off running. Do you think we couldn't make any big-time adjustments because of the players on the field?
ANSWER: Justin Herbert is not a running quarterback by nature and running never has been his first instinct on all of the video that's out there on him as an NFL player. It may have looked as though he was just looking for a place to run, but I believe if there had there been receivers open quickly against the man-to-man coverage, his preference would have been to throw the ball. When he couldn't find anyone open quickly, there was enough open space for him to run and he simply took advantage of that opportunity. There is no magical adjustment to situations where the pass rush is responsible for containing the quarterback by maintaining rush lanes, not getting pushed behind the quarterback, and not getting caught with too many rushers on one half of the field. Those things have been taught to these players since they were in high school, and the Steelers worked on that and mentioned it in meetings all week before the game. The players just didn't do it consistently, and the team suffered the consequences. And just so you understand: In the NFL, with 53-man rosters, there is a first-string and a second-string, but there is no such thing as a third-string. Coached will tell players if they're on the third-string by the time the preseason games start and they don't move up quickly, they can figure on getting cut.

RYAN BRANCO FROM FOXBORO, MA: After watching Cam Heyward chase down Justin Herbert on Sunday night, I'm convinced nobody wants to win more than Cam. His effort and energy in each game is evident. Do the other players notice and feed off that type of energy at the professional level?
ANSWER: I am confident that Cam Heyward's teammates notice his consistent effort and energy, because they have voted him a defensive captain for seven straight years now and counting. I'm unable to say whether Heyward's work ethic, attention to detail, and professionalism inspire them to copy his methods, but if they're looking to have a long and successful NFL career, they would be advised to start doing just that.

SEAN FREDERICK FROM SOUTH BEND, IN: I read "Labriola on the loss to the Chargers" on, and you wrote about Justin Herbert's ability to gain significant yards on third-down scrambles. This was probably my biggest frustration during the game, because it appeared there was no quarterback containment on those plays. Was this a result of attrition, defensive scheme, or something else? If it is not fixed, how will we stop Lamar Jackson in two weeks?
ANSWER: There is containment built into every pass rush against a mobile quarterback, but the players on the field obviously weren't executing it properly against Justin Herbert. When the Steelers host the Ravens in a couple of weeks, some of the players unable to play vs. the Chargers hopefully will be back in the lineup.

ANGELO MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: How many quarterbacks in the NFL currently call their own plays?
ANSWER: If you're referring to a quarterback calling the plays as it once was done throughout the NFL, the answer to that is: none.

AARON WALKER FROM NEWPORT NEWS, VA: I know you won't answer this because of all the excuses you love to make. Melvin Ingram: Horrible trade and is balling out for the Chiefs. Mark Gilbert: released after the preseason, playing very well as a rookie for the Lions. (Also made Diontae Johnson fumble in overtime.) Quincy Roche: A DRAFT PICK , released, playing very, very well for the Giants. Sure would have been nice having them other than those practice squad players on Sunday night. What say you? Please, no 8-8, proud to be .500 junk like the Cowboys. This is the Steelers. Or supposed to be.
ANSWER: What say me? Let's begin with the fact I normally would've deleted this submission immediately, but I decided to present it as an example of the kind of uninformed, lazy drivel that sometimes passes for "analysis" on the internet. (And be thankful I was kind enough to correct all of your spelling, grammar, and basic factual errors before running this, because as submitted it was a scathing indictment of the educational system in this country.)

We begin with Melvin Ingram III. In his three games with the Chiefs following the "horrible trade," he has totaled three tackles, no sacks, no hits on the quarterback, no interceptions, and no passes defensed in 94 defensive snaps. "Balling out?" Puh-leeze. Mark Gilbert has been active for three of the Lions' 10 games so far, and he has been credited with three tackles, one pass defensed, and one forced fumble (the one you referenced in the overtime tie vs. the Steelers that was more about Diontae Johnson's carelessness with the football) in 44 defensive snaps. Kind of a low bar for "playing very well." Quincy Roche has been active for six of the Giants' 10 games and has been credited with six tackles, one sack, three hits on the quarterback, and one forced fumble in 134 defensive snaps.

Clearly, you don't know as much as you think you know about talent evaluations at the NFL level. I wish Ingram, Gilbert, and Roche success with their future endeavors in the NFL, and while I somewhat regret having to use them to make my case, facts are facts. I hope you have enjoyed your moment in the spotlight. There won't be another one.

SHIMON MAZA-WILLIAMS FROM SUFFOLK, VA: What is going on with Rico Bussey? I remember that he was doing well in training camp, and after his release they were hoping to sign him.
ANSWER: Wide receiver Rico Bussey had some moments early in the training camp process, but he was waived on Aug. 31 when the Steelers had to reduce their roster to the 53-man limit for the start of the 2021 regular season. After he cleared waivers, Bussey was signed to the practice squad, and he now is on the practice squad/injured reserve list.