Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Nov. 24

Let's get to it:

TODD WEBSTER FROM HAGERSTOWN, MD: Is it only me or does the offensive play-calling seem questionable? Many times it's frustrating to watch the offensive play-calling resulting in stalled possessions or loss of yards. To me and the group with whom I watch the games, Randy Fichtner seems lost at times.
ANSWER: That's because if you or one of your game-watching pals were calling the plays, the Steelers never would lose a single yard and every possession would end with a touchdown, right? I will admit that I have complained about every offensive coordinator the Steelers ever have had, and in order that group included Tom Moore, Joe Walton, Ron Erhardt, Chan Gailey, Kevin Gilbride, Mike Mularkey, Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians, Todd Haley, and Randy Fichtner. So I get it. I'm guilty, too. But allow me to mention this to you: The Steelers are the only team in the NFL in 2020 to have scored at least 24 points in every regular season game to date. And included among the play-callers whose offenses have fallen short of at least 24 points in every game so far in 2020 are Sean Payton and Andy Reid and Josh McDaniels and Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. There is a belief that every play that doesn't work was called by Fichtner and every play that succeeds was called by Ben Roethlisberger. That's simply not true.

Let me relay a personal anecdote from a few years ago: it was a Saturday afternoon, and my wife and I were in a neighborhood establishment enjoying some food and beverages and watching a variety of the college football games being shown on a number of televisions. There was a group of fans sitting a short distance away, and half the group was rooting for one of the teams in the game they were watching and the other half was rooting for the other team. It was late in the fourth quarter of that game, and one team scored a touchdown with just a few seconds left to close to within one point. I injected myself into their little group, and I asked, "Do you go for two and try to win right now, or do you kick the PAT and play for overtime?" There were no timeouts left, and so the ball had been spotted and the play-clock was running. After some, "Um, well, maybe …" I interrupted again and reminded them nicely that there's no time for indecision, because in less than 40 seconds they have to decide whether to go for the win or not, and if so, decide on which play to call, and that the clock is running. Not as easy as people believe.

Fichtner is not perfect, but right now what the offense is doing is working, Ben Roethlisberger is playing well and isn't getting hit very often, and as already mentioned the offense is the only one in the NFL to have scored at least 24 points in each game this season. There are far more things going right than there are to complain about.

HARRY ELLIOTT FROM MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA: We are currently at 10-0, and the Ravens are 6-4. Should we defeat them on Thanksgiving Night would we then clinch the AFC North Division?
ANSWER: You're forgetting about the Cleveland Browns. Today, the Browns are 7-3, and even if the Steelers defeat the Ravens and the Browns lose in Jacksonville on Sunday, that would make the Steelers 11-0 and the Browns would be 7-4, and each team would have five games remaining. If Cleveland won all five, and the Steelers lost all five, then the Browns would finish the season 12-4, and the Steelers would be 11-5. So there can be no clinching of the division title this weekend.

PAUL SADLER FROM CLARKSBURG, MD: I noticed in the travel photos for the trip to Jacksonville that Devlin Hodges and Corliss Waitman both made the trip. I didn't see that either of them were activated for the game. Is it common practice for members of the practice squad to travel with the team?
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin has said he is willing to take guys on the practice squad on road trips if he believes they possibly could help the Steelers win the game. Bringing an extra quarterback and an extra punter on the road could pay dividends if some COVID-19 tests would happen to come back positive. But since that didn't happen, neither Devlin Hodges nor Corliss Waitman was activated for the game.

MARK EVANS FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Where was the Steelers practice facility before the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex?
ANSWER: There wasn't one. The Steelers offices, meeting rooms, weight room, training room, and locker room were inside Three Rivers Stadium, and there also was a small grass practice field a short distance away. If Chuck Noll or Bill Cowher decided to use the grass field for practice, players and coaches would dress for practice and then go for a little walk to get to the field.

KEHOS LITVIN FROM LOUISVILLE, KY: Has Avery Williamson received any playing time? He was signed a few weeks ago, wasn't he?
ANSWER: When Coach Mike Tomlin said Avery Williams was acquired via trade with the Jets to provide depth at inside linebacker he was telling the truth, because in the two game the Steelers have played since acquiring him he has been on the field for a total of 19 defensive snaps. He has made one tackle.

CHRISTOPHER GALLOWAY FROM ROCKWALL, TX: Since the Steelers have played Jacksonville and Tennessee this season, what was the reason the old AFC Central Division had six teams in it for a couple of years?
ANSWER: The original AFC Central Division was made up of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Houston. In the early 1990s when the NFL expanded by two teams, and the franchises were awarded to Carolina and Jacksonville, it was decided one team would go into the NFC and one team would go into the AFC. At the time, the only four-team divisions in the NFL were the AFC Central and the NFC West, and so each of those divisions was going to get an expansion team. Dan Rooney volunteered the AFC Central to take Jacksonville, and so Carolina was placed in the NFC West.

Starting in 1995, the NFL was made up of 30 teams, and those were spread out into six divisions – three in each conference – of five teams apiece. After the 1995 season, the Browns left Cleveland and moved to Baltimore, and so the Ravens replaced the Browns in the AFC Central. But the NFL moved quickly to assure Cleveland it would not be without an NFL team for long, and Dan Rooney was not going to allow the Steelers and the Browns to be separated because of the long-standing and bitter rivalry he believed was good for the NFL. Then in 1997, the Oilers moved to Tennessee, and that franchise stayed in the AFC Central Division under a new name.

When the Browns were re-introduced to the NFL for the 1999 season there was no question they would be back in the Steelers' division, and so from 1999-2001, the AFC Central Division contained six teams: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Jacksonville, and Tennessee, which used to be the Oilers. Also, from 1999-2001, the NFL only had 31 teams which meant there had to be a team with a bye every week of the regular season. Imagine having your bye week on the opening weekend of the regular season? The league balanced itself by admitting Houston as an expansion team, and that's when the league realigned to its current configuration of eight divisions of four teams, with four divisions in each conference.

JIM MILLER FROM BROKEN ARROW, OK: The Steelers and Ravens both face a short week this week before their game on Thanksgiving night. The Ravens played at home on Sunday, but have to travel to Pittsburgh. The Steelers played on the road, but don't have to travel for the Thursday game. Just curious, is there any advantage to one situation or the other?
ANSWER: My opinion, and my preference if I was one of the team's coaches, would be that it's better to be the home team for the Thursday night game. According to NFL rules, the visiting team must be on site at least 18 hours before kickoff, which means that the visiting team for a Thursday night game is traveling on Wednesday. The home team for a Thursday night game can use Wednesday as a full day of preparation without the burden of having to pack up and travel.

MARC JOHNSON FROM EUREKA, IL: How does pass interference factor into a receiver's statistics?
ANSWER: It doesn't. Not as a reception, nor as yardage. It doesn't count as an attempt for the quarterback, either. It's only counted in the team statistics under the category of penalty yards.