Let’s get to it:
JOHN DUNCAN FROM ATLANTA, GA: How does the team decide who represents it at the coin toss? I understand the Steelers choose not to have the “C” patch on the front of the jersey, but do the Steelers have captains?
ANSWER: They do, and they’re elected by a vote of the players. The Steelers’ captains for 2019 are Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Cam Heyward, and Rosie Nix. In the case of last Sunday’s game in Cincinnati, Roethlisberger and Nix were on injured reserve, and Pouncey was suspended for his role in the fight in Cleveland. That’s probably why there wasn’t much of a group representing the Steelers at the coin toss.
MARTIN FLAJNIK FROM BALTIMORE, MD: I'm getting more and more impressed by the soft hands of Diontae Johnson and James Washington. Although he looked a bit shaky on punt returns, Johnson made a clutch catch over the middle in Cincinnati. How much more can we ask of a guy who had blood coming out of his ear just a week earlier?
ANSWER: I have been impressed with Diontae Johnson for a while now, because for a rookie he seems to win his one-on-one matchups with defensive backs on a consistent basis. Also, my understanding is that the blood seen following that helmet-to-helmet hit in Cleveland came from a cut near his ear instead of blood coming out of his ear. Which was a good thing.
SCOTT BEGLEY FROM WEST DES MOINES, IA: The Steelers running game is struggling. There have been numerous statements about how much better the running game is when a fullback is utilized. With Rosie Nix on injured reserve, why is there no other fullback to step in?
ANSWER: Fullbacks are rare at all levels of football these days. Few college teams utilize them, and so that means there is a very small number of them being trained who then come into the NFL pipeline. And to earn a spot on an NFL roster, a fullback also has to be either a decent receiver or a core special teams player. In other words, there aren’t many, if any, fullbacks in today’s NFL who do nothing except serve as a lead blocker. And when it comes to in-season injury replacements, it’s easier to find a long-snapper than a fullback.
DOUG COPPELER FROM FAYETTEVILLE, AR: Mason Rudolph was the starting quarterback and was replaced due to poor performance. I know Ben Roethlisberger has had some bad performances in his NFL career, but has he ever been pulled from an NFL game due to performance issues?
ANSWER: Not to my recollection. When you come into the NFL as a first-round draft choice, win a Super Bowl as the starting quarterback in your second NFL season and then win a second Super Bowl in your fifth NFL season by leading a game-winning drive that included a touchdown pass with 35 seconds left, there rarely is a “getting pulled for poor performance” in your professional future.
TRIGG MINNICK FROM GREENBRIER, TN: Given the amount and significance of injuries to the Steelers offense, overall the coaching staff is to be commended for getting this team to 6-5 (with four of the losses to the top teams in the NFL). Given the level of play from Mason Rudolph, would naming him the No. 2 over Joshua Dobbs now be viewed as a mistake? Trading your No. 3 quarterback for a draft pick is understandable, but perhaps the wrong player was the No. 3.
ANSWER: As I watched training camp and then the preseason unfold on a day-by-day basis, there was a clear difference between Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs when it came to the competition to be the backup to Ben Roethlisberger. And then during the preseason Rudolph put an exclamation point on things. Rudolph completed 65.1 percent of his passes in preseason game action for 368 yards, with four touchdowns, one interception, and a rating of 113.3. By contrast, Dobbs completed 54.5 percent for 280 yards, with no touchdowns, two interceptions, and a rating of 57.6. Each guy started one game, each guy got to play with the varsity, and each guy had to slog through with the JV. And when it came to the interceptions, Dobbs threw a bunch more in practice, many more than Rudolph. But while I can understand the thinking behind trying to get something for Dobbs in a trade, I believed having a No. 3 quarterback with NFL regular season game experience was more valuable than an extra fifth-round draft pick.
TOM CROSS FROM FARGO, ND: Great team win over the Bengals. I had to watch it in an establishment that had a different game on with volume, so I didn't hear what was being said on the play where Mark Barron sacked Ryan Finley close to the Cincinnati end zone. I thought it should have been a safety, but the officials placed the ball on the 1-yard line. From what I saw, there was no forward progress because the quarterback was moving backward and then tackled in the end zone. Can you shed some light on this one?
ANSWER: I also thought it should have been a safety, and all I can do is try to guess how the officials interpreted the play: It’s called forward progress, but what is meant in the kind of situation you describe is where the quarterback was when first contacted by the defender. But anyway, my belief is that officials aren’t going to award the safety unless the offensive player is completely and obviously in the end zone when first contacted by any defender, and by ruling it as forward progress being stopped that eliminates the opportunity for a replay challenge because forward progress is not reviewable.
NOAH LANG FROM NEW YORK, NY: I saw something that said the incredible season Bud Dupree is having is “pricing himself out of Pittsburgh.” Do you think that could be possible, that after such a good season Dupree will ask for a large contract, and when the Steelers refuse to give him one, he'll move on? Has he said whether or not he wants to stay in Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: This is nothing but complete speculation at this point, because the Steelers don’t worry about/negotiate contracts once the season begins, and Bud Dupree has made no statements about plans beyond the 2019 season. I can tell you that the guesstimate on what the franchise tag number will be for outside linebackers in 2020 is around $16 million, and if Dupree continues to be the component/contributor he has been on this rapidly improving defense throughout this season, I would seriously consider using it on him. If for no other reason than to buy some time toward negotiating a longer term contract.
DAVID BERMAN FROM FOREST HILLS, NY: Hope you have an enjoyable and safe Thanksgiving. That's all.
ANSWER: That’s very kind of you. And the same to you and yours.