Let’s get to it:
THOMAS FIALKOVICH FROM NORTH VERSAILLES, PA: Cam Heyward is having one of the best seasons of his career. There are times he looks like a man playing against boys. Not to mention, but it is noteworthy, that the loss of Stephon Tuitt allowed teams to put more focus on him. Do you think he will get any consideration for Defensive Player of the Year?
ANSWER: I couldn’t agree with you more regarding your assessment of Cam Heyward’s play this season, and it’s also fair to point out the extra load he has been and will continue to carry because of Stephon Tuitt’s season-ending injury. But the unfortunate reality of awards such as Defensive Player of the Year is that they’re voted on by media members who don’t typically get to see all of the candidates play except for highlights. These kinds of awards are voted on based on statistics rather than video study, and as of right now I don’t know that Heyward’s statistics are compelling enough when viewed on paper to generate much support for him in the voting. My hope is that his teammates recognize everything he contributes both on the field and in the locker room when it comes time to vote for Steelers MVP.
DAVE HENRY FROM HILLSBOROUGH, NJ: My question relates to play-calling in the game in Cincinnati. On roughly half of the first down plays, they run the ball up the middle, when our center is a backup. In the first meeting against Cincinnati, the team ran the Wildcat quite effectively. Why not at least attempt it, solely to see what happens? At the same time, why continue to use the same play up the middle when it is not working. I would be willing to bet that the Bengals were sitting on a running play up the gut on every first down, and so it sure would’ve been nice to see a simple play-action pass to the tight end, maybe once.
ANSWER: Honestly, there are times when I believe people are just looking for things to complain about rather than appreciating what’s actually being accomplished. Let me start with a question for you: if in Cincinnati the Steelers ran the Wildcat “solely to see what happens,” would the center still be Maurkice Pouncey’s backup, because that’s your reason for not running between the tackles. And then there is this: If the kneel-downs and quarterback scrambles are eliminated (Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges combined for seven of those for 6 yards), the Steelers ran the ball 31 times for 154 yards. And so on designed running plays when a running back was handed the ball by the quarterback, the Steelers averaged almost 5 yards a carry. I understand that the Bengals have the worst run defense in the league right now, but 5 yards a carry with a backup center, and with a rookie and a guy just signed off another team’s practice squad earlier in the week getting most of the carries is an impressive feat. Whether you want to recognize it or not, that’s an accomplishment.
WILL KUSHTO FROM PHILADELPHIA, PA: Thanks for the insightful article on the win over the Bengals. Considering, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.,” are we to assume that Paxton Lynch is still too far behind to be considered a reasonable alternative at quarterback in December?
ANSWER: Barring injury, I wouldn’t expect Paxton Lynch to be anything more than the No. 3 quarterback through the rest of this season.
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: Can you elaborate on some other instances of past “quarterback controversies” in Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: Not forgetting the Steelers were the franchise to draft John Unitas and Len Dawson – both Super Bowl winning quarterbacks and Hall of Fame members – and cut ties with them without giving either a real chance, I’m going to keep this focused on the modern era. We will start with 1974, when Chuck Noll started all three quarterbacks on the roster at different times of the regular season – Joe Gilliam, Terry Bradshaw, and Terry Hanratty – before settling on Bradshaw on the way to winning Super Bowl IX. Then there was the brief back-and-forth between David Woodley and Mark Malone in 1984-85 before Woodley abruptly retired from football. Bubby Brister vs. Neil O’Donnell in 1991 came about because when Joe Walton was hired as the offensive coordinator in 1990 he made it known he didn’t like Brister, who had taken the team to the AFC Division Round of the playoffs in 1989 where it lost to eventual AFC Champion Denver by one point. Then there was the Jim Miller-Mike Tomczak-Kordell Stewart situation in 1996, when Bill Cowher pulled Miller after the first half of the opener and went with Tomczak until the second half of that season’s Wild Card game when Tomczak got pulled in favor of Stewart. In 1998, Stewart got pulled in favor of Tomczak in a highly-publicized incident in Tampa where Stewart was shown by cameras shedding tears of frustration on the sideline. It was back-and-forth between Stewart and Tomczak in a 1999 season where the Steelers started 5-3 and then collapsed to finish 6-10, and then in 2000 offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride somehow convinced Cowher coming out of the preseason that the right thing to do was to open the regular season with Kent Graham as the starting quarterback. By the end of that 9-7 season, Stewart was back in the job, and he stayed there until the third game of 2002 when Cowher pulled him at halftime and replaced him with Tommy Maddox. Thankfully, Ben Roethlisberger was drafted in the first round in 2004, and all of that nonsense stopped.
TIM TRATHOWEN FROM COLUMBUS, OH: With the remaining schedule not including the best of teams, do you see any games being "trap games" for the Steelers, and if so which ones?
ANSWER: Trap games? You cannot be serious. This is a team that already is without Ben Roethlisberger and Stephon Tuitt for the season, that has five other players on injured reserve, that had to start three different quarterbacks over the first six games of the season, that this week was faced with the decision of whether to go with a quarterback with eight career NFL starts or the one with one career NFL start, that regardless of that decision on a starting quarterback is going to be playing the rest of this season with two inexperienced quarterbacks and a group of green wide receivers, that has had to play without starting offensive linemen and is going to be without Maurkice Pouncey for two more weeks because of a suspension, that likely will be without James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster for another week, that has had to sign people off other teams’ practice squads and get them ready to play in that week’s game, that has made 59 roster moves since putting Roethlisberger on injured reserve on Sept. 16. Trap games? The Steelers are fighting to put together a game day roster each week to have a chance to win that week’s game, and if a team in such a situation loses that game, it’s probably more likely it was because guys in the huddle don’t know each other’s names than a situation of looking past an opponent.
STEVE OPRITZA FROM COLUMBUS, OH: Back in the 1960s the Browns had a defensive back named Ross Fichtner. Any relation to Randy?
ANSWER: Ross Fichtner played safety for the Browns from 1960-67 and then for the New Orleans Saints in 1968. Ross Fichtner had 27 interceptions in 106 career NFL games, and he returned three of those for touchdowns. He was a member of the Browns team that won the 1964 NFL Championship Game. Ross Fichtner is Randy Fichtner’s father.