Let's get to it:
RANDY STEBBINS FROM NORTH CANTON, OH: A fair segment of the sports media is running with some negatively slanted stories about Ben Roethlisberger "calling out" some of his teammates and offensive coordinator for apparent mistakes in the Broncos game. Roethlisberger said this is expected of him, and he has earned the right to make such statements, because he is an acknowledged leader on the team. He has also noted his own mistakes in both the Jacksonville win and the Denver loss. And I do not recall his teammates slamming Ben over the past few years for stating an opinion or trying to point out players' errors or poor performance. What is your opinion? Is this really much ado about nothing, or is there an undercurrent of resentment?
ANSWER: My opinion about this is that it should be a non-issue to everyone who's not a part of the Steelers locker room. Media can think what they want, for example, about Antonio Brown tipping over a Gatorade cooler on the sideline to show his displeasure over not getting the football, but if the players in the locker room don't view that as a problem, then it isn't a problem, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
During his media availability on Wednesday morning, Ben Roethlisberger was asked: "When you publicly criticize a teammate, when is it time to give a guy a pat on the back?" His answer: "Being around for a long time, dealing with a lot of different players, you have to know how to motivate guys in different ways, and I think that is part of being a leader, being a captain, just understanding players. Sometimes you just grab them off to the side and sometimes you have to be honest with them. I think I've earned the right to do that with as long as I've been here. I'll be just as critical on myself as well in front of you guys as well."
Roethlisberger always has taken blame when it was warranted, and even sometimes when it wasn't, and he has done enough for this particular group of Steelers and has enough of a track record as an NFL quarterback that he is entitled to speak his mind. Tom Brady has been shown on the sideline berating/exhorting teammates on the sideline in full view of the television cameras, and there even was one exchange with offense coordinator Josh McDaniel that didn't look like he was exchanging pleasantries. Football is emotional. It's competitive. And great quarterbacks are fervent competitors. I believe when Roethlisberger screams at someone, most of his teammates think back to him diving across the goal line in Jacksonville with five seconds left, and then it's all good.
JOHN NOH FROM CAMPBELL, CA: I have never understood the logic of the rule that mandates the team that loses a fumble out of the opposing team's end zone also loses possession of the ball. Can you provide historical perspective on this if you have it? Also, has this rule come up for review in front of the Competition Committee in recent years? I would think Coach Mike Tomlin would be in favor of eliminating this rule or revising it significantly based on what we witnessed in Denver.
ANSWER: I cannot provide any historical perspective on this beyond that it's been the rule for as long as I have followed football. And Mike Tomlin in fact is in favor of the rule, despite how it hurt the Steelers in Denver. Here's what Tomlin said when asked at his weekly news conference whether he thought it was a silly rule: "No, I'm in support of the rule, certainly. You've got to maintain possession of the ball as you cross the goal line. I believe that there's added responsibility there. I believe that the defense should be rewarded if you fumble and it goes into the end zone and no one gets a chance to recover the ball. I like the urgency and the responsibility of possession of the ball, particularly in that area of the field. So, I'm not against the rule. I'm a proponent of it. I don't know the history of it."
CHRIS WILLIAMS FROM CASPER, WY: During defensive substitutions in response to changing offensive personnel, how are the players notified they need to be on the field?
ANSWER: Personnel groupings typically are designated by some type of code word, or by the name of the alignment, such as nickel, dime, dollar, etc. When the opponent has the football, all defensive players who are included in the often-called personnel groupings are expected to be standing on the sideline, helmet on, near the defensive assistants. Then whenever a particular personnel grouping is to be sent onto the field, that is called out by one of the defensive assistants – and it's always the same one to avoid confusion – and players are expected to know which groupings include them and to take the field when their group is called.
SCOTT KITZMILLER FROM BRISTOL, IN: Should there have been a penalty on the blocked field goal? It's my understanding that a defensive player cannot line up over the center, or use the center for leverage.
ANSWER: I asked special teams coordinator Danny Smith about that, and he said that the rule has changed somewhat this season with regard to a defender hurdling the line of scrimmage to attempt to block a field goal or an extra point. He chose not to get into specifics about whether he believed a penalty should have been called on that play, probably because his preference is to get a whole paycheck.
JIM GALLOGLY FROM NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL: Has anyone contemplated utilizing Vance McDonald as a back in short-yardage or goal-line plays?
ANSWER: I hope not, because running over defensive backs in the open field is a whole other task than being a 6-foot-4 guy trying to power through heavy traffic and into the end zone.
RON BECKER FROM RICHMOND, VA: After watching the Steelers lose in Denver, I am reminded of another gloomy place on the upcoming schedule: Oakland. What is Ben Roethlisberger's record in these two houses of horrors?
ANSWER: In Oakland, Ben Roethlisberger is 0-3 as a starting quarterback. In Denver, including three playoff games, his record as a starting quarterback is 2-5.
STEPHEN BANKS FROM FALLING WATERS, WV: If the free safety (Sean Davis) is the last man, why are they getting beat a lot on deep passes?
ANSWER: Ah, yes. Another question that's based on an inaccurate supposition. Through 11 games this season, the Steelers have allowed only three completions of 40-plus yards. In the NFL, that does not qualify as "getting beat on a lot of deep passes." In fact, it's quite the improvement for the Steelers over 2017, when they allowed 13 completions of 40-plus yards.