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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Nov. 30

Let's get to it:

BRIAN RODWICH FROM JEFFERSONTON, VA: Have you noticed a lack of spark with Najee Harris in recent weeks? I won't question his talent, but he seems to be playing more tentatively the last few weeks. Can that be attributed to an injury or is it a lack of confidence in the blocking in front of him? Ben Roethlisberger made a comment after the Bengals game that seemed to indicate he didn't think Najee should be in the game near the end.
ANSWER: Najee Harris gets the snot beat out of him every game because of a combination of a less-than-stellar offensive line and the fact the Steelers have no other running backs capable of attempting to share the load. He never misses practice. He hasn't missed a game. He has played 83 percent of the offensive snaps this season, and I would guess he's either getting gang-tackled or helping with pass protection on every one of those. He is right up there among the league leaders in touches (rushing attempts plus receptions) this season. He rarely is stopped by one tackler, and his yardage total after contact has to be impressive. Beyond not questioning his talent, I wouldn't question his toughness, dedication, or will to excel either.

DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: Najee Harris has shown everyone why the Steelers used a first round pick to get him. How do other notable Steelers rookie running backs compare in stats through their first ten games? Jerome Bettis wasn't drafted by the Steelers, but he is always on the list.
ANSWER: Najee Harris became the first rookie running back in franchise history with at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his first 10 NFL games (685 yards rushing and 337 yards receiving for 1,022 yards from scrimmage). In the first 10 games of his rookie season, Franco Harris had 841 yards from scrimmage (730 yards rushing and 111 yards receiving). And maybe Jerome Bettis is on your list, but he doesn't belong on this one because his first season with the Steelers was his fourth season in the NFL and comparing a fourth-year pro to a rookie is comparing ripe apples to green apples.

ALAN GODDARD FROM AGOURA CA: I keep hearing that the rookies on the offensive line are young and will get better. Are Dan Moore's struggles in pass protection something the Steelers are confident can be improved in the offseason, or should we expect someone else at left tackle next season?
ANSWER: I don't know about confident, but my belief is that the Steelers like the potential they have seen in Dan Moore Jr., and that he will be extended more in the area of time to develop and patience than fans are willing to extend. Just as a comparison: The Lions drafted Penei Sewell seventh overall, and he has been experiencing growing pains as well. Such is life for young offensive tackles making the move to the starting lineup on an NFL team.

TREY HEWITT FROM NEW BRAUNFELS, TX: If Najee Harris had to miss a game or games, who would take over for him at running back: Benny Snell or Anthony McFarland Jr.?
ANSWER: I don't believe replacing Najee Harris would be viewed as a one-man job at this point. At least not with the current personnel on the depth chart at running back.

DONALD BERNK FROM WOODBRIDGE, VA: I would like to think as you have expressed previously that Devon Bush can be the player he was before his injury. But after watching him this week he does not seem close to that player. Have you seen any areas of significant improvement in recent weeks or is he actually regressing in some areas?
ANSWER: I have neither the expertise in the nuances of inside linebacker play nor a sufficiently detailed understanding of the Steelers defensive scheme to make an intelligent observation of that. But from a layman's view, I don't believe the issues Devin Bush is having are things that will be fixed from one week to the next. It's very possible Bush will need an offseason where he's not forced to rehabilitate a significant injury so he can concentrate on working on his craft before noticeable improvement will be made.

GREG PARSONS FROM MOUNT LAUREL, NJ: In the game against the Bengals the defense was terrible, the offense was terrible, and the play-calling/decision-making was terrible. The Steelers are not putting a good product on the field lately. If things continue this way for the rest of the season, where do you think the changes will be made? Head coach? Coaching staff? Players? All of the above?
ANSWER: The first thing that has to happen is the roster will have to be upgraded, in some areas at the top of the depth chart and in other areas the depth. In my mind, that would be where to start.

JOHN THOMPSON FROM CONNEAUT, OH: After the loss to the Bengals, it is apparent the Steelers have a lengthy list of needs to address in the offseason. I believe inside linebacker and trench players, on both sides of the ball, should be at the top of that list. What do you think?
ANSWER: As I sit here writing this installment of Asked and Answered, I would say that the weakest area on the team is the defensive line, and if the defensive line was better maybe that helps the inside linebackers do their jobs better. I remember that when Joe Schobert was acquired in a trade back in the middle of August, one of the things he said was how excited he was to be able to play behind the Steelers defensive line. Think he still feels the same way?

TOM SMAIL FROM FORT WORTH, TX: Every week I like to try to guess the Steelers Digest Player of the Week, and I'm pleased to say I agree/guess right most of the time. I have two questions after the debacle in Cincinnati: was this one of the hardest choices you've had to make in recent memory, and do you make the choice yourself?
ANSWER: Yes, I make the choice myself, which verifies the unscientific nature of the process. And as for the difficulty of last Sunday's task, allow me to explain my first year doing that was in 1988 when the Steelers were 2-10 at Thanksgiving and finished the season 5-11. That was a long year.

ROBERT FOSTER FROM RIVERVIEW, FL: How many top 10 draft picks have the Browns, Bengals and Ravens had in the last 10 years? How many top 10 picks have the Steelers had in those same 10 years?
ANSWER: During the 10-year period from 2012-2021, the Ravens drafted in the top 10 in the first round once – sixth overall in 2016 when they chose left tackle Ronnie Stanley; the Bengals had three picks in the top 10 – ninth overall in 2017 when they chose receiver John Ross, first overall in 2020 when they chose quarterback Joe Burrow, and fifth overall in 2021 when they chose receiver Ja'Marr Chase; the Browns drafted in the top 10 seven times – third overall in 2012 when they picked running back Trent Richardson, sixth overall in 2013 when they picked outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, eighth overall in 2014 when they picked cornerback Justin Gilbert; first overall in 2017 when they picked defensive end Myles Garrett; fourth overall in 2018 when they picked cornerback Denzel Ward, first overall in 2018 when they picked quarterback Baker Mayfield, and 10th overall in 2021 when they picked offensive tackle Jedrick Willis; and the Steelers drafted in the top 10 once – 10th overall when they traded up 10 spots to draft Devin Bush in 2019.

TONY MAGGIO FROM WEYMOUTH, MA: It is evident there is a serious problem with the Steelers. The standard is the example that the team of the 1970s set. This team is not meeting the standard that the City of Pittsburgh and its fans around the world expect. Do you think it's time for the city and Steelers fans to put extreme pressure on ownership? We as Steelers Nation expect the entire coaching staff to be replaced at the end of the year.
ANSWER: Hahahahahahahahahaha. So, you as a fan "expect" the Steelers to consistently meet the standard set by the 1970s teams. You mean the teams that represented the most dominant dynasty in the modern era of professional football? The ones that won four championships in six seasons and sent 13 people to Canton – 10 players, the team president, the head coach, and the top scout – to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? That's what you "expect?" And if you don't get what you "expect," your plan is to "put extreme pressure on ownership?" Good plan. Let me know how that works for you. Don Quixote had a more realistic shot at that windmill.

OWEN O'CEALLAIGH FROM KILKENNY, IRELAND: What the Steelers need is fewer people telling us what the Steelers need. Would you agree?
ANSWER: And even fewer people who believe they know what the Steelers need.