Let's get to it:
BOB OTT FROM MURRELLS INLET, SC: I realize Joey Porter Jr. is a rookie and has much to learn. I have watched him play at Pitt and noticed he has difficulty keeping his hands off the receivers. He also has difficulty making tackles. Is this something that can be taught? His mistakes in the Tennessee game could have cost the Steelers the game.
ANSWER: I'm not trying to be mean here, but you don't know what you're talking about. You did not watch Joey Porter Jr. play at Pitt because he attended Penn State, and if you think that's an insignificant difference try making that mistake around alumni at either of those universities. On that Thursday night against Tennessee, Porter was lined up opposite DeAndre Hopkins throughout the game, and if that name doesn't ring a bell, he currently has 888 receptions for 11,862 yards (13.4 average) and 74 touchdowns in the NFL. Against the Steelers, with Porter lined up on him throughout, Hopkins was targeted 11 times and finished with 4 catches for 60 yards (15.0 average), and that means he finished the game with a catch percentage of 36.4, well below his career catch percentage of 62.0. Yes, Porter was flagged for three penalties – grabbing the facemask, illegal use of hands, and defensive holding – but that off-the-ball holding call in the fourth quarter was typical of a crew of officials notorious for loving to throw penalty flags. Porter played 70 defensive snaps against the Titans – again, lined up over a receiver who has been voted first-team All-Pro three times and to the Pro Bowl five times – and only Damontae Kazee and Patrick Peterson played more on defense in that game. He's 23 years old, and so far this season he is allowing a 43.5 percent completion percentage on receivers he is covering. Porter is not perfect, there are aspects of his game that need to improve, but what's so promising is that he has the work ethic and desire to make those improvements. My suggestion to you is to appreciate what this young player is contributing and consider what he might do for the Steelers defense at a very difficult position moving forward.
GRANT SPELLERBERG FROM CUTLER BAY, FL: Aside from the backup quarterback, who usually only plays if the starter is hurt, how many of the other active players do not play on game days? Don't most of the other positions rotate throughout the game?
ANSWER: Typically, the active players on a game day roster who do not see any action are the backup quarterback, as you mentioned, and in the Steelers' case recently it has been the seventh offensive lineman (Spencer Anderson who is given a helmet because of his ability to line up at multiple positions in the event of an in-game injury).
MICHAEL KOLB FROM SUWANEE, GA: As a young Steelers fan in the 1960s, I idolized John Henry Johnson and Dick Hoak. I thought they were stars on an otherwise pretty poor team. In my mind they played together for a number of seasons. How many seasons did they actually have together? Also, what were their stats? And did they receive any awards? Pro Bowls?
ANSWERS: John Henry Johnson's Steelers career spanned the six seasons from 1960-65 as a fullback; Dick Hoak's Steelers career spanned the 10 seasons from 1961-70 as a halfback; and that was a time when there was a clear difference in the way those positions were played in the NFL, which means they had opportunities to share the same backfield during the four-season span of 1961-64. Johnson appeared in 67 games for the Steelers, with 60 of those being starts, and he had 1,006 carries for 4,381 yards (4.4 average) and 26 touchdowns; he also caught 106 passes for 814 yards (7.7 average) and 6 more touchdowns. Hoak played in 135 games for the Steelers, and 81 of those were starts. He finished with 1,132 carries for 3,965 yards (3.5 average) and 25 touchdowns, plus 146 receptions for 1,452 yards (9.9 average) and 8 more touchdowns. Hoak also was used on halfback options, and in those situations he completed 20-of-40 for 427 yards, with 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and what would have been a passer rating of 90.3. Johnson was voted to Pro Bowls in 1962, 1963, and 1964, and Hoak was voted to the Pro Bowl in 1968. Johnson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 1987.
DOUG PARR GRAYSLAKE, IL: I was in Chicago for the Bears' run to Super Bowl XLI under Coach Lovie Smith. It was the most exciting season I ever watched. Do you think it would help Steelers fans to know turnover-based football can make it to the Super Bowl?
ANSWER: Let me begin by filling in some details about the 2006 Chicago Bears, coached by Lovie Smith. That team finished with 24 interceptions and 30 fumble recoveries (54 takeaways) and 2 defensive touchdowns in winning the NFC North and advancing to Super Bowl XLI with postseason wins over Seattle and New Orleans. The Bears then lost in the Super Bowl to Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts, 29-17. No way I am going to predict the 2023 Steelers can be as successful as those Bears, who finished 13-3 in the regular season and were the top seed in the NFC, but the way this team's 5-3 record has been fashioned does include some dynamic plays in the takeaway category. But thanks for the thought, and by the way, I really wanted the Bears to win that Super Bowl.
JOHN WILLIAMS FROM WINCHESTER, VA: On the blocked punt during the Baltimore game on Oct. 8, what would the rule be if the ball had hit the referee and stayed in the end zone and was recovered by the Steelers?
ANSWER: Touchdown. When the referee is inadvertently contacted by a live ball during a play, he is considered part of the field.
JIM MILLER FROM BROKEN ARROW, OK: What's a BLESTO scout?
ANSWER: BLESTO is one of the two major scouting services used by NFL teams, and the name comes from the franchises that originally contributed to the service – Bears-Lions-Eagles-Steelers-Talent-Organization. There are now 12 teams involved in BLESTO, but the name remains unchanged. BLESTO scouts evaluate players, but those particular scouts often are spending their time working on players who figure to be part of the next draft class. Working ahead in this way helps the teams that are subscribing to the service decide how they should/might assign their own college scouts to the following year's draft prep.
NEIL RUSIEWICZ FROM POTTSTOWN, PA: I was wondering if the "Salute to Service" jacket that Coach Mike Tomlin wore on Thursday night was going to be sold to the general public? My Dad, who was born and raised just north of Pittsburgh and is the main reason I am a die-hard Steelers fan, said he really liked that jacket and I was looking to get it for him. I see tons of the "Salute to Service" gear on NFLShop.com and the Steelers website, but Coach Tomlin's jacket is not on there.
ANSWER: I wish I had a more definitive answer for you, but if it's not available on NFLShop.com or through Shop.Steelers.com, I don't believe it will be made available for sale to the general public. Sometimes there are items or variations of items that only are made available to the teams for wear on the sideline, and this might be one of those items.
BILL JACKSON FROM WOONSOCKET, RI: When T.J. Watt's helmet was torn off his head, why wasn't the play immediately blown dead? I thought that was the official rule. While it definitely showed how focused he was on getting to the quarterback, still, I thought it would have been blown dead immediately and the ball spotted where it was at the moment the helmet came off.
ANSWER: There is no such rule in the NFL where play is stopped immediately in every occasion where a player's helmet comes off. I know that's a rule in college football, and maybe that's where you saw a play ruled that way.
JACK BAKER FROM HYSHAM, MT: Has the NFL considered expanding into Canada like other professional teams (NBA, MLB, and of course NHL)? It seems like they would have a great fan base.
ANSWER: The NFL has not expanded into Canada because it wants to respect the viability of the Canadian Football League. Call it a type of professional courtesy, or maybe view it as a way of avoiding any direct competition between the leagues for players.
GAVIN WHITESIDE FROM HAGERSTOWN, MD: Do you think that the Steelers have a chance of making the playoffs? Also what do you think the best division is in the NFL?
ANSWER: I believe it's going to take 10 wins to earn a spot in the AFC Playoffs this season, and so we'll find out whether the Steelers are able to get to that number over the final 9 weeks. I would say the NFL's best division is the AFC North, because as of this writing all four of the teams are over .500 – specifically they're all 5-3 or better – and none of the other divisions have more than two teams over .500.