Let's get to it:
BRAD SMITH FROM ASHLAND, MA: I am curious to know your assessment of how Devin Bush is doing in his second year. I do not hear his name called as much by the announcers, but I know there is more to playing a position than making the tackle or getting the sack.
ANSWER: This is what I know: Going into the game against the Texans, Devin Bush was leading the team in tackles with 14, and he also had a pass defensed. Then against the Texans, he had four tackles, shared a sack with Bud Dupree, and broke up a pass in the end zone. Also, through three weeks of the season, the Steelers defense is ranked in the top five in the NFL in eight different statistical categories, including points allowed per game. And in achieving those rankings, Devin Bush has played every defensive snap of every game so far.
JOHN MARTIN FROM ARENDSTVILLE, PA: It seems as though I've not heard Minkah Fitzpatrick's name that often over the first three games. It seems his productivity (or impact) is down considerably over last year's outstanding performance. What do you attribute that to?
ANSWER: Again, with the hearing of names. I have no concrete evidence of this, but the first thing I would imagine is that in every quarterback meeting room of every opponent on the Steelers schedule, a reel of Minkah Fitzpatrick's takeaways is viewed and the quarterbacks coach reminds everyone that this guy wears No. 39 and it's a good idea to know where he is and try not to throw the football in his area. Outside of that, I can tell you the Steelers defense ranks second in the NFL in yards allowed per game, third in yards allowed per play, first in rushing yards per game, first in average gain per rush, 12th in passing yards per game, seventh in completion percentage, fourth in interception percentage, first in sacks per pass attempt, tied-for-third in first downs allowed, and fifth in points allowed per game.
TODD TRUFFIN FROM FUQUAY-VARINA, NC: I've been following the Steelers and NFL football since the late 1970s. As a kid I loved seeing the NFL Films shows that would pop up on TV, and, growing up in Ohio, made a fair-share of trips to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the internet age, I've read loads of Steelers coverage and of course, have been a very regular reader of Asked and Answered. With all of that said, when in the sam hill did we start talking about "bell cows?" Please tell me this is a somewhat recent thing.
ANSWER: Ever watch any college football? Remember the days when ABC's main broadcast crew for its marquee college football games was Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles, who was the former coach and athletic director at the University of Arkansas? A "bell cow" is the lead cow of a herd and has a bell attached to a collar around the neck so that the herd can be located easily. In Broyles' folksy style, he referred the lead running back, as the "bell cow."
ALEJANDRO LANDERS FROM WINCHESTER, VA: How do you feel about the special teams this season? I've definitely seen improvement from recent years, especially having Dionte Johnson return punts.
ANSWER: I would like to see Ray-Ray McCloud as the full-time returner, both punts and kickoffs. I acknowledge Diontae Johnson had an 80-plus yard punt return nullified by a penalty for an illegal block, but he's also fumbled one punt and made a fair catch of another on the Steelers 5-yard line against the Texans. McCloud seems to me to have a burst that indicates he could take each kick back for a touchdown, and his hands have been very reliable so far. But options are something I cannot remember the Steelers having in the return game for quite some time.
MICHAEL McDERMITT FROM AUSTIN, TX: When a defensive player forces the runner or receiver to go out of bounds, is that player credited with a tackle?
ANSWER: If the defender pushes him out of bounds or bumps him out of bounds, he is credited with a tackle. If a defender is just in the same area when a runner or receiver runs out of bounds, he is not credited with a tackle. You also should know that tackle statistics are compiled in the press box by the home team's stats crew, which is probably how Ray Lewis was credited with tens of thousands of tackles during his career. Not to be cynical.
ANTHONY DEAN FROM CHARLOTTE, NC: Ben Roethlisberger got hurt early last season, so would he be eligible for Comeback Player of the Year in 2020?
RICH BACH FROM WICHITA, KS: The Chiefs defeated the Ravens on Monday night. Is there any chance that Mike Tomlin will look at the tape of that game and game plan something close to what the Chiefs did? The Chiefs have defeated the Ravens every time they have played them. Since teams seem to copy what other teams do, wouldn't it be smart to do something close to what the Chiefs did?
ANSWER: That's a regular part of preparing for an opponent, the watching of video of previous performances in helping to form a game plan. But allow me to remind you of one of the often-repeated theories of winning football: It's not about the Xs and the Os, it's about the Jimmys and the Joes. In other words, your players have to beat their players. The Steelers' personnel differs from the Chiefs', and so what you suggest may sound good in theory, but it's not necessarily realistic.
KEITH MILLER FROM WAYNESVILLE, NC: I have always thought there should be some compensation for losing a player off the practice squad, such as a late-round draft choice. What do you think?
ANSWER: The NFLPA never would go for it, because doing that would restrict players having an opportunity to secure a job on an active roster because teams wouldn't be inclined to give up a draft pick for a guy on another team's practice squad when they could just sign somebody off the street for no compensation. And I don't perceive it as an issue the owners want to go to war over.
JOHN MAIR FROM RIDGE, NY: The Steelers usually announce when they will wear their throwback and color rush uniforms before the season starts. I haven't heard anything yet. Did I miss something? Is the team still going to wear alternate uniforms this season?
ANSWER: The Steelers haven't been able to announce whether there will be fans at any home games this season.
KENNY BINGLE FROM ORLANDO, FL: Although it ended up not having an impact on the outcome of the game, could you comment on the play against the Texans where Ben Roethlisberger ran for what appeared to be a first down when he reached the ball out on the sideline? After a spot challenge by Coach Mike Tomlin, which I felt was a good challenge, the call on the field was upheld and resulted in a fourth-and-1 situation. This was a critical time in the game with the Steelers trying to come from behind.
ANSWER: My comment is to keep this play in mind when people start ripping Mike Tomlin for not winning challenges. Sometimes the zebras just aren't going to give you the call, even when replay indicates the call on the field should be overturned. For whatever reason, sometimes officials just won't give you the call. I said in the press box at Heinz Field as soon as the play happened that the Steelers weren't going to get that call changed, and they didn't. Officiating in the NFL is like Stonehenge – trying to make sense of it is impossible.
JAY BALL FROM CHICAGO, IL: What is Jaylen Samuels' value to the Steelers at this point? Have there been any rumblings about trading or releasing him?
ANSWER: Except from you, no. And let me remind you, this isn't fantasy football where rosters change weekly on a whim. And by whim, I mean getting rid of a player who had the audacity of gaining only 1 yard on a third-and-2 in the first quarter of a game the Steelers went on to win. The Steelers have a 53-man roster and a 16-man practice squad. There's room for Jaylen Samuels.