Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Oct. 10

Let’s get to it:

DAVID WAYNE FROM JOHNS CREEK, GA: Coach Mike Tomlin chose to let the Ravens have the ball first in overtime. This makes no sense to me at all. The strategy counts on stopping the other team and then kicking a field goal to win when you get the ball. The better approach is to get the ball first and kick your field goal and then hold the Ravens. Either way you have to hold the Ravens once. The down side of Tomlin's approach is the Ravens could score a touchdown and the Steelers never see the ball. The other downside is that after each team gets a possession, if the game still is tied – 0-0, or 3-3, the next score wins and the Ravens would have the ball first. There is no advantage, I repeat no advantage to giving the ball to the Ravens first. Comments?
ANSWER: I generally do not choose submissions that really are nothing more than an opinion instead of a question, but since so many fans wanted to weigh in on this particular subject, I am making an exception. First, I think it’s important to understand that the best decisions are the ones made in the reality of the moment, and by that I mean making the decision to receive the overtime kickoff because that has proven to be the best decision over a number of years doesn’t make it the right decision in this particular situation.

And the Steelers particular situation at this stage of this particular game had them playing without Ben Roethlisberger, and without No. 2 quarterback Mason Rudolph, and with an undrafted rookie quarterback who would be seeing his first game action since mop-up duty in the fourth preseason game, which is nothing like a regular season NFL game against a bitter rival. On this day, the Steelers most dependable unit was their defense, and so asking them to stop the Ravens on the opening possession of overtime was a better option than asking an offense without its top two quarterbacks to be able to score or even just flip the field on the opening possession of overtime.

Another aspect of the Steelers’ particular situation was the way the Ravens kickoff team consistently was dictating field position. And so the reality of the moment for Tomlin, as regulation play ended, was that on the three kickoffs Ravens kicker Justin Tucker didn’t drive through the end zone for touchbacks, he had pinned the Steelers offense at its 11-yard line, its 12-yard line, and its 15-yard line.

If Roethlisberger is at quarterback, that’s not a problem. You receive the overtime kickoff and drive the ball out of your own end, but such field position is a big problem with a rookie quarterback who likely got very few snaps with the No. 1 offense during the week because those snaps had to go to the guy who was starting at quarterback that day, because he also is inexperienced and needed as many practice repetitions as possible.

Expecting Hodges to drive the Steelers almost 90 yards for a touchdown wouldn’t have been realistic, and a punt from deep in their own territory could have given the Ravens possession close to midfield, and then because that would have been the second possession of overtime Baltimore would have needed just a field goal to win. And in pregame warmups, Tucker was making them from 65 yards out, which means the line of scrimmage for such an attempt would be the Steelers 47-yard line.

Again, the Steelers’ best unit that day was their defense, a unit that had sacked Lamar Jackson five times, intercepted him three times, and held the No. 1 ranked Ravens rushing attack close to 70 yards under its per-game average and 2.4 yards under its per carry average. So it was far more reasonable to expect the Steelers defense to force the Ravens offense to punt and end up with decent field position for an offense being quarterbacked by a callow rookie to get in position for a field goal to win, than it would be to expect that quarterback and that offense to drive the length of the field to score a touchdown, because if that touchdown didn’t happen, it was going to be the Steelers punt that gave the Ravens decent field position to move the ball close enough for a placekicker who has made 71 percent of his career attempts from 50-plus yards out.

And the last thing about Tomlin’s decision: it worked. After Chris Boswell’s overtime kickoff was through the end zone, the Ravens offense began at the 25-yard line. Their three plays were a run that lost 1 yard, a 4-yard sack by Bud Dupree, and then a 1-yard completion from Lamar Jackson to Mark Andrews. After Sam Koch’s punt and a fair catch by Ryan Switzer, the Steelers started at their 32-yard line, which was way better field position than they would’ve had by receiving the overtime kickoff, and this time all they needed was a field goal to win the game instead of a touchdown. One final point to make on Tomlin’s decision: He instructed Cam Heyward to choose to defend the south end zone instead of choosing to kick off, because he knew once he chose to defend one end of the field, the Ravens automatically would choose to receive. By choosing to defend the south end zone, the Steelers also ended up with the wind at their back for the overtime period, which means a 50-yard field goal attempt by Chris Boswell, who was 10-for-10 on the season to that point, would’ve been realistic.

ALEC HOUSER FROM PASADENA, MD: Where was the flag for the hit on Mason Rudolph? You said Earl Thomas was penalized when in fact he was not. The play resulted in a first down, and there was not 15 yards added to the end of it.
ANSWER: I could just tell you that you’re wrong, but I’ll also refer you to the NFL Official Play-by-Play from the game. The play on which Mason Rudolph was concussed began as a third-and-11 from the Steelers 12-yard line. The result of the play was a 26-yard pass to James Washington, which placed the ball at the Steelers 38-yard line. Thomas was penalized for roughing the passer – maybe the flag came out late, but it came out – which is a 15-yard penalty. That yardage was marked off, and the Steelers next play began at the Ravens 47-yard line. Do the math.

HALL MCMILLAN FROM NEW YORK, NY: We intercepted Baltimore with about a minute left in the first half of last Sunday’s game. We then ran an offensive play and let the clock tick down when we still had two timeouts. Why did we not use our timeouts in that situation in order to give us more shots at the end zone?
ANSWER: Let’s begin by correcting some of your facts. After Mike Hilton intercepted Lamar Jackson’s pass, the Steelers offense took over at the Baltimore 25-yard line with 33 seconds left in the first half. The Steelers had one timeout remaining, not two. In those situations with one timeout left, Coach Mike Tomlin has said his preference is to save one timeout so that the offense can utilize the entire field and still be able to stop the clock and line up for a field goal if necessary. The first offensive play was a short pass to Jaylen Samuels that gained 4 yards, and the next play was a deep shot to James Washington down the right sideline that was incomplete. It took 21 seconds between the pass to Samuels and the pass to Washington, and I admit that could have happened more quickly, but Mason Rudolph’s inexperience in such situations and as an NFL quarterback overall, I believe, has to be considered. On the incomplete pass to Washington, the Ravens were flagged for roughing the passer, which stopped the clock until the next snap. That took place with seven seconds left in the half, and when that pass was incomplete, Chris Boswell came out and kicked the field goal.

TODD WALKER FROM PORT ST LUCIE, FL: I think the Steelers are playing good, competitive football without Ben Roethlisberger. We are in every game and could’ve won all three of them. The defense is playing well also. Do you agree that we may be 1-5 after Sunday, but it hasn't been that bad?
ANSWER: Sorry, but 1-5 is bad, regardless of the circumstances under which it was achieved.

BEN RASEY FROM ANGOLA, NY: In the interest of “getting it right” can we just have the on-field referee and the in-stadium replay official conduct all reviews? Seems like the referee working with his crew should have a better sense of what transpired than a league official in New York.
ANSWER: My experience is that in the almost 40 years the NFL has utilized instant replay as a supplement to its on-field officials, the process has failed to “get it right” too often to be continued. I understand I am tilting at windmills here, but instant replay doesn’t work, and it never has. In any form or configuration, with the on-field and in-stadium people handling it, or with extra eyes and better technology in the league offices in New York involved. It. Doesn’t. Work. And it has served to make the on-field officials worse, because they have become too tentative and too prone to allowing replay to make the calls, which it often does incorrectly.

BOBBY PILLITIERE FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: What is the rule about signing players to the team during the offseason outside of the draft? I realize they cannot sign players on a college roster, but what about a college athlete who is not on a roster? Could any team have signed Joey Bosa prior to the NFL draft as a free agent since he was not on the Ohio State roster?
ANSWER: You’re confusing Joey Bosa with his younger brother, Nick. It was Nick Bosa, who on Sept. 20, 2018, while at Ohio State, had core muscle surgery, which was to sideline him indefinitely. On Oct. 16, Bosa announced that he was withdrawing from Ohio State for the rest of the season. After the season, Bosa decided to forego his senior year and enter the 2019 NFL Draft. Even after withdrawing from Ohio State, Bosa was not considered a free agent by the NFL because he had yet to go through an NFL Draft. A player only can be considered a free agent if he enters an NFL Draft and is not picked by any team.

ROBERT VEACH FROM HELENA, MT: What is the highest position in the NFL Draft the Steelers have had in the last 30 years without the trading up?
ANSWER: It was 30 years ago, in 1989, when the Steelers had the seventh overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft after a 5-11 finish in 1988. With that seventh overall pick, the Steelers selected Georgia running back Tim Worley.

PETER FAIRMAN FROM LONDON, ENGLAND: Having played only three home games so far in 2019, there seems to be a large number of empty seats at Heinz Field, and it was noticeable against Cincinnati, also. Any reason for the drop in attendance?
ANSWER: Steelers home games are sold out on a season ticket basis, but on any given game day there can be people who have tickets who choose not to attend for any number of reasons. The game against the Bengals, for example, was on Monday night, which means it didn’t start until 8:15 p.m., which means it didn’t end until after 11 p.m. As a weekday, people have to get up for work the next morning, and some choose to just watch on television. Also keep in mind that many fans in the stadium choose not to watch the game from their seats. Many who pay for club seating will watch the game in the controlled climate of the clubs, and other fans have chosen to watch games from the ramps leading up to the twin rotundas in the south end of Heinz Field.

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