Let’s get to it:
CHRIS BELCHER FROM ROCKINGHAM, NC: What did you think of the play of L.J. Fort against Atlanta? It seemed like he and Jon Bostic worked very well together.
ANSWER: L.J. Fort had a good game, both on defense and special teams. On the Thursday before the game against the Falcons, defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked about Fort, and he said, “He’s going to get his chance this week probably. I think he’s played well for us and we’ll see this week how he does. This is a big week for him, and I hope he plays well because I think he’s a legitimate linebacker in the National Football League.” As for the statistics, Fort finished third on the team in tackles with six, he had a sack and three total hits on quarterback Matt Ryan, and he recovered the fumble caused by T.J. Watt’s strip-sack of Matt Ryan in the end zone for the Steelers’ final touchdown. What’s unfortunate is that Fort injured an ankle in the game, and if that causes him to miss time he could lose his spot in the rotation, which I believe would be unfortunate for the Steelers defense. If it were up to me, and it certainly is not, I would try to get Fort playing time until he shows he doesn’t deserve it.
JOSH PIROSO FROM CONCORD, NH: I was wondering during the Falcons game which cornerback covered the side of the field opposite Joe Haden? Did they keep alternating corners? Who overall played most of the snaps?
ANSWER: A more accurate description than alternating would be rotating, because the changes weren’t made rigidly every other series. The Falcons ran 72 offensive plays, and Joe Haden, Terrell Edmunds, and Sean Davis played every defensive snap. Artie Burns played 41 snaps (57 percent) and Coty Sensabaugh played 31 snaps (43 percent), which adds up to 72. Mike Hilton played 55 snaps (76 percent) as the slot cornerback, and Cam Sutton played 29 snaps (40 percent) in some of the sub-packages.
NED GRIFFITH FROM VIRGINIA BEACH, VA: Maybe I was seeing things, but on one of the kickoffs to the Falcons (I believe it was in the second half) the ball went over the head of the returner who was standing 1-yard deep in the end zone. The Falcons player let the ball go, and the whistle was blown indicating a touchback. However, I believe I saw that the ball land approximately a couple of yards short of the back of the end zone, and then it bounced sideways. It never went out of bounds and remained in the end zone.
ANSWER: Welcome to the newer, gentler NFL. With the league extra interested in eliminating the kinds of collisions that research has shown typically happen on kickoffs, if a returner makes no effort to field the kickoff and the ball goes into the end zone, the official will signal a touchback immediately and blow the play dead. Touchback.
MARK GILLESPIE FROM CLAYTON, NC: I totally get “establish the run,” but at the beginning of every game everyone in the stadium knows the play will be “Conner up the middle,” and the opposing defense lays in wait. Maybe, just maybe, would working in a play-action pass for that first play have merit?
ANSWER: I totally get the “what can I find to complain about this week” position so many fans love to take, but how about a little bit of truth sprinkled in with your suppositions? In the Steelers first five games, their first offensive play has been a run twice – in Cleveland in the opener and then last Sunday vs. Atlanta – and it’s been a pass three times – vs. Kansas City, in Tampa, and vs. Baltimore. Maybe, just maybe wouldn’t knowing the facts before offering a criticism disguised as a question have merit?
DARRELL SAUNDERS FROM MIAMI BEACH, FL: Do you have any information on the current condition of Eli Rogers and when he will be available to play? Also Ola Adeniyi?
ANSWER: Because he is on the physically unable to perform list, Eli Rogers would be eligible to begin practicing with the team after Sunday’s game in Cincinnati. Because Ola Adeniyi is on injured reserve, he’s not eligible to come off that list and begin practicing until after the team’s Week 8 game, which is against the Browns on Oct. 28. But allow me to point out a couple of developments: Ryan Switzer looks to be effective as a slot receiver, and he has a lot of value as the primary returner; and going into this weekend’s game against the Bengals, the Steelers are leading the NFL in sacks and outside linebackers T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Anthony Chickillo all have been playing well and improving. In my mind, there is no urgency to bring back either Rogers or Adeniyi. Injuries happen, and so maybe things change, and in the NFL things can change quickly.
BILL JANUS FROM HAINESPORT, NJ: Do you think as the season goes on we will see Matthew Thomas playing some inside linebacker? I would love to see what he can do.
ANSWER: The preseason is the time for “I would love to see what he can do.” In the regular season, it’s the time to play the players who give the team the best chance to win. With a unit that has been plagued by communication issues, inserting a rookie six weeks or more into the season would be representative of a move that had to be made, either because of injuries to other players or because of gross incompetence by the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Right now, neither of those two things are factors at inside linebacker, and so I suspect Thomas will have to continue to try to make an impact on special teams.
RAYNE KNIGHT FROM SHERIDAN, WY: How does the NFL determine what teams get bye weeks and when?
ANSWER: It’s part of the scheduling formula, and it’s something that’s never explained fully, like the awarding of compensatory draft picks.
DAN SUNSERI FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Seeing Santonio Holmes recently brought to mind an issue I often think about. He was the MVP of the Super Bowl XLIII win over the Cardinals. In my mind it should have been Ben Roethlisberger. Not diminishing Holmes’ catches, but Roethlisberger was spot-on during that final drive and throughout the game. Do you think Ben got jobbed?
ANSWER: I remember seeing Peter King, who has a vote, after the game and asking him this question: If Tom Brady or Peyton Manning did what Ben Roethlisberger did on that final drive, is there any way the Super Bowl MVP trophy is awarded to the wide receiver who caught the game-winning touchdown pass? I think not. But in retrospect, I’m glad it worked out that way, because I believe that could serve as a huge motivating factor for Roethlisberger when the Steelers get back to the Super Bowl with him as the starting quarterback.
PAUL BUREK FROM SAVANNAH GA: Can you help me understand why commercials are permitted to cut out live NFL plays? I have seen plays missed for the last several seasons. Extra points, kickoffs, injuries, and replay reviews, are part of the game, yet there seems to be an encroachment of commercials on these plays more and more each season.
ANSWER: That’s not supposed to be the way it happens, but I cannot argue with your assessment that it too often does. There is a guy on the sideline of every NFL game wearing a fluorescent green NFL baseball cap, and he’s in communication with the network television truck on site as well as with the officials on the field. He signals the commercial breaks and then alerts the on-field officials when the networks are in a commercial break and when the broadcast has returned to the game. Somebody somewhere either isn’t doing his job or isn’t doing his job correctly.
JOHN BRASHEAR FROM TOLEDO, OH: I fully agree that Josh Dobbs earned the role of backup quarterback through his play in the preseason, but the drop off to Mason Rudolph is negligible. The area where Dobbs far exceeds Rudolph is what happens when the play breaks down; often he turns a negative situation into a positive gain through his ability to run. Why not prepare a package of plays with him on field with Ben Roethlisberger still at quarterback? The positive results are many from direct snaps, quarterback draws, a true option, making opponents spend prep time for Dobbs on field, a huge decoy, a great option for 2-point conversions, getting him game experience. The only negative is the risk of injury, but the drop-off to Rudolph is minimal. I’m curious why this has not even been hinted at, even the mention of it would have a beneficial result.
ANSWER: Even the mention of this kind of gadget play package makes my stomach hurt. What you suggest qualifies as coaching malpractice.