Let's get to it:
RICK DRUMMOND FROM BAYFIELD, ONTARIO, CANADA: My question is in regard to scheduling. The Steelers just played against the Bills (AFC East) in Buffalo for the second year in a row. I understand how playing teams within our own division we will have to play in their city every year, but I don't understand how the Steelers would play an AFC East team at their field two years in a row.
ANSWER: In the Official National Football League Record & Fact Book that comes out annually, there is a team-by-team, division-by-division explanation/rundown of the whole regular season schedule, not only for the current year but also a few years into the future. Each team's schedule is made up of a home-and-home series against each team within the division, and each team within a division plays all four teams from a different division within its conference as well as all four teams from a different division in the other conference. Add those up, and it comes to 14 games. Then, each team also plays a pair of games – one home and one on the road – based on what the NFL refers to as "Intraconference by position." What that means, using the Steelers as the example, is based on the team's previous year's finish within its own division, the team will play one home game and one road game against AFC teams that finished in the same spot in their respective divisions. That comes to 16 games. The 17th game is determined by having an entire AFC Division play a game against a corresponding NFC Division (on a rotating basis), also based on where the teams finished in their respective divisions the previous year. So, the Steelers played in Buffalo in 2021, because in 2020 both the Bills and the Steelers finished first in their respective divisions, and the rotation had the AFC North teams playing AFC East teams in the "Intraconference by position" category. And then the same two teams played in 2022 because all teams in the AFC North played all teams from the AFC East under the "Intraconference by division" category. The reason that both games were in Buffalo had to do with how those matchups were assigned by the "Intraconference by position" category and then the "Intraconference by division" category.
Looking ahead to 2023, the Steelers will play the AFC South in the "Intraconference by division" category – home vs. Jacksonville and Tennessee, on the road vs. Houston and Indianapolis; they will play the NFC West in the "Interconference by division" category – home vs. Arizona and San Francisco, on the road vs. the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle; they will play a home game vs. the team from the AFC East that finishes in the same spot in that division as the Steelers finish in the AFC North, and a road game from the AFC West that finishes in the same spot in that division as the Steelers finish in the AFC North; and the 17th game will be a home game vs. the team in the NFC North that finishes in the same spot in that division as the Steelers finish in the AFC North. Simple, huh?
DAVID HAYES FROM HARTSELLE, AL: The Steelers appear to be well on their way to exciting news. When was the last time the Steelers had a top 5 draft pick in the first round? It also appears to be trending towards the Steelers having a new offensive coordinator. Does the offensive coordinator have a say on who is selected first on offense first for the draft?
ANSWER: The last time the Steelers picked in the top 5 of an NFL Draft was in 1970 when the team selected Terry Bradshaw first overall. In 1969, the Steelers picked Joe Greene fourth overall. When it comes to the actual picking of the players on the weekend of the draft, assistant coaches, including coordinators, are present but aren't the decision-makers.
DAVID MAURO FROM GRAYLING, MI: During home games at Acrisure Stadium, I have seen the Steelers honor a veteran. How do I nominate a veteran to be honored?
ANSWER: The Steelers don't actually choose the veteran to be honored. They work with Western Pennsylvania veteran groups to come up with the men and women who are recognized. There is no nomination process.
EDWARD BONTRAGER FROM CORBIN, KY: This weekend the league announced a rule change to the concussion protocol due to Tua Tagovailoa's injury, which got me thinking about the Steelers two contributors to rule changes. Can you recall if either Mel Blount's or Hines Ward's rule changes were instituted midseason?
ANSWER: They were not instituted midseason.
JAY SIMMONS FROM DALTON, GA: Always impressed with your access to stats from players' college careers. For example, where did you get Calvin Austin III's punt return stats?
ANSWER: As Milana Vayntrub says to LeBron James in that AT&T commercial, "Are you coming for my job?"
JOHN VINCENT FROM CONNEAUT, OH: When is T.J. Watt set to make his return?
ANSWER: T.J. Watt went on the injured reserve list following the regular season opener in Cincinnati on Sept. 11. Rules dictate that Watt must spend at least four weeks on injured reserve, so that means he would be eligible to return to practice this week and then play on Sunday vs. Tampa Bay at Acrisure Stadium. That's the earliest Watt would be eligible to return to practice and then to play. When he's "set to make his return" is something I do not know.
BOB WATSON FROM BETHLEHEM, PA: Understanding Coach Tomlin's worst record is 8-8, what was the worst record for Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll (starting after his four Super Bowl wins during the 1970s)?
ANSWER: The Steelers worst single-season record under Chuck Noll following those four Super Bowl wins was a 5-11 mark in 1988 during which the team was 2-10 at Thanksgiving before rallying to win three of its final four games. The Steelers worst single-season record under Bill Cowher was a pair of 6-10 finishes – in 1999 when the team lost 7 of its last 8 games, and then also in 2003 when the team had a five-game losing streak from late September until early November.
PAUL KAMMERMEIER FROM BLOOMFIELD, NY: I wonder if you could clarify the rules that deal with hitting a quarterback in a feet-first slide and clarify if you think the officials got the call ("no penalty") correct on the play against Buffalo that resulted in two penalties on Steelers but none on Buffalo. Also, my understanding is that unsportsmanlike penalties are enforced as dead ball fouls, which should have resulted in enforcement AFTER the first down was attained. So, should that not have been a first-and-10 after enforcement of the penalty?
ANSWER: I have completely given up on attempting to clarify rules and how those rules are enforced by NFL officials, as well as trying to explain if these same officials got calls correct and then enforced them properly. I'm truly not trying to duck your question, but my opinion now and for as long as I am still watching and paying attention to the NFL is that the officials are going to call what they're going to call, whether it's correct or not, and the league then can use a rule book that's overly vague and confusing to interpret things however it sees fit at any particular point in time.
Let's just use this past weekend's games as an example of what I mean: How on earth can officials not flag the Bills for two late/cheap shots at Kenny Pickett on the same day the Falcons were flagged for roughing Tom Brady during a play that referee Jerome Boger subsequently "explained" as "What I had was the defender grabbed the quarterback while he was still in the pocket and unnecessarily throwing him to the ground. That is what I was making my decision based on."
Those two games and how they were officiated with respect to "protecting the quarterback" are prime examples of how NFL officiating is arbitrary and inconsistent.
JOE BEATTY FROM LINDENHURST, NY: Can you please explain how the hit on Kenny Pickett wasn't a personal foul but the tackle on Tom Brady was?
ANSWER: I'm sorry, but I cannot. See above.
CASEY MCDONALD FROM MONTGOMERY, AL: I understand that it's early, but by the time T.J. Watt comes back, we probably will be out of the playoff hunt. Should we just rest him?
ANSWER: Rest him for what?
BRIAN SCHWARTZ FROM BOSTON, MA: Do you ever see Ben Roethlisberger being a Steelers offensive coordinator?
ANSWER: Why on earth would Ben Roethlisberger be interested in that?