Let's get to it:
BILL PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, FL: Do you think overhauling the group of NFL officials would help? Make them full-time employees? Require physical testing to ensure they can actually keep up with plays? Mix the crews each week to try for more consistency game-to-game? Have a guy in the "booth" to call or overturn the penalties the guys on the field get wrong or miss completely?
ANSWER: As to your suggestions, there already is a physical requirement/test, and mixing the crews on a weekly basis would promote less continuity, in my opinion. My fix is way too radical and has no chance of being enacted, but here goes: I would start by doing what President Ronald Reagan did on Aug. 5, 1981, when the air-traffic controllers went on strike – he fired them all and started over. Then I would take young people – early-to-mid-20s – and teach them the profession just like any other job is taught. I see no reason why officials need 20-plus years of experience at the high school and college levels to be considered for a job in the NFL, because surgeons operate on people without two decades of practice and that's much more delicate and high-pressure work. A 5-year program should be more than sufficient, then the best ones would be considered for the NFL and paid handsomely if they qualify, and once those people get into their early 40s, their career as an official would be over because they couldn't keep up with the physical demands of being on a football field with a bunch of twentysomething professional athletes. I also would pay people such as Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira and Gene Steratore good money – more than they currently make as television "experts" – and bring them back into the NFL as teachers/graders. Oh, and I would abolish all use of instant replay as an officiating tool, because I believe that's the single-most significant development that has made on-field officials tentative. If an official cannot be decisive and do the job without deferring to an eye in the sky, that individual would be fired and replaced.
MATTHIAS ELFGEN FROM TORONTO, OTTAWA, CANADA: I understand that competing and winning is the Steelers' business and I appreciate that as well. At what point in a season like this would the organization say, "All right, guys, let's reset, rebuild, and prepare for next season."
ANSWER: Would never happen. Not at any point in a regular season. The resetting, rebuilding, and preparing for the next season would begin during the offseason.
MEMET SRATT FROM NEW YORK, NY: What can be realistically done to improve officiating in NFL games? The stark contrast between the uncalled hits on Kenny Pickett and roughing the passer penalty on the sack of Tom Brady is shocking. We know more instant replay has not worked in the past.
ANSWER: At the top of this edition of Asked and Answered, I outlined my pie-in-the-sky plan that admittedly has no chance of being considered let alone implemented, but here's another thing I would like to see changed that I believe could help. The NFL must stop being reactionary, and let's use the current disparity/confusion about roughing the passer to illustrate the point. Some weeks ago, there was a breakdown in the functioning of the game day protocol to deal with a concussion sustained by Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and he was permitted to return to the game for the second half against Buffalo. The next week, Tagovailoa took another hit to the head that resulted in him being taken from the field on a stretcher, and the backlash was swift and fierce. So, because it was such a bad look for the league, the pendulum has swung back too far the other way. There now have been reports that the league has made protecting the quarterback a "point of emphasis," and the on-field officials have reacted as expected. Statistics show there hasn't been a significant increase in the number of roughing calls in 2022 compared to a similar time frame in 2021, but what is being flagged this season has gone beyond ridiculous. There was a screw-up somewhere in Miami when Tagovailoa was allowed to return to the game, but a guy who was part of the failed process was fired. That should be the end of it, and there should be a return to the existing policy. But the overreaction to that is what has led to the absurdities we saw in the Tampa Bay-Atlanta game and the Kansas City-Las Vegas game. But that's how the NFL historically has responded to these kinds of things, and so this is now where we are.
DAN MALLOY FROM PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL: Last Sunday in the game against the Bills, George Pickens made another sideline grab that makes him worthy of being the high draft pick that he was. It was later in the game, Pickens got one foot in and then a hand down inbounds before going out of bounds. Is this not a catch by NFL standards? If so, why was there no challenge?
ANSWER: It was not a legal catch, and all those criticizing Coach Mike Tomlin for not challenging the play, including CBS analyst Tony Romo, are wrong. In fact, after Romo was calling for a challenge and wondering why Tomlin didn't throw the red flag, he then backed off and said he "thought" getting a hand down counted. George Pickens got one foot down inbounds and had he gotten any other body part, except his hand, down inbounds before he was out of bounds it would have been a legal catch. But a hand doesn't qualify as a body part that counts toward a legal catch because when a runner or receiver puts his hand to the ground in the field of play, he is not considered down by contact if no other part of his body touches the ground. So, it wasn't a catch, the officials got it correct, and a challenge would've been denied.
ADAM GRAU FROM FREDERICK, MD: Is there any chance that Kenny Pickett could be re-replaced by Mitch Trubisky?
ANSWER: Barring injury, slim to none.
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM CDMX, MÉXICO: Is this a rebuilding year for the Steelers?
ANSWER: In my opinion, it is.
DOUGLAS KELLAR FROM WARREN, PA: Is it just me or has Chase Claypool taken a dramatic step back in production this season? Granted I saw three or four passes thrown his way in Buffalo, but still I honestly thought he'd be a Pro Bowl receiver by now.
ANSWER: Chase Claypool's statistics through the first five games he played in each of his three NFL seasons certainly support your observation. As a rookie in 2020, through five games Claypool was targeted 24 times and had 17 catches for 335 yards (19.7 average) and four touchdowns; in his first five games played of 2021 he was targeted 42 times and had 22 catches for 358 yards (16.3 average) and 1 touchdown, and so far this season he has been targeted 29 times with 16 catches for 129 yards (8.1 average) and no touchdowns. With each season, Claypool's down-the-field production has decreased, and his 8.1 average per catch is fifth on the team among players with more than one reception, behind George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, and Diontae Johnson.
ANDRE ARTIS FROM SOUTH CHESTERFIELD, VA: Whenever the team struggles, inevitably fans start the Bill Cowher vs. Mike Tomlin comparison. Having watched Cowher's tenure, I can't help but think if Cowher's era had taken place in today's hyper social media environment, fans would be looking to fire him every week during some years. How different is the Monday morning quarterback situation now than it was when Cowher coached, and how have the Steelers adjusted?
ANSWER: I don't know that there's necessarily a lot more scrutiny of the Steelers now than there was during Bill Cowher's tenure as head coach, but what it much different is that nowadays anyone with opposable thumbs can jump on social media and become a critic/analyst whose opinions get heard. There's not a whole lot that can be done about that, nor is there a proven way to adjust to the explosion of social media. But because today's players and coaches have grown up in the social media age, it's likely they're at least somewhat used to it.
DWAYNE RUTLEDGE FROM NORTH CHARLESTON, SC: Is Todd Haley out of football? If so, would the Steelers think about rehiring him?
ANSWER: Todd Haley currently is the head coach and general manager of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL. I cannot recall the Steelers ever rehiring an assistant coach they previously fired.
MARLIN COBB FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: We keep asking why don't we throw deep? Does Kenny Pickett have the arm to go deep with any kind of accuracy?
ANSWER: Kenny Pickett doesn't have Ben Roethlisberger's arm strength (few quarterbacks in the league do), but he has enough to get the ball deep down the field on go-patterns. He showed that regularly over the summer, and his accuracy down the field was NFL-caliber, too.
CHRIS BALMER FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: I think we should hire Jerome Bettis as the running backs coach, Ben Roethlisberger as the quarterbacks coach, Dermontti Dawson as the offensive line coach, Hines Ward as the wide receivers coach, Aaron Smith as the defensive line coach, James Farrior as the linebackers coach, Rod Woodson as the secondary coach, and Antwan Randle El as the special teams coach. Why, on this green earth, do people seriously believe ex-players should coach? Aren't things bad enough without having a family reunion?
ANSWER: What amuses me is that so many fans believe ex-players want to coach.
RANDY GRIFFITH FROM JACKSONVILLE, NC: I just wanna say that as an active-duty U.S. Marine, I heard about the Steelers losing to the New England Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game over the radio behind a 50-caliber machine gun. It was at 2 a.m. on post in Fallujah, Iraq. I had my Terrible Towel in my bag next to me. I brought the black-and-gold across the world. Still can't wait for Sundays still to this day, and I still love Asked and Answered.
ANSWER: Thank you for your service.