Let's get to it:
MIKE DARROW FROM MANHATTAN BEACH, CA: I'm worried about our depth in the middle of the offensive line. With Ramon Foster's retirement and with David DeCastro having trouble staying on the field, do we have practice squad depth or the flexibility of moving players inside from tackle? With the development and speed at the skill positions, it seems like offensive line depth is very thin.
ANSWER: When the 2020 regular season began, the Steelers depth along the offensive line was as good as any team in the NFL. There were the five starters – Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Zach Banner. The backups were Chuks Okorafor as the swing tackle, with Stefen Wisniewski and Kevin Dotson as the primary interior backups. That's eight quality offensive linemen, and there were a few more developmental-type players on the practice squad. But then the Steelers lost two of their top seven offensive linemen – Banner (knee) and Wisniewski (pectoral) – and had to put both on the injured reserve list. The Steelers absorbed those losses and reinforced their depth by signing Jerald Hawkins off the Houston Texans practice squad. And yesterday they got some good news when Wisniewski returned to practice. That means the Steelers have 21 days from yesterday to activate him or leave him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Worrying about depth along the offensive line is something every teams' fans could do every year, simply because those players always are in demand.
JACK SNODGRESS FROM TAYLORSVILLE, NC: In your Asked and Answered column of Oct. 11, you mentioned in response to Mathew McKenna's question that not A SINGLE offensive holding penalty has been called on any of the Steelers opponents' offensive lines this year. Forgive my lack of discerning attention to the games, but have there been any holding penalties on the Steelers offensive line this year?
ANSWER: I didn't go through all four play-by-plays, but I know that there has been one holding call on Kevin Dotson and one on Chuks Okorafor. But I believe the fact the Steelers are averaging five sacks and 14 hits on the quarterback per game so far this season makes the no holding penalties seem unbelievable.
NIKI HALSEY FROM LEEDS, UK: A question on the interception at the end of the game on Sunday: Ultimately, it didn't matter, but we would have been better off if Steven Nelson had batted the ball away rather than caught it. Is that a case of a player instinctively making a catch whenever he has the opportunity, or was it a case that the best way of making sure the offense didn't catch it is to catch it yourself.
ANSWER: Being aware of situations is important in every NFL game, and you and the many others who brought up this point are correct in that it would have been more advantageous to field position if Steven Nelson had batted the ball away instead of intercepting it. Full disclosure though, that thought didn't come to me and I was in the press box at Heinz Field, nor was the issue raised by any of the other media members in my general area. The Steelers held a two-score (nine point) lead at the time, and I could understand Nelson's interest in taking possession of the ball based on how good the Eagles had been at converting on possession downs throughout the game. Based on how the game had gone to that point, and based on the Steelers holding a two-score lead with 2:18 left in the game, I am not going to criticize Nelson for intercepting that pass, because what if the ball bounces strangely and an Eagles player comes up with it to keep that drive alive. At that stage of the game, possession of the football was more important than field position, in my opinion.
ROBERT LONG FROM CLEARFIELD, PA: I'm not trying to be silly here: While there is talk regarding severe penalties assessed to teams violating COVID-19 protocols, is there any thought being given to rewarding teams that complete the entire season violation free?
ANSWER: And I'm not trying to be a jerk, but why is a reward necessary for doing the right thing, for following protocols designed to maximize the chances of keeping people safe from a deadly virus and thus keeping an entire industry humming, which means a lot of people (and not just players and coaches, but regular people with regular jobs earning regular paychecks they need to support their families) get to keep working so they can pay their mortgages and feed their families? Doing the right thing and being a proper and thoughtful citizen of the world should be its own reward.
DAVE TARNEY FROM DURHAM, NC: I have been a reader of yours for some time, and I think the Oct. 13 installment of Asked and Answered may be the best you have ever written.
ANSWER: Thanks for the kind words, and I hope you liked today's a little bit more. That's always my goal.
BRANDON CROWE FROM COLUMBUS, OH: Is there a status update on David DeCastro, who was injured in the game against the Eagles?
ANSWER: Here is the applicable part of Coach Mike Tomlin's injury update that he delivered at the start of his news conference today: "We had a couple of guys who sustained injuries in-game, and their availability for this week will be determined by the quality of their practice and their practice availability specifically. Those guys are David DeCastro with an abdominal strain, Maurkice Pouncey has a foot injury of some kind that is probably going to limit his practice availability at the beginning of the week, but I don't know that it's going to jeopardize his availability for the game." Tomorrow, the Steelers will have to file a status report on all of their injured players, which will tell us a lot more about whether David DeCastro has a chance to play against the Browns.
TOM NAYPAUER FROM CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OH: If a team claims a player from another team's practice squad, does the original team have a chance to elevate him to their roster to effectively block the claim? As an example, if Joshua Dobbs is claimed by a team like Dallas, could the Steelers add him to their roster to keep Dobbs?
ANSWER: The original team has the ability to elevate that player to its active roster, but there is not a prescribed period of time allotted for that to happen. Most often, something like that will happen if/when the player's agent tips off the team that another team is interested in signing his client off the practice squad.
DOUG COOPER FROM DUNCANNON, PA: I am thrilled that the Steelers are undefeated. There are exciting players on the team. However, they have played four "tomato cans" where the outcome of the game was in doubt until the very end. It seems to me that this team does not play up to its potential, which is concerning when they start playing teams with a winning record. Do you think this is the case, or is this just me and the flag football nature of today's game? It would be nice to see a lopsided win once in a while.
ANSWER: This really makes me weary. There are complaints that the Steelers lose to teams they "should beat." When they beat the teams they "should beat," there are complaints that they didn't win by enough. To refresh your memory, two of the four wins have been by two scores, which means those games weren't "in doubt until the very end," because in doubt until the very end means the outcome of the final snap of the ball could be the difference between winning and losing. The Steelers have won every game so far, and you claim "the team does not play up to its potential." What exactly does an undefeated team have to do to reach its potential? And who determines that? Also, the NFL isn't really interested in lopsided wins; the league prefers the games to be close.
MICHAEL VELLUCCI FROM ATCO, NJ: Can you please explain when an offensive lineman is declared ineligible downfield, and is it somewhat of a judgement call?
ANSWER: According to NFL rules, it is an ineligible man downfield penalty if an offensive linemen is more than 1 yard downfield before the ball is thrown, but you are correct in that there is judgment applied because penalties often are not called unless the lineman is more than 3-to-5 yards downfield.
GREG CULLIFER FROM SANFORD, NC: After watching the Steelers-Eagles game, I'm in favor of a team being able to throw a challenge flag on an offensive/defensive pass interference call twice per game per team. To give the officials a fighting chance of getting the call correct. What are your thoughts on that?
ANSWER: How many more years do you have to watch before you come to the realization that INSTANT REPLAY DOESN'T WORK as an officiating tool. If the officials need "a fighting chance" of getting the call correct, hire better officials.
BILL JANUS FROM HAINESPORT, NJ: With the way the officials are not calling holding penalties, it seems to me that this has to be coming down from the league. Do you agree?
MATHEW McKENNA FROM BROOK PARK, OH: Just out of curiosity, how many questions did you receive about the Steelers trying to trade for Le'Veon Bell as soon as the "news" broke that the Jets were looking to trade him?
ANSWER: None. The IT Department has attached a filter on the Asked and Answered email that blocks all ridiculous and/or inane questions about trades that don't involve Sam Darnold or Dwayne Haskins.
RON HALL FROM ERIE, PA: Let me begin by stating I am NOT endorsing re-signing him, but what, in your opinion, do you think would be a reasonable salary offer from any team for Le'Veon Bell, now that the Jets have released him?
ANSWER: According to reports, Le'Veon Bell is owed $6 million for the rest of this season by the Jets as part of the contract he signed with them as an unrestricted free agent, and that money is guaranteed. Based on that, I would offer him no more than the NFL minimum for a player with his level of experience.
DANIEL CARRENO FROM HARRISBURG, PA: I was re-watching Marshawn Lynch's "beast mode" run when I started to wonder if he was still playing for the Seahawks because he played there during the 2019 NFC Playoffs. I was thinking, even though he had a minimal impact on the Seahawks last year, could the Steelers sign him? I think it is a possibility that we sign him and release all of our trash running backs. Marshawn Lynch will carry our team to 16-0 and a Super Bowl victory if we sign him.
ANSWER: The "beast mode run" happened on Jan. 8, 2011, which is more than nine years ago. Marshawn Lynch is 34 years old and has 2,740 NFL touches on his body, and last season he had 12 carries for 34 yards (2.8 average) and one touchdown. Please remember to look both ways before you cross the street.
JOE PEAKE FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Why do you never answer my questions?
ANSWER: Don't you feel foolish now? Here is your moment in the spotlight, and that was the best question you could come up with?