Let's get to it:
JOE HUBER FROM LEESBURG, FL: In the Cleveland game, the kickoff coverage team looked outstanding. Starting with Chris Boswell's directional kicks to the goal line, many times the Browns were starting inside their 20-yard line. Would you agree that this unit is grading above the bar?
ANSWER: It is. Let's begin with some statistics, starting with the Cleveland game since you brought that up. Chris Boswell kicked off seven times, with five of those into the end zone and two touchbacks. On the five kickoffs into the end zone, the Browns returned all of them, and the starting spots for their offense were at the 21, 25, 24, 18, and 16-yard lines. That's excellent coverage, because the goal in today's NFL is to keep the receiving team inside the 25-yard line because that's where the ball is placed on touchbacks. The Browns averaged 20.4 yards per return in the game, and opponents are averaging 18.8 yards per return for the season through five games. The Steelers currently rank ninth in the NFL in kickoff coverage. Credited with tackles in kickoff coverage vs. the Browns were Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith, James Pierre, Jordan Dangerfield, and Benny Snell. Players with multiple unassisted tackles on special teams so far are Robert Spillane, Ola Adeniyi, Highsmith, Derek Watt, Dangerfield, who leads the team with five, Marcus Allen, and Pierre.
DAVID POLLARD FROM WARRINGTON, UK: Thanks for providing the interesting background that led to Franco Harris being released prior to the 1984 season. Was it a similar set of circumstances that led to Mike Merriweather ending up with the Vikings after sitting out the whole 1988 season? And does Merriweather still hold the single season sack record for the Steelers set in 1984?
ANSWER: Mike Merriweather had two years left on the contract he had signed in 1985 when he didn't report to training camp in 1988 and his agent, Mike Blatt, said he wanted to renegotiate the existing deal so that his client could be paid on the level of other top outside linebackers in the NFL. Dan Rooney said the team would consider an extension to Merriweather's existing contract but there would be no renegotiation. Merriweather ended up holding out through the entire 1988 season before being traded to Minnesota for a first-round pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. The Steelers ended up giving Merriweather's right outside linebacker position to a young player from Fort Valley State named Greg Lloyd, who would be voted first-team All-Pro in three straight seasons while Merriweather never was voted first-team All-Pro. Finally, the 15 sacks Merriweather recorded in 1984 were a franchise record until 2008 when James Harrison posted 16 sacks on the way to winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
GUY MILLICK FROM NARRAGANSETT, RI: I haven't read or heard anything about it, but it appeared to me that the turf caused the injury to Devin Bush (his foot got caught in it causing his leg to twist awkwardly). There seem to be a lot of injuries of late caused by artificial turf. Where's the leagues "player safety" concern in that regard?
ANSWER: Heinz Field is natural grass.
JIM MILLER FROM BROKEN ARROW, OK: In Sunday's game against the Browns, T.J. Watt was called for offside and the play blown dead. Watt was pointing to the play-clock implying that it had run out. Did he have a case? If the play-clock runs out, is it then a dead ball? Would this play be reviewable?
ANSWER: Yes, the play-clock ran out, and Watt had timed his move to coincide with it hitting double-zeros. But in another example of the "quality" of NFL officiating, it has become a policy for the offense to be given an extra beat to get the ball snapped once the play-clock runs out. Is it reviewable? I would rather have the Steelers penalized 150 yards for offside than have delay of game penalties subject to review.
PHILLIP COLGROVE FROM CHELMSFORD, UK: With preparation for the Titans in full swing this week, I am curious how far forward our planning for games goes, both on the practice field and in the backrooms? Is it purely next team up due to the changing face of NFL teams (injuries, etc.), or is work being undertaken this week for the Ravens, Cowboys, Bengals, or even the Jaguars?
ANSWER: It really is a one-game-at-a-time situation in the NFL because of the way the schedule is laid out. If a team plays on Sunday, Monday is used to evaluate that performance; Tuesday is a day off mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement; and then there are three days to get ready for the upcoming game. There's really not enough time to be looking ahead, and coaches don't want to confuse things by trying to teach two different game plans at the same time. And as you mention, trying to get ahead could end up being wasted time if one of the opponent's key players, or one of your own key players, is unable to play in the game.
JAYSON TAPANG FROM POMONA, CA: How hard did the Steelers pursue Le'Veon Bell, if at all? I thought there would be a chance because of James Conner's injuries.
ANSWER: The Steelers had no interest in Le'Veon Bell. That ship has sailed.
KEN GLEASON FROM SPRINGBORO, OH: On Sunday against the Browns, the officials missed the call when JuJu Smith-Schuster was interfered with at the end of the first half. Then they call offensive pass interference on Eric Ebron early in the second half. Any explanations for this?
ANSWER: My Mom always preached to me that "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." So I'll go with this: NFL officials are inconsistent.
WADE AGES FROM DALLAS, TX: From what you've seen thus far this season, would you say Dustin Colquitt was an upgrade over Jordan Berry as the punter? Who would you say was the best punter in Steelers history?
ANSWER: I don't think Dustin Colquitt has been an upgrade over Jordan Berry, but there are two things I will say about the move: the punter's most important job is to serve as Chris Boswell's holder, and as I understand it there was some cap savings involved in the move from Berry to Colquitt. So if Boswell is OK with Colquitt, and if the cap savings helped the Steelers get Cam Heyward signed, I'm on board with the move. But me being on board doesn't guarantee that Colquitt gets to finish the season. The best punter in franchise history – from a statistical standpoint, at least – is Bobby Joe Green, who holds the all-time record for career punting average (45.7) and average for a season (47.0).
RENEE ISON FROM LOGAN, WV: What Steelers' quarterback has the best record so far?
ANSWER: Ben Roethlisberger has the most regular season wins with 162, and Terry Bradshaw has the most Super Bowl wins with four.
BRUCE BECKER FROM CLAREMONT, CA: With the unfortunate injury to Devin Bush, do you think signing Mychal Kendricks would be a good or likely move?
ANSWER: I wouldn't characterize it as likely for two reasons: Mychal Kendricks is due to be sentenced after pleading guilty to federal charges of insider trading, and he missed most of the 2018 season with a suspension resulting from the inside trading case plus a knee injury, and he tore his ACL near the very end of the 2019 season. (UPDATE: On Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 21, Kendrick's sentencing date was postponed again, this time to January 2021, and so he then signed with Seattle and was placed on the Seahawks' practice squad.)
MARY FARR FROM WILLIAMSPORT, PA: I believe last Sunday's game vs the Browns was Coach Tomlin's best coached game thus far in 2020. I know he doesn't like to take all the credit, but he's the one who's in complete charge. His team is getting better each week. What do you think?
ANSWER: I agree that the Steelers are continuing to work at their deficiencies each week while finding ways to win each week, which is what contending teams do during the early stages of the regular season. I also think Mike Tomlin is getting credit this time because the Steelers blew out the Browns. If the score had been 28-27, I'd be wading through another batch of whiny emails about a 5-0 team.
BRYAN BOBROWSKI FROM BLOOMSBURG, PA: I and my Steelers-crazed neighbor, I call him Yeti or sometimes Dragon, would like to know how much gum Danny Smith goes through during a game and what is his gum of choice? It always appears as though he has two packs of Juicy Fruit jammed in his mouth.
ANSWER: I really shouldn't be revealing this type of information, so let's just keep it among me, you, and Dragon: It's not Juicy Fruit, it's Double Bubble, and there's a big box in his office that never runs out. A big box. Sometimes at the end of the baseball season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will send him the Double Bubble they have left over, and that's an amount for an entire baseball team. How many pieces? I have no idea, but I can tell you that he never runs out during a game, even when he shares the stash he always has in one of his pockets.
RICHARD FENSTERBUSH FROM BELLEVILLE, PA: Would the Steelers ever think about acquiring Jorden Mailata from the Eagles to serve as a short-yardage running back? It took five-to-seven rugby players to bring him down. He is 6-foot-8 and 346 pounds of muscle. He ran a 4.9 in the 40-yard dash. He can catch a rugby ball with one hand.
ANSWER: So your brainstorm is making a trade for a short-yardage running back? That's the hill you want to die on? Seriously?