Let's get to it:
DAVE SCHOFIELD FROM HAGERSTOWN, MD:
Do the Steelers make accommodations during the week of practice when they are playing an indoor game on turf vs. when they play outdoors on grass?
ANSWER: Generally speaking, Mike Tomlin's preference is for his team to practice as often as possible on grass. Certainly there are times when weather conditions intervene, but the belief is that grass is easier on the players' legs, their joints, over the course of a full season. There could be an indoor session included during the week of preparation for a game that's to be played indoors, but typically the primary consideration is the players' legs.
MICHAEL WOLOZYN FROM OIL CITY, PA:
Help me understand what the depth chart attempts to portray. JuJu Smith-Shuster is listed as third behind Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers on one end of the line. Martavis Bryant is listed as first on the other side. Yet I believe that I often see Smith-Shuster on the field at the same time as Brown, with Bryant on the sidelines. Why would that be the case? I realize that substitutions are intended to keep players as fresh as possible, but I just don't understand the chart's value given the above. I'm really interested in understanding the chart's intent.
ANSWER: Teams are mandated by the league office to publish depth charts starting with the first week of the preseason all the way through the end of their seasons, whether that includes the playoffs or not. The thing about depth charts is that they do not reflect the way teams deploy their personnel anymore. For example, very rarely are the Steelers aligned in a way that the offensive depth chart reflects – five offensive linemen, a quarterback, two wide receivers, one tight end, a running back, and a fullback. More often, the personnel grouping includes multiple tight ends, or multiple wide receivers; then there also are plays that the coaches believe are better with two particular wide receivers, who may not reflect the order that's listed on the depth chart.
The same thing goes for defense, with different alignments for the nickel, for the dime, and which players might be on the field based on a response to certain offensive personnel groupings by the opponent. Football, especially at the NFL level, is not as clean and as regimented as a depth chart can portray it to be.
JOE OLSZEWSKI FROM FT MITCHELL, KY:
I've been watching football for a long time. I've always wondered when a quarterback clocks the ball why isn't it intentional grounding?
ANSWER: It's allowed by rule to help offenses manage the clock.
ALEX BIELAWA FROM EAST HAMPTON, CT:
I attended the Steelers-Bengals game with my brother, which was amazing. I noticed a few empty seats in the stadium but also read it was 100 percent filled. How is stadium attendance recorded, by tickets sold or tickets scanned when entering the stadium?
ANSWER: At Heinz Field, the announced attendance is based on the turnstile count. I cannot speak for other stadiums across the NFL.
MARK RIDGE FROM CLARION, PA:
What does the NFL do with the money it collects in fines from players?
ANSWER: According to an NFL spokesman, "Fines for on-field violations are donated through the NFL Foundation to assist former players in need via the NFL Player Care Foundation and the NFLPA's Player Assistance Trust."
DAVE PUSHKAR FROM QUEENSTOWN, MD:
Does the head coach have the ability to fine his players for misconduct?
ANSWER: Depending upon your definition of misconduct, but, yes, and it happens more often than most fans might tend to believe.
MIKE SCOTT FROM SARASOTA, FL:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the Steelers would be playing more man coverage after last year's embarrassing loss to the Patriots? Wouldn't it make sense to play more man coverage in preparation of having to play them later on in the season and possibly in the playoffs?
ANSWER: What the Steelers did in response to last year's loss in the AFC Championship Game was upgrade their pass defense. They strengthened their depth along the defensive line (signing Tyson Alualu), and now they have the ability to generate a pass rush up the middle with their defensive linemen. Their edge rushers are better following the addition of T.J. Watt and the continued development of Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo. And the defensive backfield is considerably better and deeper with the additions of Joe Haden, J.J. Wilcox, and Mike Hilton, plus an additional year of experience for Artie Burns and Sean Davis. The Steelers might have the fastest defense in the NFL, and it's also an athletic group, even down to the defensive linemen.
A very, very wise NFL personnel man always would tell me, "It's not about the Xs and Os, it's about the Jimmys and the Joes." In other words, players are more important than scheme. This shouldn't be taken to mean the Steelers won't play man-to-man, but I'll always believe in personnel over scheme.
PETE FERRARI FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
Do you think Cleveland would take another wide receiver? If it's true that Bryant wants out, he should be exiled to Cleveland.
ANSWER: Both Steelers President Art Rooney II and Coach Mike Tomlin have said the Steelers have no interest in trading Martavis Bryant. I believe them, and I suggest Steelers fans do as well.
BEN MURPHY FROM CORK, IRELAND:
I know Le'Veon Bell is probably the best running back in the league, but would you like to see James Conner or Terrell Watson get more goal line carries seeing as they are more physically punishing runners.
ANSWER: I would like the Steelers to score more touchdowns in goal-to-go situations, and toward that end I'm open to just about anything facilitating that. I don't know that I agree with your assessment that there are backs on the Steelers roster who are more physical than Le'Veon Bell.
WILLIE MCCLINTOCK FROM GREENSBURG, PA:
I think Roosevelt Nix is a great blocking back. Why do they always take him out in short-yardage situations?
ANSWER: I have wondered that myself.
PETER TOMPKINS FROM EAST NASSAU, NY:
Le'Veon Bell is great, but why not give James Conner a few more carries, especially when they can provide change-of-pace running that makes them both better and conserve Bell's health.
ANSWER: The utilization of this tactic is going to be up to James Conner and/or Terrell Watson, and they can make a case for themselves by how they perform when given whatever opportunities they get initially. And it goes beyond their running. Ball security is paramount, and is knowing their assignments on plays in which they're not carrying the ball. I would guess that after the bye we could be seeing more of a distribution of labor in the backfield, again, as long as Conner and/or Watson don't put the ball on the ground or get the quarterback killed.
M.J. AL-KIREM FROM LONDON, ON, CANADA:
With Marcus Gilbert out vs. the Bengals, how come Jerald Hawkins was inactive? Who would've played if either Chris Hubbard or Alejandro Villanueva was injured during the game?
ANSWER: It's pretty clear to me that the Steelers don't believe Jerald Hawkins is ready to play, and I would guess he is considered something of a last resort. Last Sunday, it would have been Matt Feiler as the next man up in the event of an injury to one of the starting tackles.
JONATHAN MASON FROM RICHMOND, VA:
Do you know why the coaches' salaries aren't made public, but the players' salaries are?
ANSWER: The first reason is that there are fewer agents involved in negotiating coaches' contracts and less competition for those clients among the agents who do represent coaches. Agents usually are very anxious to get the contract numbers into the public consciousness, because they then use those numbers to recruit their next wave of clients. Also, because players' salaries are a part of a team's total salary cap, those contract figures have to be reported to the league, and when that happens there are more people who see them. And the more people who see them, the greater are the chances of them being leaked.
THOMAS RICKEY FROM JACKSON, MS:
I am a bit confused on why the officials killed two of the plays when the Bengals jumped the snap and were flagged for encroachment. Shouldn't that be a free play?
ANSWER: If in the judgment of the referee, the defensive player(s) jumping offside has a free run at the quarterback, he will blow the whistle and stop play, because it's a safety issue. The phrase used is "unabated to the quarterback."
PATRICK CHARLES FROM CROWLEY, TX:
When the quarterback is sacked, does that count as a pass attempt since the lost yards come off his passing yards total?
ANSWER: It does not count as a pass attempt, and the yardage lost does not come off the quarterback's total of passing yards. The yards lost on sacks come off the team's gross passing yardage, which is how the net yards passing total is computed.