Let’s get to it:
MIKE MARIC FROM VERNON, BC, CANADA: I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw two quarterback sneaks against the Browns (and Todd Haley). However, with Ben Roethlisberger taking a big hit on the second one and almost losing a fumble, do you think the Steelers will avoid sneaks in the future or stick with it?
ANSWER: I don’t know what the Steelers will do, but I know what I’d do, and that would be to make use of quarterback sneaks very, very sparingly if the quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger. In a 2015 game in Seattle, Roethlisberger sustained a concussion while running a quarterback sneak; in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago, Vontaze Burfict launched himself helmet first at Roethlisberger and missed an intended headshot by inches; and then you already have chronicled what happened against the Browns a few days ago. Some may be willing to risk a franchise quarterback by calling quarterback sneaks, but I am not one of those people.
WILLIAM DOWDELL FROM COCOA BEACH, FL: I saw that Dan McCullers played several snaps on defense against the Browns. I tried to watch him as much as the broadcast would allow, and it looked to me like he was getting a big push much of the time Is his stock rising?
ANSWER: Against the Browns, Dan McCullers played nine snaps on defense, and he was credited with one tackle. Here is what Coach Mike Tomlin said recently about McCullers’ increased playing time: “He has found a way to utilize his skill-sets in more than one area. When we drafted him, he was primarily a nose tackle who was a run player only. A phone booth player, if you will. He has found a way to make himself more useful in the passing game. He has added a little flexibility to his game in terms of the amount of space he can play in, in terms of improving his level of conditioning. And he has been an impact player in the special teams game because of his kick-blocking abilities. He has done a lot of things to add to his usefulness that has changed his position within the group.”
JIM WOLFE FROM ARLINGTON, TN: Adam Vinatieri passed Morten Andersen last weekend to become the all-time NFL points leader. I would think that a quarterback would hold the record for most points?
ANSWER: No, because when a quarterback throws a touchdown pass, the guy who gets credit for scoring the points is the player who caught the pass. Quarterbacks get no credit for points scored when they throw touchdown passes.
JACK KINCAID FROM CANTON, OH: Watching games over the years we often hear commentators say that a team has a script for the opening plays of a game. Do the Steelers script their opening drives, and how exactly does that work?
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers do script plays for the start of a game. As for the purpose of a script, he said, “It controls the flow and the start of the game, and it gathers information about your opponent in terms of some things they may plan to do against you as you roll through different personnel groupings and structures. If gives you a sense of the matchups within the game. If you’re employing different personnel groups, who are they putting on who and things of that nature. It controls the flow of what it is you’re doing, it provides some thoughtful variety, but it also gathers information relative to your opponent.”
And as for how many plays make up a script, Tomlin said, “It depends. It could be eight, it could be 10, it could be 12, it could be 15. It depends on the buy-in. I’ve seen it be as few as eight, I’ve seen it as high as 15. I’ve seen units script the start of the first half and the start of the second half. I’ve seen units only script the first half, only script the second half. I think that element of it is what’s always moving because that’s part of the strategy of football.”
DAVID BRAY FROM WESTBROOK, TX: Why was James Washington inactive last week, and why hasn’t he received more targets?
ANSWER: James Washington was inactive because he hasn’t made himself very useful during the games in which he has been active and saw playing time. There is no agenda when these moves are made other than to have the 46 guys in uniform who have been determined to be the ones who give the team the best chance to win that particular game. And just being honest, but James Washington hasn’t done much to deserve more targets, because he hasn’t made plays when he has been targeted. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that Washington is a bust, or that the Steelers no longer believe he has a bright future in this league. It’s just that right now there are other players doing more with the playing time they’ve been getting, and so they’re going to continue to get playing time. Washington needs to keep working on his craft, because circumstances are such over the course of an NFL season that he’ll inevitably get another chance. That’s when he needs to be ready to take advantage, and then he won’t be inactive anymore and he’ll get more targets.