Let's get to it:
LUCAS HANSON FROM EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA:
There hasn't been much talk about our two outside cornerbacks through four games. Is it safe to say Joe Haden and Artie Burns are playing well? I suppose if they were getting burned we would be hearing about them.
ANSWER: In many ways, cornerbacks are similar to offensive tackles, in that when they're being noticed things aren't necessarily going well. To be fair, though, the offenses the Steelers have faced through the first four games of this season haven't presented the outside cornerbacks with the kind of challenges they can expect to face later in the process. Against the Browns, it was a rookie quarterback; against the Vikings, it was a backup quarterback; and against the Bears, it was an offense that showed little interest in throwing the football. But I also believe there can be no argument that the pairing of Joe Haden and Artie Burns as a second-year pro is much better than the duo of Ross Cockrell and Artie Burns as a rookie.
GREGORY BECK FROM BOCA RATON, FL:
Why is it that on many plays the wide receiver points to the sideline official before the snap? Is that just to make sure he's not offside?
ANSWER: Either to make sure he's not offside, or to make sure he's on the line of scrimmage. Not having enough guys on the line of scrimmage is a penalty as well – illegal formation.
BILL SPANEL FROM NEW PALESTINE, IN:
So Mike Hilton "gave himself up" on Sunday, but Peyton Manning didn't two years ago in Denver in that playoff game against the good guys. NFL officiating is so frustrating.
PAUL ZAFFARONI FROM BLUFFTON, SC:
I think the correct answer to Michael's question about when is a catch a catch in reference to Antonio Brown's play in the game against the Ravens is that when the player maintains possession of the ball after the tackle and downed. In this case, the replay showed Brown did not have complete possession when his knee touched.
ANSWER: The replay showed no such thing. That's your interpretation of what you think you saw on the replay, just as my interpretation of what I think I saw on the replay was that the receiver had possession of the ball when his knee hit the ground. There was no conclusive view of the play on the many angles shown, and therefore, since the call on the field was that the receiver was in possession of the ball and down by contact, then that's what the final ruling should have been, because, again, there was no conclusive evidence to overturn the original call. When these kinds of plays stop being adjudicated in real time, that's when interpretations and reading of the rules take over the discussion, and that's where the problems arise. In my opinion.
PATRICK VEEDOCK FROM ROSWELL, GA:
When the Steelers are on the road, do non-traveling players and coaches come to Heinz Field or the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex to watch the game as a group, or are they free to stay home or even skip the game altogether? I'm guessing a practice squad player would be "highly encouraged" if not required to watch the game each week.
ANSWER: First point: there is no such thing as a "non-traveling coach." All coaches employed by the team travel to all road games. The only players who don't travel – with the infrequent exceptions of players not permitted to travel because of medical reasons – are some guys on the practice squad, and it's not a hard-and-fast rule that practice squad players are not part of the traveling party. But whatever the situation might be, there are no organized game-watching sessions, and I would find it difficult to believe that someone so closely involved with a team's preparation for a game would not watch the game. I don't believe making it mandatory to watch the game ever would be necessary.
ED HOLLINGER FROM MINNEAPOLIS, MN
When a non-quarterback "gives himself up" like Mike Hilton did after his interception, is he afforded the same protections as a quarterback? In other words, if a player hits him after he starts his slide is that a penalty?
ANSWER: It should be.
TOM FOSTER FROM REISTERSTOWN, MD:
After reading the Steeler's W/L record and winning percentage when holding a lead at halftime, I'm curious what the numbers are when they are trailing at the half.
ANSWER: Me, too. When you finish that research project, let me know.
ROB LONGO FROM EAST STROUDSBURG, PA:
In the last Asked and Answered, in response to a question about "taking their foot off the gas," you made mention of the clock being the opponent, and Mike Tomlin's success going into the half with a lead. Late in the Ravens game, with about six minutes left, Steelers were faced with a third-and-3. Ben Roethlisberger sees man coverage vs. Martavis Bryant, takes a shot down the field, and overthrows him to force a punt that gave the ball back to the Ravens. Yes, it would have sealed the game, but referencing the importance of the clock, why not call a high percentage pass in that instance and maintain possession? Wouldn't that been more important for the Steelers to keep the ball away from the Ravens?
ANSWER: A minor correction first: There was 9:49 left on the clock at the time of the play you reference, and for the sake of perspective, the Steelers held a 19-9 lead at that time. Now onto this: you should understand that a play-call, especially a play-call at the professional level, does not dictate to the quarterback where he is to go with the football. Let's allow Mike Tomlin to explain it further:
"The quarterback makes the decision on where to go with the ball based on what coverages or call the defense is executing. Certain plays could have up to four or five reads in the progression. Certain plays, play-action plays for instance, could have as few as two reads in the progression. Each play is constructed differently. The bottom line is for each play, the quarterback has a routine in terms of how he reads that play out in terms of determining where the ball goes. There often are different triggers in terms of the defensive structure that dictates it. It could be two high safeties, middle of the field open, middle of the field closed. It could be a box count – seven-man box, eight-man box. Some of those generic football terms that you often hear, particularly from a television commentator's standpoint, are very critical in determining the progression and where the ball goes from a quarterback's perspective. It's both simple and complex, meaning that different plays have different progressions; there could be different numbers of progressions, but based on the rules per play, it's very black-and-white."
The point is that if you want to subscribe to the theory of "taking what the defense gives you," then sometimes what you'll be getting is a clean shot at going down the field with the football. Then it becomes a case of executing the play. There might have been nothing wrong with the called play, but if the execution isn't there it's not going to work.
GREGORY MOORE FROM WILMINGTON, DE:
I just read one of your answers on the Oct. 3rd edition of "Asked and Answered" where you floated the idea of the officials making a call to keep the game close. This has been a conspiracy theory of mine for a while now, ever since I discovered a setting in the Madden football game series. The setting is called "Catch-up mode" and if this setting is turned on, if the game starts being one-sided, the game will start giving the team with the lead more turnovers, dropped balls, and sometimes it even gives an injury to one of the players. Because of this, I started noticing a trend when an NFL game starts being a blowout, the penalties start heavily flowing towards the winning team. The only rationale I can think of for this is that the NFL is attempting to keep people from turning the channel to bowling, ice skating, or golf. It all comes down to advertisement revenue. Is this situational one-sided officiating an unspoken reality in the NFL?
ANSWER: Let me suggest this to you: when you're watching games on television, start noticing the things you started to notice in the video game version. After you've done that for a while, form an opinion, and I would be interested in hearing what conclusion you've reached.