Let's get to it:
DARE ADESOJI FROM BOSTON, MA:
Bob, would you rather have had the Steelers lose to the Rams and Ben stays healthy, or would you rather take the win, since wins are so hard to come by in the NFL?
There is something even more difficult to come by in the NFL than wins, and that's a franchise quarterback. I would rather have left St. Louis with the Steelers as a 1-2 team with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, because I believe where the Steelers would be today is a 2-2 team – same as they are anyway – but with a win over the Ravens, which is more significant in the tiebreakers. Last year at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger passed for 340 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions against the Ravens, and that Baltimore defense had Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, which this current edition does not.**
Based on what I was seeing from the Steelers offense, plus the consistent improvement of the defense, there isn't a game on the schedule between now and the Nov. 22 bye I would classify as unwinnable with Roethlisberger as the starting quarterback. Just for the record those games are: at San Diego, vs. Arizona, at Kansas City, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Oakland, and vs. Cleveland. Not that the Steelers were going to go 6-0 over that span, but it would not have been a surprise if they won any of those games, as it would have been a surprise if they had won in New England, as an example.
KEVIN FURMANEK FROM MORRIS PLAINS, N.J.:
Does situational football come into play at a coin flip, or is it predetermined that the Steelers will always take the ball first? With both offenses struggling, the game vs. the Ravens was likely to come down to a field goal, so why not rely on your defense, which was playing well, to make a stop, and then drive down and kick in the closed end of the stadium? For the record, I am a Mike Tomlin fan and I DO NOT think he should be fired, but I do question some of his calls vs. Ravens.
Let's start from the end of your question and move backward. There never has been a coach in the history of any sport who hasn't made some calls that fans have come to question once the outcome didn't turn out well for their favorite team. That's a part of the business of coaching, and it has gone on in Pittsburgh dating back to the time before Chuck Noll, and you can bet that Noll was being second-guessed even as his teams were winning Super Bowls.
Once upon a time there was a coach named Marty Mornhinweg whose Detroit Lions team was set to go into overtime against the Bears in Chicago, a place also known as The Windy City. The wind was so strong that day Mornhinweg told his captains that if the Lions won the toss they should elect to take the wind instead of the ball. The Lions won the toss and took the wind. The Bears took the kickoff and drove into position to kick a field goal into the wind, and the Lions lost. Mornhinweg got fired, not immediately after that game, but his decision was cited often – fair or not – in the cases made for his dismissal. That game was in 2002. In 2013, Bill Belichick did the same thing in a game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, but the Patriots won, 34-31, and so after the game he was hailed as a genius for the decision. In my opinion, the wind wasn't significant enough last Thursday night at Heinz Field to justify any decision other than taking the football to start overtime. Josh Scobee should be able to make a 41-yard field goal with the ball directly in the middle of the field in far more severe conditions than what he was facing in that game.**
MATT GUNTER FROM RAPID CITY, S.D.:
I'm wondering what happens to the $2-plus million cap hit the team took on when they signed Josh Scobee? Do we get a prorated amount back since he is no longer with the team? And what about the draft pick? Is that still given to Jacksonville since they already gave up Scobee? Thanks for a great column and the witty answers to some, at times, awful questions.
Wish I had something witty for you here, or at least something that might make you smile, but alas, I do not. The Steelers are on the hook for the sixth-round draft choice they sent to Jacksonville in the Josh Scobee trade. In fact, as soon as Scobee passed a physical with the Steelers, that trade became official and the terms locked in. As for the money, as a vested veteran Scobee is entitled to claiming "termination pay" once during his career, and that means this: since he is a vested veteran and was on a team's roster for the first game of the regular season, his full annual salary is guaranteed. If he gets cut, which he did, he can put in a claim for "termination pay," and receive the rest of his salary for this season. There are things that could happen to mitigate the Steelers' financial responsibilities to Scobee for the rest of 2015, but my prediction right now is that they're going to be on the hook for the whole amount.
MICK WATTS FROM NORTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM:
Two questions on kickers: Can they practice at Heinz Field, to understand wind conditions, etc.; and would the Steelers or any other NFL team consider a kicker from rugby or another similar sport?
Yes, Steelers kickers can, and have, worked at Heinz Field. As for the other part of your question, it is possible to consider a kicker from another sport, but it's not as similar a task as one might believe. NFL footballs are a particular size, shape, and weight, and the ones used for kicking plays in games are prepared a certain way. Kicks have to be executed in a certain way – snap, hold, kick – and within a certain time frame in order not to be blocked. What NFL coaches want to see more than anything else from a prospective kicker before he hires him is seeing him do what NFL kickers are required to do in NFL games with real NFL pressure. That's why so few rookies are given these jobs, and why I believe so few guys from other sports are given the opportunity.
DAVID MORGAN FROM LEWISTON, ME:
Let me start by saying that being a Steelers fan in the middle of Patriots country can be rough, as you can imagine. My question is , if Mike Vick struggles, do you think they will stick with what they have at quarterback, or do you think they will look for someone else to place on their roster?
Mike Vick and Landry Jones are the quarterbacks on the roster, and if the Steelers believed there was a better option available I believe they would have explored that by now. It takes time to learn an offense and become familiar with the personnel, and so bringing in someone off the street never is the answer at quarterback if the goal is to win games. The emergency option would seem to me to be Tyler Murphy, who currently is on the practice squad, but there would have to be injuries before he entered the mix at quarterback at this stage of the season.
GREG PARSONS FROM JACKSON, N.J.:
It seems like Mike Tomlin is very vague when discussing injuries, and a lot of times says that players have normal bumps and bruises, such as with Ryan Shazier. Shazier missed two games. Why doesn't Tomlin tell everyone up front that the injury will cause him to miss games?
There are NFL rules that govern the reporting of injuries, and by all indications Mike Tomlin is in compliance with those rules. Teams are required to submit practice reports on normally scheduled practice days, and those reports detail whether a player did not practice, was limited, or participated fully. Then at the end of the week, teams are required to submit a status report that details all players who have appeared on the week's practice reports and list each individual's status for the upcoming game – probable, questionable, doubtful, out. No other information is required by the NFL. It might make you as a fan feel better to have detailed information about a player's availability in advance of a game, or to know how many games a player might miss with an injury, but that information also can be valuable to opponents. And consider this: there can be times when an initial diagnosis changes, where a player said to miss four weeks might miss six, and if it was announced as a four-week injury then the player could be seen as a malingerer; or an initially announced four-week injury could be healed in two, and if it was announced as a four-week injury maybe the player lacks the confidence to play on it after two weeks. If you think Tomlin is vague, Bill Belichick has been known to list every player who ever appears on a practice report as questionable, which means there's a 50-50 chance he'll play in the game.
JASON MICHAELS FROM MILLS RIVER, N.C.:
Is there off the field drama going on with Brandon Boykin? He seemed to be an esteemed pickup by the team late in the offseason and there's an obvious reluctance to use him in these first few weeks. It's my opinion that the Steelers tend to "dig in" when players make comments about playing time and since Boykin did say something, is his level of commitment being "evaluated?" I agree with this if it is happening because I would give in to no player. The guys we are using seem to be progressing well, in my opinion.
Your last sentence sums up the whole situation. The guys who are playing are making things happen and are improving, and so they're going to continue to get opportunities. There is no drama going on with Brandon Boykin. He is not a trouble-maker or a locker room lawyer. It could be something as simple as Boykin hasn't picked up the defense as well as some other guys, and when those other guys got opportunities they took advantage. Don't bury Boykin. There's going to come a time this season when he gets an opportunity again, and then it will be up to him.
RONALD CONNELL FROM BAKERSFIELD, CA:
I think I'm cursed! A few years ago, my wife surprised me with tickets to the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game, and right after, Ben Roethlisberger got hurt and was out for that game. This time, we bought tickets for the Steelers-Chargers – bang – Ben gets hurt again. Should I just never go to see our Steelers in person ever again?
Maybe the answer lies in going to Steelers games but having someone else buy the tickets.