Let's get to it:
JOE TADDEO FROM NEW RIVER, NC:
I know your opinion doesn't count as to which players are on the field, but I would like to hear that opinion on Artie Burns' performance so far. My opinion (which also doesn't mean much) is that he is showing signs of being very worthy of that first-round pick.
ANSWER: What I can tell you for sure is that Artie Burns leads the team in passes defensed after four games, which indicates he is capable of making plays on the ball. The Steelers need more of those kinds of defensive backs, in that opinion of mine that we both acknowledge doesn't really matter.
As for an opinion that does matter, here is the one Coach Mike Tomlin advanced during his news conference on Tuesday: "He is quickly continuing to make up a lot of the ground that he missed during the preseason due to injury. It's important that he continues to respect that time missed with the work and extra work that he is putting in. I think it's paying off for him."
ANTHONY PELLONI FROM PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA:
With big offensive leads like the one last week, does the defensive mentality ever shift any towards sitting a few of the veteran guys in favor of giving the rookies more experience? I know Artie Burns plays more now, but do the coaches ever consider sitting Will Gay when there's a huge lead so that others can get more game reps?
ANSWER: The first thing you must understand is that there are only 46 players in uniform for games, and about half of them would be offensive players. Then it comes down to this: when is the lead "huge" enough to start pulling guys, especially defensive players, off the field because it can take 15 seconds for the opposition to score a touchdown. The camp/preseason evaluation stage is over, and now it's all about winning games. Mike Tomlin isn't going to use regular season games to get young guys game reps, and neither do other coaches. At least not the ones who want to stay employed, because just imagine the outcry should a team blow a big lead and lose a game because it was interested in others getting some game reps. That said, the Steelers did get some of their starters on defense off the field in the latter stages of that 43-14 win over Kansas City.
GREG JONES FROM LLOYDMINSTER, CANADA
Can you speak to what the procedure is in deciding who is a starter on defense? Last Sunday night I think the only time I saw Javon Hargrave was when NBC showed him saying he went to South Carolina State.
ANSWER: To your specific point about Javon Hargrave: he played 26 of the 75 defensive snaps, so he was on the field quite a bit more than you indicate. The 11 players on defense – even to start a game – are determined largely in response to what the offense puts onto the field in terms of a personnel grouping. For example, if the opposing offense starts with multiple receivers, a nickel back or a dime back will be a starter instead of maybe an inside linebacker or a defensive lineman. That's just the way it goes sometimes.**
CHRIS KRAFT FROM DEMING, WA:
When might Ladarius Green be ready to return to practice, and then return to play with the team?
ANSWER: I have no idea, and I'm serious. Being on the PUP list, Ladarius Green has to miss the first six weeks of the season, and so he's got a couple of more weeks to go before that deadline passes where he even would be eligible to return.
KURT HIRSCH FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
What is a hard-count and how effective is it to draw the defense outside?
ANSWER: Basically, a hard-count has to do with the inflection in the quarterback's voice as he calls the signals at the line of scrimmage or from the shotgun. While defensive players – particularly defensive lineman – are taught to watch the ball, sometimes they can be induced to react to the sound of the quarterback's voice, particularly when that quarterback is capable of using inflection to create the impression that the ball is going to be snapped. In general terms, that's what is referred to as a hard count.
KENNETH HAGGERTY FROM REYNOLDSBURG, OH:
I understand a few players having a bad game, but against Philadelphia it seemed like the whole team or most of them were playing badly. Do you think maybe the coaches were not getting the players prepared for this game because it wasn't a division game?
ANSWER: That's absurd. Let me ask you a question: When you were in school, and you got a bad grade on a test, was it the teacher's fault? Or was it maybe because you weren't prepared for the test, or hadn't been paying attention in class, or maybe you just couldn't remember the material and regurgitate it when the test was placed in front of you? This isn't meant to absolve the coaching staff of its share of the blame for 34-3, because there is enough blame to go around when a team loses like that. But it's the NFL, professional football, and players are responsible for their own performances.
GARY WILSON FROM SHARON, PA:
How can the NFL fine guys like Antonio Brown for touchdown celebrations when in Green Bay the players jump into the stands? Isn't that excessive celebration?
ANSWER: Exactly, but the "Lambeau Leap" was grandfathered in when the NFL decided to start assessing penalties for excessive celebrations. And that's not the only area in which Green Bay is allowed to do something no other team in the league is permitted to do. When the Packers want/need to raise money for something, they can just issue more shares of garbage stock in the team that entitles the fan/purchasers to nothing except a piece of paper saying they're a "shareholder." No dividends, no financial return on the investment, nothing. Think a team with a fan following as rabid as the Steelers' could sell something similar so their fans could frame it and hang it on a wall in their man-caves or wherever they might watch games every weekend of an NFL season?**
ALEX TITTLE FROM BEAVERTOWN, PA:
From what I understand the Super Bowl will be held in Houston, Texas. If the Texans make it all the way to the Super Bowl, would they get to play on their home turf or would another stadium be chosen for the outing?
ANSWER: If the Texans advance to Super Bowl LI, they would get to play on their home turf in their home stadium. That's potentially the same situation when a Super Bowl is awarded to New Orleans, or Miami, or Indianapolis, or Detroit (stop laughing), or wherever. It never has happened yet, though, that a team got to play a Super Bowl at home.
NATHAN BOHLIG FROM CENTRALIA, WA:
There seems to be a consensus among Seahawks fans I know that Antonio Brown is only open so much due to constantly pushing off. To cite an example of a play they might bring up, the comeback route to the sideline against Kansas City. What exactly by rule is required for offensive pass interference, and in your opinion, does Brown get away with more contact?
ANSWER: Michael Irvin is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of his unique ability to "create" separation from the defender at the moment of truth without being flagged for offensive pass interference. It's a tactic all great receivers have in their repertoire, and let your Seahawks friends know that if the officials called all of the "handsy" stuff that goes on in the Seahawks secondary, Richard Sherman would be just a guy instead of an All-Pro cornerback.