Let's get to it:
DANA FISHER FROM ROCKPORT, ME: Before the season started, there was a lot of negativity thrown at Devin Bush. I don't hear those people saying too much these days, but I'm not hearing much about him at all. I've been extremely impressed with his play this year so far.
ANSWER: I believe Devin Bush has been playing well this season, but I would add that the Steelers need more dynamic play from a guy they traded up to the 10th overall spot in the first round to select. Maybe Bush is working toward providing more splash plays, which he did as a rookie in the form of two interceptions, four fumble recoveries, a sack, and a defensive touchdown, but so far this season he has been playing his best football since that rookie year in 2019.
JOE DUDAS FROM BLACKLICK, OH: After spending 4 or 5 years in the Steelers organization as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger, why do you think that Mason Rudolph never was given a chance this year as the starting quarterback?
ANSWER: Just because Mason Rudolph didn't start any preseason games doesn't necessarily mean he "never was given a chance" to win the starting job, because there is a lot that goes on in such an evaluation that is not visible to the public. Whether it was fair or not, I believe the overall evaluation of Rudolph included the things he did during those years he spent on the team while Ben Roethlisberger was the starter. And at this stage, with the team having signed Mitch Trubisky early in the free agency period last March and then having spent a first-round pick on Kenny Pickett, and now with Coach Mike Tomlin going with Pickett as the starter this Sunday in Buffalo with Trubisky as the backup it would seem that Rudolph is injury insurance as the No. 3 quarterback.
CHAD CREAMER FROM ORMOND BEACH, FL: It seems to me that the Steelers offensive line is attempting to break the record for the most ineligible man downfield penalties. Is this a case of read-option plays that they are reading wrong, play design, or do they simply have no idea what the play is and are just looking for someone to hit? It's infuriating.
ANSWER: The issue with the ineligible man downfield penalties can be traced to RPOs, which are run-pass option plays. Those plays typically provide the quarterback with the option of either handing the ball to a running back or pulling it out and throwing a pass depending upon how the defense reacts at the snap of the ball. But what baffles me are the illegal man downfield penalties on shovel passes, because those are quick plays where the ball is out of the quarterback's hand almost instantly, so how could an offensive lineman be 5 yards downfield that quickly? I would lean toward over-officiousness on the part of the zebras on those plays.
JIM FIELDS FROM VIRGINIA BEACH, VA: Over his career I can't think of one assistant that Coach Mike Tomlin has developed who has risen in the coaching community. I'm 77 years old, and I can't remember when the last time an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator went on to greener pasture.
ANSWER: What you're referencing is what now is called a "coaching tree," and that's a bunch of garbage in my opinion. If that really mattered, Bill Belichick wouldn't deserve to be as highly regarded as he is, because his former assistants who went on to head coaching jobs in other places were Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniel, Matt Patricia --- catch my drift? All of them were failures and were fired. Who did Chuck Noll ever develop? And don't say Tony Dungy, because when he left the Steelers after the 1988 season, he accepted a demotion to join the Kansas City Chiefs' staff. Vince Lombardi's right-hand man for years was Bill Austin, and after Lombardi convinced Art Rooney Sr. to hire him as a head coach, Austin went 11-28-3 over three seasons and was fired. A head coach's job isn't to develop assistant coaches for other teams. His job is to win games and compete for and win championships. And those things don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.
CRAIG SNODGRASS FROM MOORESTOWN, NJ: My question is about the offensive coordinators during Mike Tomlin's tenure with the Steelers. Could you list each offensive coordinator and his average points per game?
ANSWER: The Steelers averaged 22.6 points per game during Bruce Arians' five seasons as offensive coordinator; they averaged 24.7 points per game during Todd Haley's six seasons as offensive coordinator; and they averaged 23.6 points per game during Randy Fichtner's three seasons as offensive coordinator.
RUSSELL INGRAM FROM BEAVERCREEK, OH: I have a question in regard to the seeking of the "spark" by changing quarterbacks like Coach Mike Tomlin did at halftime of the Jets game. I know you're not big on speculation, but how much seeking do you think there will be in this area before the light shines on Mason Rudolph again?
ANSWER: My sense of the quarterback situation is that at the same news conference when Coach Mike Tomlin named Kenny Pickett the starter for the game against the Bills on Sunday, he also said Mitch Trubisky would serve as the backup. I may have mis-read the situation, but in my opinion nobody but Pickett will start at quarterback for the Steelers in 2022 barring injury.
CARMEN CHERICO FROM KISSIMMEE, FL: Since the Steelers are 24th in the league in stopping the run after being 32nd in 2021, do you think they should have drafted a big-bodied run-stopping lineman rather than a quarterback in the first round of the 2022 Draft?
ANSWER: With Ben Roethlisberger already having announced his retirement, the Steelers had a chance to pick the guy they believed was the top quarterback prospect in that draft when they selected Kenny Pickett, and there wasn't a defensive lineman left at the 20th overall spot who was worthy of that high of a selection. The Steelers have to be better at stopping the run, and I believe they have the personnel capable of achieving that, but teams that utilize the draft correctly rarely, if ever, draft for need. Pick the best player.
GREG PORTER FROM WHEELING, WV: What happened to Mike Vrabel that the Steelers let him go? He obviously had a great football mind and went on to a very good coaching career.
ANSWER: Mike Vrabel signed with New England as an unrestricted free agent, because neither Coach Bill Cowher nor defensive coordinator Jim Haslett could figure out a position for him, nor a way to use him within the defensive scheme. Vrabel left the Steelers for what he believed to be greener pastures in New England for the 2001 season, and his decision turned out to be the correct one for him. And to be clear, the Steelers made the decision based on their evaluation of him as a player; it had nothing to do with his future potential as a coach.
MATTHEW BARISH FROM LAKE HAVASU CITY, AZ: For years it was always difficult to kick field goals at Acrisure Stadium. Anything over 40 yards was a gamble, and it took a long time before someone made a 50-yarder. With Chris Boswell looking great on the 59-yard field goal that may have been successful from 65 yards, I am wondering if something changed about the field conditions, or have the kickers just learned to make the necessary adjustments?
ANSWER: I will start with this: I believe Chris Boswell is on the way to becoming the best placekicker in franchise history. Beyond that, another factor is that when seats were added in the South End of the stadium – that's the end with the bigger jumbotron – that construction served to cut down on the win that would blow in off the river. The original layout of the stadium was something of a horseshoe, and after those seats were added it became more of a bowl. That has contributed to the lessening of the impact of the wind on balls kicked, especially in that direction.
SCOTT ROGERS FROM CENTERVILLE, OH: It seems like Minkah Fitzpatrick has been playing "centerfield," so-to-speak, this year. Granted, he's a great safety no matter how he's used, but last year he seemed to be more in the box making a bunch of tackles. We've seen this year he already has more interceptions than he did all of last year. Has there been a philosophical change in how he's being specifically used?
ANSWER: Using Minkah Fitzpatrick as a box safety having to make 100-plus tackles on running backs who broke into the secondary was necessary, but it was a waste of a dynamic playmaker. The Steelers defense has to be able to deal with the opponent's running game with its front seven, because if it cannot then it loses a lot of its ability to design pressure/coverage packages that can result in takeaways. Using Fitzpatrick to make 100-plus tackles against the run would be as foolish as depending on Chris Boswell to make a bunch of tackles on kickoffs. There are other players on the field who should be doing that job, and if they're not then they're the ones who should be replaced.
JOHN KNOX FROM NASHVILLE, TN: A lot of fans seem to assume Kenny Pickett is going to perform like the next Ben Roethlisberger during his rookie year. I try to tell people Ben's numbers weren't that great, and that he benefited from a great running game, a great offensive line, one great receiver, and a great defense. Could you shed some light on his stats, please?
ANSWER: During Ben Roethlisberger's 13 starts during the 2004 regular season (the numbers from the game vs. the Ravens when he relieved an injured Tommy Maddox in the second half are not included), he completed 184-of-275 (66.9 percent) for 2,445 yards, with 15 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and a rating of 99.4. Breaking down those numbers into a per-start basis, Roethlisberger attempted 21.2 passes per start and completed 14.2 for an average of 188.1 yards, with 1.2 touchdowns and .7 interceptions. Those per-start numbers show that during his rookie season, Roethlisberger was more efficient than proficient. Which is exactly what the 2004 team needed from its quarterback.