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Asked and Answered: Sept. 13

Let’s get to it:

JAMES BARR FROM ERIE, PA: Do you think James Conner was a little tired in the fourth quarter? It seemed a rather excessive workload with 31 carries and as far as I remember being in the game for almost all the snaps on offense. Do we not have any other backs to give him a break? Every NFL team utilizes other backs to change things up a little and give the main running back a rest from time to time. Who makes that call for the Steelers?
ANSWER: I don’t believe fatigue had anything to do with James Conner losing a fumble midway through the fourth quarter; what caused the fumble was a good hustle play by Myles Garrett.

“Every NFL team utilizes other backs” you say, but how many teams pull a guy with 135 yards rushing, two touchdowns, and a 4.4 average with the outcome of the game still hanging in the balance? I’m getting a bunch of these kinds of questions in the aftermath of the tie in Cleveland, but what kind of question would be submitted if a substitute running back was in the game for Conner in the fourth quarter to “give him a break” and had been the guy to lose the fumble. Here, let me help you: “How can they be so stupid to pull a guy who was doing so well and put in somebody cold off the bench in a game that was still in doubt and was being played in a steady rain?”

That said, I believe there are ways to incorporate more than one back into the action during a game, But I personally would be against any preconceived rotation system, or alternating quarters, or things of that nature. As with all such decisions, Mike Tomlin makes this call, unless the player asks for a rest, which Conner most assuredly did not.

DAVID EICHOLTZ FROM BEL ALTON, MD: Could the Steelers trade Le’Veon Bell, preferably to an NFC team, this year, get something good in return and shed his high salary?
ANSWER: As I’ve written many, many times already, you cannot trade a franchise tagged player until the player signs his franchise tender. And any team interested in trading for that player cannot negotiate a long-term contract with him until the end of this season when he would be on the precipice of unrestricted free agency. And so at this point, my guess would be that the Steelers would get less in return on a trade than they will end up getting as a compensatory draft pick for losing Bell in free agency.

LARS RASMUSSEN FROM COPENHAGEN, DENMARK: With a tie, does that not mean other tiebreakers will most likely be irrelevant? As an example, the New England game will not mean more or less than other games, since that direct head-to-head will not become a tiebreaker?
ANSWER: Tiebreakers only factor into the equation when two or more teams have the exact same record. And so unless there are more tie games this season, it’s likely the Steelers will find themselves immune to the positives or negatives of the NFL tiebreaker system.

GUSTAVO ZAPIAIN FROM GATINEAU, QC, CANADA: If the Steelers win all of their remaining games and finish the season 15-0-1 would it still be considered an undefeated season?
ANSWER: It would depend upon who or what entity is doing the considering. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of undefeated is “not having suffered a defeat.” But the way the NFL standings will read if a team is 15-0-1 with respect to winning percentage would be .969. Let’s hope that’s something we have to argue about come January.

KEN BROWN FROM WALKERTOWN, NC: Mike Tomlin’s player-friendly style appears to have resulted in a lack of discipline and led to many senseless penalties in Cleveland. I know the players have to execute, but it looked to me as if they weren't properly prepared for the game (mentally or otherwise). What is your take?
ANSWER: Here is a fact: There were 255 penalties assessed during the opening weekend of the 2018 NFL season. That's the second-most flag-filled weekend since 2007. There were an average of 15.9 penalties for 140.8 yards assessed per game last weekend. Apparently, “lack of discipline” is rampant around the NFL. Either that, or the zebras were running amok. I’m going with the latter. And with all due respect, how is someone in North Carolina capable of determining the level of the players’ mental preparation while watching a game on television that’s being played 466.8 miles away in Cleveland?

RON GUZIAK FROM ROCKVILLE, MD: Can the Steelers use the money that Le’Veon Bell is forfeiting by not signing his franchise tag to sign other free agents this year?
ANSWER: There is no rule against them doing that, but who exactly is without a job right now who would be worth signing?

SCOTT PROSSER FROM PHILADELPHIA, PA: I am a little confused by your answer to the question regarding the Browns’ fumble return that later appeared to be fumbled through the end zone and should have been a touchback for the Steelers. The "turnover" which was the Browns recovering the James Conner fumble was clear and was probably given a cursory look by the replay officials. The apparent fumble through the end zone was not called a fumble on the field and therefore not subject to automatic review. I believe Mike Tomlin could have asked for and been granted a review on that part of the play.
**ANSWER: You are incorrect. On the field in Cleveland, Mike Tomlin was told he was not allowed to challenge the play, and that the replay included all elements of the play – whether the ball was fumbled by James Conner, whether the Browns gained possession, the return, the spotting of the ball following the return, and whether the returner fumbled the ball during that return. I don’t know anything about something you seem to remember, and I have no reason to doubt your memory. I am just telling you what happened on the field in Cleveland in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game.

PAT BRIGHT FROM WEXFORD, PA: The network official explained the fumble through the end zone as, as soon as a player who is out of bounds touches a live football, even though the ball is in the field of play, the ball is considered out of bounds at that point.
ANSWER: And I’m sure the network official said something similarly definitive last year about the Jesse James catch in the game against New England. And then by the time the Super Bowl was played, the interpretation of the rule was different. Did the network official ever address the fact the ball was being bobbled by the player before his foot touched out of bounds? He did not. Replay showed that to be the case. But I’m sure if that had been noticed by the network official, he could’ve cited some verbiage in the rule book to support whatever was called. That’s why the rules are written in such a convoluted fashion – so they can tell whatever story needs to be told.
LOGAN LAZARICK FROM ALBERTA, CANADA: Is James Conner the future?
ANSWER: All I can tell you is that right now, he’s the present.
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ANDREW SCHERBIK FROM DELRAN, NJ: I know it was just the first game of the season and at the risk of being told I'm overreacting, this next game against the Chiefs is a must win, not for the standings, but for the Steelers mental state. Do you concur?
ANSWER: Forget the Steelers’ mental state. They need to win on Sunday for mine.
ED SOLTIS FROM NEW PORT RICHEY, FL: Ben Roethlisberger had a slow preseason and now it rolls into first game. When do we see Joshua Dobbs? Ben made horrible decisions, from throwing into coverage to pitching the ball while he was being dragged down for a sack. What is going on here?
ANSWER: See, Missi? I told you I was getting these already, but you didn’t believe me.
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