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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Sept. 14

Let's get to it:

LUCA VALENTINI FROM MILAN, ITALY: Don't you think the Bills made a couple of bad decisions by going for it on two fourth-down plays in Sunday's game? Especially in the case of the first time, when they gave the Steelers good field position at a time in the game when our offense was struggling?
ANSWER: What I have found is that in most of the situations in which an NFL coach decides to go for it on fourth down instead of either punting or attempting a field goal, the move is judged simply by whether it was successful or not. If they go for it, and it works, it was a good decision. If they go for it, and it fails, it was a bad decision. Buffalo Coach Sean McDermott has a history of being aggressive in such situations, though, and during the 2020 NFL season his team was tied-for-first in the NFL in fourth-down conversion percentage. Whether McDermott was overly aggressive in those situations against the Steelers on Sept. 12 can be debated but going for it on fourth down is definitely a part of McDermott's personality as a coach. The Steelers deserve credit for being prepared for his penchant for being aggressive and for having some idea of how the Bills might try to convert in those situations.

JIM MILLER FROM BROKEN ARROW, OK: Great game by the Steelers on Sunday in Buffalo. The blocked punt was the play of the game. In regard to statistics, is a blocked punt considered a turnover?
ANSWER: By the coaching staff, yes. But in terms of turnover ratio and other such things compiled by the NFL, no.

ALEX METROVICH FROM EAST LIVERPOOL, OH: As I understand it, the NFL considers those on the field for the first play of the offensive/defensive series as the starters for the game. If that is correct, I believe the Steelers had six rookies start the team's regular season opener in Buffalo: punter Pressley Harvin III, defensive back Tre Norwood, tackle Dan Moore Jr., center Kendrick Green, tight end Pat Freiermuth, and running back Najee Harris. Is this a normal number or is it unusually high? We'll see how they pan out, but so far it seems like an indication of a successful draft.
ANSWER: Starting six rookies in a regular season opener, and in a situation where none of the starters was an injury replacement, is an unusually high number for a franchise such as the Steelers that typically doesn't experience a lot of roster turnover. But then, looking at it from a different perspective, it becomes less surprising. The Steelers are a franchise that believes in building its roster through the draft, and when that philosophy meets an offseason where the salary cap took a significant dip because of the impact of COVID the previous season and certain areas of the roster needed a retooling, it's somewhat logical for there to have been more than a typical number of opportunities for rookies to win starting jobs. Then, as you pointed out, a good draft class provided the right individuals to take advantage of the situation.

JOSHUA KARPER FROM DELAWARE, OH: Why doesn't Chris Boswell kick the ball into the end zone for a touchback on every kickoff? He clearly has the leg to do it, and a touchback is better than the risk to allow a potential long return like happened on the opening kickoff in Buffalo when Isaiah McKenzie returned it 75 yards. What am I missing
ANSWER: All I know for sure is that Chris Boswell isn't making that decision on his own. Just as video review and game-planning resulted in Miles Killebrew blocking the punt that Ulysees Gilbert scooped and ran into the end zone for a touchdown, maybe special teams coordinator Danny Smith saw something on the Bills kickoff return unit he believed could be exploited. Clearly, the execution was lacking on Isaiah McKenzie's long return. One other potential factor to consider: There was a gusting wind at Highmark Stadium during the game that may have had some impact on the length of kickoffs.

ED TEMPLE FROM JOHNSON CITY, TN: In the Steelers win over Buffalo, the announcers mentioned that T.J. Watt had a strip sack. For the record books, does this constitute a sack, or a forced fumble, or both.
ANSWER: In that instance, T.J. Watt is credited with both a sack and a forced fumble. If a pass rusher strips the ball away from the quarterback when he is in the pocket without every putting the quarterback on the ground, that defensive player is credited with a sack and a forced fumble as well.

JOE ASHER FROM TAMPA, FL: A win is a win, and I think all fans have to be ecstatic that we are 1-0 after visiting Buffalo. What was your assessment of our young offensive line's performance?
ANSWER: Against a quality opponent in one of the most difficult venues in the NFL for a visiting team, the Steelers offensive line put together a credible performance. It wasn't perfect, and it's going to have to be better, but there is some legitimate hope that those five guys are capable of making those improvements. Next week might be a rough outing, and those fits and starts are going to happen in the NFL, but I believe by Halloween this offensive line will be playing at a higher level than the 2020 group.

BILL TITUS FROM SEWICKLEY, PA: With 1:53 to go in the fourth quarter, T.J. Watt sacked Josh Allen. Also on the play, there was a holding call on Buffalo that was declined. Then there was a false start penalty on Buffalo. Yet, from the end of the sack until the subsequent Buffalo play, the clock was stopped. Keep in mind that Buffalo was then out of timeouts, so the stoppage was even more significant. Were the referees correct in not restarting the clock when the ball was placed? If so, was the net result of the declined holding penalty to Buffalo's benefit, since otherwise the clock would have kept running?
ANSWER: Inside of the two-minute warning in the second half of a game, the clock does not start after a penalty, whether the penalty is accepted or declined, until the ball is snapped for the next play. So once the Steelers declined the holding penalty, the clock was stopped. Then came the false start penalty, but because that occurred while the clock was not running, there is no 10-second runoff. The officials got that one correct.

MATHEW McKENNA FROM BROOK PARK, OH: Roughly how many questions did you get complaining about the pick of Najee Harris?
ANSWER: After the draft, there were a bunch, but not so many lately. I did get one after the upset win over the Bills, though, complaining about Najee Harris and Ben Roethlisberger. See below:

MICHAEL WOLOZYN FROM OIL CITY, PA: We won the first game of the season, but I can't say that Ben Roethlisberger's performance was exemplary by any reasonable standard. I mean, 18-of-32 for 188 yards and one touchdown. Yes, there were no interceptions, not that he didn't try hard on at least two occasions. Seemed to me that he just doesn't have the strength or the accuracy behind his throws anymore. Is he going to make it through the season for us OK? And where was the running game? Only 45 yards from Najee Harris. I thought he was supposed to be the renewal we needed in our running game. I have my doubts, but I need to see him more.
ANSWER: Allow me to provide you with a little bit of historical perspective. In his first NFL game as a rookie, Franco Harris gained 28 yards on 10 carries. In his first game with the Steelers, Jerome Bettis gained 57 yards on 14 carries, but that came in Bettis' fourth NFL season. In his first NFL game as a rookie, Walter Payton gained 0 yards on eight carries. In his first game as an NFL rookie, Emmitt Smith rushed for 2 yards on two carries. It doesn't always happen on your timetable. As for Ben Roethlisberger's performance in the opener, you realize the Steelers and the Bills competed in a real football game and not in fantasy football, and so there are more significant things to the outcome than statistics? I'll just leave it at that.