Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Sept. 14

Let's get to it:

JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: Is Cam Heyward going on IR? If he is and has to miss at least four games, when was the last time he missed a start due to injury? And how many consecutive games has he played in since his last injury?
ANSWER: The last time Cam Heyward missed any regular season games because of injury was in 2016 when he tore a pectoral and spent the final 7 games of that regular season on the injured reserve list. The Steelers were 4-5 that season at the point of his injury, and they responded to the situation by going on a seven-game winning streak to win the AFC North. Once in the playoffs, the Steelers defeated Miami in the Wild Card Round, 30-12, and then went to Kansas City and defeated the Chiefs in the Divisional Round, 18-16, before coming up one step short of the Super Bowl following a 36-17 loss at New England in the AFC Championship Game. But while Heyward has missed no regular season games because of injury since 2016, he was rested for the regular season finales in both 2017 and 2020 because the Steelers had clinched their playoff position before those games. As for the present, Coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged on Tuesday that Heyward will have surgery and will be out for an as-yet undetermined amount of time, but in terms of the immediate future, the rules are that Heyward can be placed on injured reserve at any point up until 4 p.m. the day before the upcoming game for that to count as one of the games he would have to miss as part of being on IR. If by that time the Steelers have decided Heyward's replacement on the roster is on their practice squad, he can be activated at the same time and then be able to play on Monday night.

DEAN HARRIS FROM DOWNINGTOWN, PA: One thing I noticed about the 49ers game was that their receivers were constantly open. Any reason you can think of that Joey Porter wasn't used more especially once the game was decided? Valuable reps for a rookie.
ANSWER: The preseason is over, and with that the idea of "valuable reps for a rookie" goes out the window. The defensive plan for the game against the 49ers – what the team practiced all week – was to have Joey Porter Jr. being a part of the dime defense, but since the Steelers couldn't handle the San Francisco offense on first and second downs, the dime only was deployed rarely. I would expect to see Porter on the field more often on Monday night vs. the Browns.

CHUCK WEIDLER FROM FREDERICKSBURG, VA: In 2004, following Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season, was he voted or awarded any prestigious awards?
ANSWER: Ben Roethlisberger was voted the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2004. He was not voted to the Pro Bowl, he was not voted All-Pro, and the winner of the Steelers MVP Award that year was James Farrior, who was voted to the Associated Press First-Team All-Pro Team.

JIMMY ENGLISH FROM DUBLIN, IRELAND: I have two questions, Bob. First of all, do you listen to the Irish Steelers Podcast? And will you be coming to Dublin in November for the Fan Watch Party in Croke Park?
ANSWER: I was a guest on an early installment of the Irish Steelers Podcast, and that has been my only experience with it. And instead of being at the Watch Party in November, I will be performing my usual gameday duties for and the Steelers Radio Network. I'll bet that watch party is going to be a great time.

JIM MIHALICH FROM WORCESTER, MA: You cited opening day losses in 1989 and 1997 as disasters. Didn't both of those teams go on to make the playoffs those years?
ANSWER: Yes, I cited the opening day losses in 1989 – 51-0 to the Browns – and in 1997 – 37-7 to the Cowboys – as recent examples of disastrous regular season openers. In 1989, the Steelers ended up qualifying for the AFC Playoffs as a wild card team, and they went on to upset Houston in overtime before losing a one-point game to eventual AFC Champion Denver. In 1997, the Steelers won the AFC North and finished as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, defeated New England in a Divisional Round Game and then lost the AFC Championship Game at home to eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver.

SCOT SHAPIRO FROM ALBUQUERQUE, NM: By the opening of the fourth quarter of the San Francisco game it appeared that the contest had been decided. Why wouldn't it be a good idea to play some of the talented rookies from this year's draft to get them some needed game experience? I know it's a coaching decision, but aside from potential injuries what could be the downside?
ANSWER: The downside is that it's bad business to treat regular season games as if they were preseason games. Playing rookies to "see what they can do" may sound like it makes sense, but when the coaches were "seeing what the rookies can do" phase of the process, there were no game plans and no specific scouting done on the opponent. I would have no issue with the idea of more playing time moving forward for the rookies/young guys who looked to be capable during training camp and the preseason, but just "seeing what they can do" is not the way to go about it, in my opinion.

JIM COOMBE FROM BOSTON, MA: I was not impressed with the play of the secondary in the game against the 49ers, but I did expect to see more of Joey Porter Jr. Do you know if he is ready to contribute in a larger role yet?
ANSWER: I believe it was clear that Joey Porter Jr. proved that he belonged throughout the training camp/preseason process, and now that the regular season is here it becomes an issue of preparing him during the week for whatever role he's going to have in the upcoming game. I would expect Porter to be prepared this week with the idea of having him more involved on Monday night against the Browns.

MATT KEARNS FROM CUYAHOGA FALLS, OH: I'm curious about the offensive linemen from the 1970s Steelers. They won four Super Bowls and seemed to be a very effective unit. Other than Mike Webster, I don't believe anyone else on those offensive lines has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Do you recall if any of them were considered or received votes?
ANSWER: The offensive linemen I would include in the group most responsible for the Super Bowl victories during the 1970s were Jon Kolb, Sam Davis, Mike Webster, Ray Mansfield (who retired after the 1976 season), Gerry Mullins, and Larry Brown (who won two Super Bowl rings as a tight end before moving to right tackle). With the exception of Webster, who was voted first-team All-Pro 5 times and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 1997, those offensive linemen toiled in anonymity. In fact, only one of the players was even so much as voted to the Pro Bowl, and that was Brown, and that was just once (during the strike-shortened 1982 season.) All of those players have been inducted into the Steelers' Hall of Honor, so even though they toiled in anonymity they have not gone unappreciated.

NICHOLAS MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: Is it OK to regard this week's game against the Browns as a "must win" for the Steelers, or am I overreacting to last week's extremely disappointing debacle?
ANSWER: Far be it for me to instruct you how to view the Monday night game vs. the Browns, but what I do believe about this situation is that a loss doesn't eliminate them just as a win doesn't fix them.

MIKE DARROW FROM MANHATTAN BEACH, CA: The home opener was not what we hope for as Steelers fans. I believe it shows that the preseason is for coaches to evaluate players and players to work to make a 53-man roster, not to compare teams based on outcomes. While the Steelers didn't perform well in any aspect of the 49ers game, my biggest concern is around the interior of the defensive front. Cam Heyward is hobbled with a groin injury, Larry Ogunjobi has been limited throughout the preseason, and DeMarvin Leal got dinged up in the game. I know the philosophy is next man up, but do we have the players on the roster needed or are there any unsigned players who could be considered?
ANSWER: The Steelers believe they have some good, young talent on defense, and what they need to do is develop it. There are no knights on white horses riding around who are available to be signed at this stage of the NFL calendar, and the answer to every issue facing a team cannot be to go on a shopping spree for an alternative. They made a bunch of moves during the offseason, and now it's time to work with those acquisitions and develop them. I believe that's what they'll do.

BILL LAIT FROM SHARON, PA: Watching Aaron Rodgers get injured in the Monday night game vs. Buffalo got me wondering. With so much guaranteed money involved, are teams able to take out insurance policies to mitigate the risk of injuries to players?
ANSWER: If teams can find an insurance company willing to underwrite such a contract, maybe that could mitigate some of the risk, but here are some unforgiving salary cap numbers that insurance doesn't and cannot cover: Aaron Rodgers will account for $8.9 million on the Jets salary cap in 2023 and $17.2 million on their cap in 2024. The dead money charges to the team's cap would be $74.05 million this season, and would fall to $66.16 million in 2024 should any decisions made by Rodgers or the Jets trigger that part of his contract.

CHUCK MAKRUCKI FROM HINCKLEY, MN: Who reached 80.5 sacks in fewer games played, James Harrison or T.J. Watt?
ANSWER: T.J. Watt recorded the sacks that got him to 80.5 for his career in his 88th game with the Steelers. James Harrison got to 80.5 sacks with the Steelers in his 174th game with the team.

KEN MAULDIN FROM CLYDE, TX: I was just reading your answer about Barry Foster in a recent Asked and Answered. I sure miss his running style. Didn't Barry sign with Bengals after Carolina?
ANSWER: When Ki-Jana Carter, the Bengals running back who was the first overall pick of the 1995 NFL Draft tore a ligament in the first preseason game of his rookie season, he never was the same player after that. The Steelers traded Barry Foster to Carolina in the 1995 offseason, but he failed his physical when he reported to training camp and "retired." Foster then came out of retirement later in 1995 to sign a $1 million contract with the Bengals, who were looking for an alternative to Carter. But two days after signing with the Bengals, Foster had a change of heart and left the team. Foster would return the $300,000 signing bonus he had received from the Bengals, and he "retired" again without ever playing in a game for Cincinnati.

RUSS PALLONE FROM TRINIDAD, CO: When does the process of assigning blame officially start? Now or do we wait a few games?
ANSWER: Based on Asked and Answered submissions/questions/rants and when they were received, the process of assigning blame already was well underway before halftime of the game against the 49ers.

CHRIS BALMER FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: I don't have a question, but I just want to say thank you for talking so many Steelers fans off the ledge. Nobody is perfect, this game is fluid and it's a long season. To everyone in Steelers Nation, players included, please take a breath. Responses are much better than reactions, so let us all see how this plays out.
ANSWER: "Responses are better than reactions." I wish I had thought of that.