Let's get to it:
NICK PRABHU FROM SCHERERVILLE, IN: I have noticed many quarterbacks in the league wear a folding wristband and they read something from it while in the huddle. What kind of information might they read from it?
ANSWER: As you likely are aware, in the NFL the offensive coordinator can communicate to the quarterback via a radio inside the quarterback's helmet. In situations where the crowd noise could make it difficult for the quarterback to hear what is being said, i.e., what play is being called from the sideline, the quarterback has a list of plays under that flap on the wristband, and next to each play is a number. The coordinator has a copy of the exact same list, and so all he has to do is communicate the number to the quarterback, who then looks it up on the wristband and then communicates the corresponding play to the rest of the guys in the huddle.
JEREMY FLYNN FROM HOMER CITY, PA: When was the last time the Steelers blocked a punt and scored a touchdown off the block?
ANSWER: In the opener of the 2017 regular season, which for the Steelers took place on Sept. 10 against the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Tyler Matakevich blocked Britton Colquitt's punt and Anthony Chickillo recovered in the end zone for a Steelers touchdown. That happened at the end of the game's first possession, and the Steelers went on to a 21-18 victory.
DAVID KOH FROM LIMA, OH: I noticed several home teams, including the Bills, choosing to wear their white jerseys normally used for road games. I know the Cowboys always have worn their whites for home games, and many teams in warm climates choose white to try to gain a "heat" advantage. Am I correct in stating that the home team always has choice of jersey, even in the playoffs, except for the Super Bowl where the choice alternates each year?
ANSWER: You are correct, and the NFL requires all teams to submit its list of jersey choice well before the start of the season so that all the visiting teams on every schedule can be notified. Also, just because a team might choose to wear white for home games in September doesn't mean that team is bound to wear white in home games over the rest of its season.
WADE AGES FROM DALLAS, TX: Are the Steelers still on a record-setting streak of sacks in consecutive regular season games? Did the sacks in the game against the Bills add to their record, or was the streak broken sometime last season?
ANSWER: With a shout-out to Michael Bertsch of the Steelers PR Department, the Steelers have registered at least one sack in an NFL record 74 consecutive regular-season games. The previous NFL record for consecutive games with at least one sack was 69 games by Tampa Bay (Oct. 10, 1999 to Nov. 9, 2003). Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin was on the Buccaneers staff during the final three seasons of that streak.
LA CHANTAY SHEPPARD FROM SACRAMENTO, CA: Is this defense better this year than last year based on our new additions? These include Joe Schobert and Melvin Ingram III for starters.
ANSWER: I believe it's possible that the 2021 Steelers can be better than the 2020 version, and while you point to acquisitions such as Joe Schobert and Melvin Ingram III as potential reasons, I would point to what I think could be a better secondary. Either way, though, it's too early to make any definitive judgments, because the Steelers have 16 more regular season games to play, and in those games the defense will be going against this list of quarterbacks: Baker Mayfield twice, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson twice, Joe Burrow twice, Justin Herbert, and on Sunday it's Derek Carr, who completed 61 percent for 435 yards and two touchdowns on Monday night vs. the Ravens. Lots of difficult tests ahead.
FRANCISCO DURÁN FROM CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO: Do practice squad members travel with the team and stand on the sidelines on game day the same way inactive members of the 53-man roster do, or do they only spend time with their teammates in practice?
ANSWER: Before the pandemic, Coach Mike Tomlin's approach to this was that if there was a reason for players on the practice squad to travel, if there was a reason why their presence might contribute to a victory in some way, then it would be considered. But now with the COVID protocols enacted by the NFL, there are limits on the number of people allowed on the sideline during games. And with doctors and trainers and coaches, etc., all counting toward that total, I don't believe it's possible to have practice squad players down on the sideline as well.
JOSEF SCHARPENBERG FROM DORTMUND, GERMANY: With the Raiders coming to town after their Monday night win over those birds from Baltimore, what's the bigger disadvantage at this time of the season: having one fewer day of practice (Las Vegas) or getting the video of your opponent's last game one day later (Pittsburgh)?
ANSWER: I would go with one fewer day of practice, but even more than any lost practice time it's one fewer day for players' bodies to recover from a game against an always physical Ravens team and then having to get on an airplane and travel almost 2,000 miles from Las Vegas to Pittsburgh.
KEITH CARTER FROM JACKSONVILLE, FL: I'm watching the Monday night game between the Ravens and the Raiders. Las Vegas edge rusher Maxx Crosby is having his way with Alejandro Villanueva. I admit to not paying a lot of attention to offensive line play usually, but was Villanueva this bad last year?
ANSWER: I'm not a big believer in Pro Football Focus and the grades it puts out, but Alejandro Villanueva got a good grade last year for his pass blocking, and Ben Roethlisberger was the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL in 2020. Also to be considered is that Villanueva will be 33 in late September, and since the opening of the 2016 regular season he has made 86 straight starts at offensive tackle. And that doesn't even take into consideration the impact on his body of multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan as a member of the Army Rangers. My personal opinion is that Villanueva should have retired after the 2020 season, but then the Ravens signed him to a two-year, $14 million contract with $8 million in guaranteed money, including a $6.5 million signing bonus. I hate the Ravens as much as the most rabid Steelers fan, but I wouldn't have turned down that kind of money from them.
BRENNEN MIANO FROM FONTANA, CA: I love how every single "expert" picked the Bills to win. I've taken your advice and begun to completely ignore anything they say, although I got a nice laugh at this one.
ANSWER: What I found especially amusing was how some of the media members who picked the Steelers to lose to the Bills then followed up on Monday by writing/commenting how the Steelers won the game despite getting no respect in terms of being given a chance to win.
DAN ARMITAGE FROM RIVERVIEW, NB, CANADA: During the day of games last Sunday, including the Steelers game against the Bills, it appeared that the ratio of passing plays to running plays was quite dominant. We screamed, we hollered, but most teams kept the ball in the air. Is this the trend in the league moving forward, or were we just having too many cold pops and missed something?
ANSWER: This is the way offense in the NFL has been trending since rules changes first were implemented for the 1978 season. Those rules liberalized how offensive linemen were able to pass-block and restricted contact with eligible receivers beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Then around 2010, the player safety initiative placed severe limitations on how and where defensive players were allowed to hit eligible receivers. This has been happening for some time now. The way football is legislated and adjudicated at the professional level is designed to make it easier for offenses to move the ball through the air.
CURTIS CORDWELL FROM McDONALD, PA: In watching Ravens-Raiders on Monday night, Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson certainly has the speed and a surprisingly good arm. He seems to be becoming a more complete package at quarterback. We had the opportunity to draft him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but obviously we did not. Do you know if we ever draft a player at least partly to keep him away from another team?
ANSWER: Draft picks are way, way, way too valuable to waste on spending one on a player to keep that player away from an opposing team. Using Lamar Jackson as an example: as the 32nd overall pick, which was the last one in the first round, the Ravens signed him to a four-year contract worth $9.47 million contract that included a $4.97 million signing bonus and $7.58 million in total guaranteed money. And that's just the financial cost. Can you imagine the loss in draft capital if a team would choose to spend its No. 1 pick on a player it either didn't want, couldn't use, or didn't fit into its offensive or defensive system?
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: In Mexico, quarterbacks are sometimes called "mariscal de campo" which means field marshal, and I guess that's because the quarterback used to call the offensive plays. Have you ever heard that term being used in English as well?
ANSWER: In English, field marshal refers to a rank in the German and Soviet armies during World War II. I have heard a quarterback referred to as a field general, but never as a field marshal.
ROBERT RICHARDSON FROM MODESTO, CA: Why is Damarcus Christmas showing as being on injured reserve on the Steelers website?
ANSWER: Demarcus Christmas was a sixth-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks out of Florida State in 2019, but he spent his rookie year on the physically unable to perform list. The Seahawks cut him coming out of training camp in 2020, and then he spent time on Seattle's practice squad before moving onto a spot on the Steelers' practice squad in November. When the Steelers waived Christmas this summer, he was waived with an injury designation, which meant that if he went unclaimed by another team, he reverted to the Steelers injured reserve list. That's why he is listed as being on injured reserve on Steelers.com.