Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Sept. 17

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Let's get to it:

ARNOLD HERBERT FROM POMONA, N.Y.:
Is Markus Wheaton a good choice for Week 2?

I will assume this question is related to fantasy football, and I don't know enough about how your particular league operates to feel confident enough to give you a yes or no answer. What I do believe is that Markus Wheaton will continue to emerge as a playmaker for this Steelers offense, because of a combination of Martavis Bryant being unavailable for the next three weeks and opposing defenses continuing to try to come up with ways to limit Antonio Brown's production. I don't know that a defense is going to be able to neutralize Brown's impact in a particular game, but that doesn't mean teams aren't going to try, and Ben Roethlisberger has expressed confidence in Wheaton enough times to know he'll go to him during games. Based on what Brown and DeAngelo Williams did last week against the Patriots, it could be assumed the 49ers defense will focus on those two guys on Sunday. In that scenario, it's very possible Markus Wheaton could have a big game.

MICHAEL GORSUCH FROM PASADENA, TX:
I know our offense is slated to be one of the best this year, but the fact that we do not normally fare well on the West Coast and have to play both the NFC West and AFC West this year is troublesome in my mind. The defense did not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling in Week 1, albeit against the Patriots, and since the saying is that "defense wins championships," I was wondering your thoughts on our chances this season to make a Super Bowl run?

If indeed the Steelers offense becomes one of the NFL's best in 2015, then I believe the team can become a contender. Again, if the Steelers offense is one of the NFL's best, that means Ben Roethlisberger is having a good year and Le'Veon Bell is having a good year and Antonio Brown is having a good year, and all of the other components are healthy and operating at a high rate of efficiency. Usually when that happens across an entire unit containing All-Pro caliber players at key positions, the strength of that unit alone can help a team win enough games to put itself into contention over the course of an NFL regular season. The Steelers defense didn't give me "a warm and fuzzy feeling in Week 1" either, and especially in the areas of getting the calls in from the sideline and having them communicated properly to the rest of the players on the field. That should improve with repetition. There also were some individual performances in Foxborough that could be cause for some optimism, but that's just a start. In 2014, the Steelers finished 11-5 and won the AFC North, which in my opinion qualified that team as a contender. That 2014 offense finished No. 7 in the NFL in points per game, and if Roethlisberger, Brown, Bell, and the rest of the offense improves to the point it can crack the top five in scoring in 2015, I believe these Steelers will have a chance to contend.

SCOTT SWEENEY FROM HICKORY, N.C.:
It seems to me that clock management seems to be an ongoing issue in the Mike Tomlin era. The end of the first half against the Patriots is yet another example. I love Coach Tomlin as a leader, but I think his in-game skills are in need of a boost. Is there a coach available to help the coach, or do you think it is a feel for the game that some coaches have and some don't?

Here is how Mike Tomlin addressed this at his weekly news conference:

Q. Can you assess your clock management at the end of both halves?
TOMLIN: "I didn't see any real issues there. I know there was a quick discussion about potentially using a timeout as we drove late in the second quarter. I thought a running clock and allowing Ben Roethlisberger to stay at the line of scrimmage would minimize what (the Patriots) would give us and would get us an opportunity to get a touchdown. Obviously, it didn't work out. You move on from those things. But no real issues from our perspective.

Q. In the fourth quarter, the Steelers got the ball with 2:59 left and ran only three plays before the two-minute warning. Do you have to play faster when approaching the two-minute warning at the end of the game like last week?
TOMLIN: "We could, but it was a two-score game at that point. We were dealing with personnel issues and getting guys in and out. As fatigue set in, we would have liked to play faster, but we didn't."

My experience during 28 years in this business is that the clock management police can find issue with every coach's handling of these kinds of things at various times, but what isn't typically known except by those on the sideline is, as Tomlin described it, the personnel issues and the fatigue of different players at various times in the game. While there are instances – such as the game between the Giants and the Cowboys last Sunday night – where mismanagement of the clock has an apparent impact on the outcome, those don't occur as often as you might believe. I also have the suspicion that some members of the clock management police voice their opinions in hindsight, or at least not in the real time in which these decisions must be made. And by the way, Bill Cowher used to get ripped for his clock management all the time during his tenure, as did Chuck Noll. Those guys won Super Bowls, as has Tomlin

SHERRI LOVELACE FROM YOUNGSTOWN, OH:
In a situation such as the game vs. the Patriots when it is obvious that the defense is confused, why doesn't a coach or player call a timeout if you notice the best opposing offensive player is uncovered?

**

The Steelers prepare for the home opener against the 49ers.

Good question. In the one instance in that game though – the 16-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski – there didn't even seem to be enough time to call a timeout before Tom Brady got the ball snapped and out into the flat where Gronkowski was wide open.**

JEREMY BETZ FROM RAPID CITY, SD:
When I watched the game last Thursday night, I personally thought the defense gave a serviceable effort against a great offense. You aren't going to be able to stop the Brady-to-Gronkowski connection all night. I thought the offense could have been more effective when given scoring opportunities. Which unit needs to step up more in your opinion – an offense capable of scoring 30 points a game but didn't, or a young, talented defense that seems to lack any ability to make an opportunistic play?

Games cannot be won on a consistent basis in the NFL with one unit excelling while the other is mired in ineptitude. The 2015 Steelers sure appear to be a team that will have to depend on its offense, but the defense must develop into a competent unit capable of making some plays in every game or the losses are going to outnumber the victories.

JACK KINCAID FROM MASSILLON, OH:
Is the quarterback sneak in the Steelers playbook? How can Tom Brady be so successful picking up 1 yard, and yet Ben Roethlisberger doesn't even get a chance? First-and-goal at the 1-yard line – four straight quarterback sneaks if that's what it takes.

Ben Roethlisberger is very good at a lot of things associated with quarterback play, but in my opinion the art of the sneak is not one of them. Plus, I'm not exposing Roethlisberger to the kinds of things that can go on at the bottom of those piles. What I would do to opponents in those situations is what opponents often do to the Steelers: spread the defense with a formation that includes multiple wide receivers and then run the football. Works every time.

JIM CRAWBUCK FROM PLAINVIEW, NY:
I watch all of the preseason in slow motion. I am very curious about what is it that made you think Will Allen should start over Shamarko Thomas?

First of all, I have no input into any decision regarding personnel, and so I was not consulted. I said I wasn't surprised by the decision based on some of the errors Shamarko Thomas made during preseason games and the fact a quarterback the caliber of Tom Brady can take mistakes made by safeties and have them show up on the scoreboard. Now I have a question for you: why in the world would you watch all of the preseason in slow motion? Wasn't it long enough in real time?

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