Let’s get to it:
ALAIN MICHAUD FROM ROBERVAL, QUEBEC, CANADA: There is a trend that cannot be ignored. In their last 10 games, the Steelers are 2-8, and Ben Roethlisberger was the starting quarterback in nine of those 10 games. So far this year, Ben's and Mason Rudolph’s stats are roughly the same. Everyone seems to think that Ben's return next year, when he will be 38, will solve many problems. At what moment should the team consider a rebuilding process offensive wise?
ANSWER: I don’t have an opinion that matters when it comes to those kinds of decisions, but this is what Steelers President Art Rooney II said about Roethlisberger in mid-January of this year: “Yeah, the good news I would say is that you certainly look around the league now and quarterbacks are playing at a high level into their 40s. I wouldn’t have expected that years ago, so I feel good about where Ben is physically, mentally, his ability to be a productive player for multiple years. So, I think we feel good about trying to extend his contract.” Some months after making that statement, the Steelers signed Roethlisberger to a three-year contract that ESPN reported was worth $80 million and included a signing bonus of $37.5 million. So clearly, the team’s decision-makers are not of the mind to consider a rebuilding process for the Steelers offense before Roethlisberger’s current contract expires. And another set of facts worth mentioning here is that in 2018, Roethlisberger led the league in pass attempts (675), completions (452) and passing yards (5,129), and all of those totals represented career highs. He also threw a career-high 34 touchdown passes. If you believe in putting your money where your mouth is, the Steelers believe in Roethlisberger as their quarterback through the 2021 season, or they wouldn’t have spent that kind of money to keep him for three more seasons.
ALLEN FRIEND FROM VANCOUVER, WA: Are there any restrictions or requirements for players on the injured reserve list to be on the sidelines or in practices to help other players develop?
ANSWER: Beyond being prohibited from participating in practices or games, there are none, and no requirements. And players whose injury restricts their mobility, such as using crutches or a wheelchair, would not be permitted on the sideline during a game because they could pose a hazard to themselves or others.
DONALD ADAMS FROM RICHMOND, TX: In a game and a half you have already determined that Mason Rudolph is just a backup quarterback. What makes you think he can't be the quarterback for the Steelers for the next 10-15 years? I think he is our next franchise quarterback. I didn't say Hall of Fame quarterback. Teams have won Super Bowls without Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
ANSWER: I referred to Mason Rudolph as the Steelers backup quarterback because that’s what he is right now. That’s his job title. He opened the season as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup, and now that Roethlisberger is out with an injury, Rudolph steps into the job. That’s what backups do. I didn’t suggest he have that tattooed on his forehead, but that’s what he is right now, and I suspect that’s what he will be until Roethlisberger’s Steelers career is over. It wasn’t a demeaning term. It was a statement of fact as of his current situation.
KEVIN MCGUIRE FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Why do the Steelers continue to have more penalties called on them than the teams they play? Is this a discipline or preparation issue?
ANSWER: Against New England, the Steelers were penalized six times for 54 yards, and the Patriots were penalized seven times for 55 yards; against Seattle, the Steelers were penalized five times for 78 yards, and the Seahawks were penalized 10 times for 93 yards; and against San Francisco, the Steelers were penalized six times for 42 yards, and the 49ers were penalized five times for 71 yards. And let’s not forget that one of those penalties against the Steelers in the game against Seattle was for 38 yards for defensive pass interference that was assessed only after Pete Carroll challenged the play, and which afterward former NFL referee Gene Steratore said publicly was an incorrect decision by Al Riveron in New York. Even with that injustice, the Steelers have been penalized 17 times over three games, while their opponents have been penalized 22 times. I’ll let you decide whether that’s “a discipline or a preparation issue.”
MATT CONFER FROM FORD CITY, PA: Why is Mike Hilton the starting slot cornerback instead of Cam Sutton?
ANSWER: I am not privy to the details surrounding personnel decisions, but I got the sense this offseason that the Steelers were waiting, almost hoping, for Cam Sutton to grab that job by the throat and make it his. But he never was able to do that, and so now playing time is split. Against the 49ers, Mike Hilton played 17 snaps on defense, and Cam Sutton played 11.
DAVE HORCHAK FROM CHERRY TREE, PA: Your thoughts on the Steelers fans who are giving up on Mason Rudolph after one game?
ANSWER: That’s what fans do. Some of them overreact and give up on Mason Rudolph after one game, and others overreact to the one half he played against Seattle and are asking whether Ben Roethlisberger will be able to get his starting job back in 2020.
JOHN PODLEWSKI FROM BURLINGTON, ONTARIO, CANADA: Should we win out against the division opponents how does that stack up for making the playoffs? I have been a fan since 1973 and can't ever remember an 0-3 start.
ANSWER: Sweeping the home-and-home series against the rest of the AFC North would account for six victories, but at this time I believe it’s going to take at least 10 victories to win a division championship. That is too far in the future, and there are far too many contingencies at play to even consider something like that. But I can tell you this: since 1973, the Steelers started 0-3 in both 1986 and 2000, and they started 0-4 in 2013.
KENNY LAWSON FROM DONORA, PA: Who is responsible for the play-calling?
ANSWER: The offensive coordinator calls the offensive plays. Randy Fichtner is the offensive coordinator.