Let’s get to it:
DUSTIN FLOWERS FROM WILMINGTON, DE: Why do the Steelers continue to put Ryan Switzer back to receive kickoffs and punts? I have yet to see him even have an average return let alone break a big one.
ANSWER: Kickoff returns have become something of a lost art in the NFL – and that was the intention all along – since the rules were changed to have the ball placed at the 35-yard line for kickoffs with touchbacks giving the ball to the receiving team at their 25-yard line. The NFL wanted to limit, or possibly eliminate, kickoff returns, and that rule change accomplished that for the most part. As for punt returns, a big part of what the Steelers want from their punt returner is to make good decisions and secure the football. Switzer makes good decisions – when to fair catch, when to let the ball go into the end zone for a touchback – and he is reliable in catching punts. I believe that’s the reason he is back there. That, plus the fact they don’t have anyone better.
MARK ADKINS FROM ST. AUGUSTINE, FL: What I saw this last game was an offensive game plan that was offensive to Mason Rudolph, the Steelers, and us fans. It seems to me the coaching staff was too timid with Rudolph in his first start. In your opinion will they continue being conservative or will they let Rudolph have some of the freedom they give Ben Roethlisberger?
ANSWER: I already have expressed my opinion that the game plan – everything from play-calls to formations – should be changed to cater to Mason Rudolph instead of asking/expecting him to do a Ben Roethlisberger imitation. I would remind you to remember that Rudolph is a second-year pro and Roethlisberger is a 16-year veteran with two Super Bowl rings. When Roethlisberger first became the starter after Tommy Maddox was injured in 2004, the Steelers gave him little, if any, freedom. In 12 of his 13 regular season starts, Roethlisberger attempted 25 or fewer passes, and in five of those 12 he attempted 20 or fewer passes. Giving freedom to an inexperienced quarterback is like juggling nitroglycerin – eventually it will blow up in your face.
EUGENE BUTTERY FROM ST. MARYS, PA: What is the status of Eli Rogers? Has he signed with another team?
ANSWER: While he has had a couple of workouts with NFL teams since the regular season opened, Eli Rogers is currently out of football. He is a free agent and can sign with any NFL team that would offer him a contract.
COLLIN PRATT FROM COCOA, FL: Does Mason Rudolph’s salary change since he is now a starter?
ANSWER: It does not change. Mason Rudolph’s contract calls for him to be paid $658,267, and that would not change whether he was the starter, the backup, or inactive every week as the No. 3 quarterback.
SEAN DELANEY FROM SALEM, MA: On Tuesday, you swatted away a suggestion about rebuilding around Mason Rudolph. I agree that Ben Roethlisberger is far from done, though age and injuries may be a factor. What would we need to see from Rudolph this season to make it a horse race in camp next year?
ANSWER: I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which there would be a “horse race” for the starting quarterback job next season. In this kind of situation, Ben Roethlisberger’s skills and performance would have to drop off significantly, and I mean significantly, for there to be a legitimate competition for the starting job in 2020. This is not a slight on Rudolph or his potential or his own skill-set, but this is the way it works in the NFL where one guy is a long-time franchise quarterback who passed for over 5,000 yards and added 34 touchdown passes the season before needing surgery on his elbow, who signed a three-year contract extension that has been reported to be worth in the neighborhood of $80 million in the offseason before needing surgery on his elbow, and the other guy is a young pro who will go into the 2020 season with, at most, 14 regular season games worth of NFL experience.
KENNY BINGLE FROM ORLANDO, FL: The Steelers organization does not hide the fact that their goal each season is to contend for a championship. This season, despite Ben Roethlisberger's injury, they showed they have not given up by using a 2020 No. 1 draft pick to trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick. With all the adversity the team is facing this season, what do you think is the Steelers' goal for this season? Obviously, the short-term goal is to win a game, but what is the realistic long-term goal?
ANSWER: The goal doesn’t change, and it goes back to the start of the Chuck Noll era. The goal is to win a championship. Every year, that’s the goal. Now there may be seasons where fans or media or others outside the team’s offices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex who don’t believe that’s a realistic goal, and they may be correct, but that changes nothing in the minds of the people who work for the Steelers. Win a championship. That’s the goal. The only goal. As Noll used to refer to it: a singleness of purpose.
JASON SAGER FROM GALLOWAY, OH: I would like to see Jaylen Samuels get more carries. Do you think he should?
ANSWER: When it comes to the Steelers offense and the issue of certain players being more involved or getting more chances to run it or catch it, in my opinion what is at the root of the problem is the unit’s inability to generate enough first downs to allow for extended possessions, which would allow for more opportunities and touches for different players. After three games, the Steelers rank 30th in the NFL in total first downs with 43, and they rank 29th in the league in third-down conversion percentage at 25.7 (9-for-35). As a result of those standings, the Steelers have run only 163 offensive plays so far this season. By comparison, the Cincinnati Bengals, another 0-3 team, have run 192 plays. The key to getting more guys involved and getting more touches for different guys is having the ball long enough to accomplish some of those things. Until the Steelers offense does a better job of converting third downs and making first downs overall to extend possessions, nobody will be getting the ball enough.
DWAYNE RUTLEDGE FROM NORTH CHARLESTON, SC: With James Conner struggling, why not start Jaylen Samuels?
ANSWER: Your question indicates an assumption that the ineffectiveness of the running game so far can be traced directly to the performance of the guy being given the football. If that actually was the case, there would be a change made at that position.
AUSTIN WHISONANT FROM MAYNARDVILLE, TN: How are things looking for Donte Moncrief? Will he have a chance to play again?
ANSWER: The following is that question as it was posed to Coach Mike Tomlin last week, along with his answer:
Q. How do you handle a situation like the one with Donte Moncrief, where you have a veteran receiver who seems to have lost the basic ability to catch the ball? Work with him? Demote him? Bench him? Cut him?
TOMLIN: “All of the above are on the table. If we’re talking to receivers about catching the ball, what are we talking about? That’s just a requirement of the job. It’s just like talking to a linebacker about tackling. It’s the essence of the position. People go through tough times at times, and sometimes you’re afforded an opportunity to give them a chance to recover, whether it’s in-game or in practice settings, but other times you have to move on. It’s just the nature of the business. He has been able to continue to be a part of us, and he’s working hard at practice to get his mojo back, but in the meanwhile we have expectations to meet and plays to make. So, we’re going with the guys who are consistently making them.”
MARK SILVEIRA FROM SEEKONK, MA: I like James Conner, but I’m just not sure if he can be the main guy. Is it time to look into getting Melvin Gordon to be the lead back in Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: Let’s start with this: After the 2018 season in which he accumulated 1,900 yards from scrimmage and scored 12 rushing touchdowns, did you think James Conner could be “the main guy?” I did. Now let’s move on to Melvin Gordon, who has skipped minicamp, all of training camp, all four preseason games, and the first three games of the regular season even though he is under contract to be paid close to $5 million in 2019, because he wants more than double that amount on a new deal.
Is it time to look into trying to add a disgruntled running back to the roster less than one calendar year after ridding the locker room of one? Is it time to look into paying a running back more than $10 million a season just a short time after the Los Angeles Rams signed Todd Gurley to a four-year $57.5 million contract, of which $45 million is guaranteed, and he currently has 44 carries for 203 yards (4.6 average) and one touchdown, which places him 12th in the NFL after the first three weeks of the season? On that issue, I’m a hard “no.”