Let’s get to it:
BOB MOOREY FROM IRMO, SC: Putting together a complete game is the key to getting to the Super Bowl. In Cleveland, the defense was strong, but the offense turned the ball over too much. Against Kansas City, the defense didn’t hold up its end. Do you see the Steelers putting together a complete game this week?
ANSWER: I will agree with you that for a team to win a championship, it cannot have glaring holes in its overall game, but late September still is too early in a season to believe that playing a complete game is necessary to defeat a particular opponent. I see this still being the time of the season when teams, even teams with designs of contending for a championship, can continue to work on aspects of its game while finding ways to win each week.
STEPHEN SCHRADER FROM PORTLAND, OR: So we're three games into the season and Antonio Brown is 28th in the league in receiving yards, instead of first like usual. But the Steelers are second in passing yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald, and Jesse James have all had 100-yard games. Ben Roethlisberger looks like he could throw to the tight end on almost every play. Are teams just over-defending Brown to the point where there are large-bodied receivers with single coverage running through the secondary? Opposing teams are discovering that you sure can't cover Smith-Schuster with one guy. Is this where teams start to ease their grip on Brown and let his stats start growing?
ANSWER: As you point out, Antonio Brown has spent most of the previous several seasons atop the NFL in receiving yards, and teams undoubtedly spent hunks of the offseason studying him and scheming to try to minimize his impact on games. It only made sense for opponents to concentrate their defensive efforts on Brown, and we’re seeing the results of that through the early part of the season. But I also believe that the Steelers offense has enough supplemental weapons to go along with a franchise quarterback that if defenses continue to focus so much of their efforts on Brown that Ben Roethlisberger can make them pay the price via other players. I don’t know where Brown is going to end up on the receiving yardage list by the end of the season, but I cannot imagine it being 28th.
“I think it’s maybe me not forcing it into those coverages and forcing (Brown) the ball,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday after the Steelers’ 30-27 win over the Bucs. “In the past, I know I’ve forced him and some good things have come of it, but I’m just trying not to do too much of that because other guys are making plays, so that might be part of the reason the numbers aren’t what they have been in the past.”
JOSHUA FERRARE FROM ERIE, PA: Ben Roethlisberger has set an NFL record for passing attempts through the first three weeks of a season. I understand the new-age NFL is more pass heavy, but with a 36-year-old quarterback are you worried about his workload going forward?
ANSWER: This is why Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t practice daily during training camp. This is why Roethlisberger plays very little during the preseason. This is why Roethlisberger is given Wednesdays off during the regular season. Fans should understand that the regular season is when the Steelers need their franchise quarterback the most, and if the trade-off for having him able to carry this kind of workload through the regular season is to have him not be in midseason form in the first quarter of the opener, then it’s worth it.
TERRELL OWENS FROM CHESAPEAKE, VA: All preseason we heard how new secondary coach Tom Bradley was going to come in and turn this defensive backfield around. Other than Joe Haden, who is a veteran, and Mike Hilton, the rest of our cornerbacks have regressed. For a team that is supposed to be Super Bowl bound and to have a starting cornerback battle with Coty Sensabaugh, we are in trouble. Do you think the Steelers can fix this cornerback problem before it derails their Super Bowl hopes?
ANSWER: In the NFL, assistant coaches can help, but expecting them to “fix” things isn’t realistic. The players are professionals, and for the most part whether they improve and how much they improve will be tied to their skill-set and work ethic. The way I view the situation is that the Steelers need Artie Burns to play like the first-round draft choice he was. The Steelers have to hope that the current rotation system ends up serving as incentive to Burns and that he ends up responding to this tactic the way Ike Taylor responded to being benched back in 2006.
NICK SACINO FROM NIAGARA FALLS, ONTARIO, CANADA: I know Coach Mike Tomlin talked about the rotation at cornerback and also how the team is waiting for one player to take over the position, but who do you believe has the best potential as the starter at the position?
ANSWER: Artie Burns, without question. In my opinion, Burns has all of the physical tools, but what seems to happen to him is that after giving up a completion he’ll hang his head. The great cornerbacks will tell you that one of the qualities all of the great ones have is a short memory. It seems Burns has yet to develop that.
RAY GREHOFSKY FROM BLACKSBURG, VA: Wanted to get your thoughts on the state of defense in the NFL. Anyone who watched Vikings vs. Rams Thursday night must now come to grips with this fact. It’s a new era.
ANSWER: Good defense in the NFL these days is what the Philadelphia Eagles showed against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, what the Los Angeles Rams showed last Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings. It’s no longer about shutting down an opponent, or making the opposing offense one dimensional by taking away either the run or the pass. What constitutes good defense in the NFL these days is playing tough enough in the red zone to make the other team settle for a field goal or two instead of scoring touchdowns every time, and then coming up with a big play – a sack, or a takeaway – at a critical moment. In the Super Bowl, as an example, it was Brandon Graham’s strip-sack; and last Thursday night, it was Aaron Donald’s strip-sack.
JEROME WOODS FROM NEWARK, DE: Why don`t the Steelers draft a wide receiver and make him a cornerback?
ANSWER: Been there, tried that. His name is Brian Allen, and he’s on the practice squad.
CURTIS SCHEERSCHMIDT FROM DAYTON, OH: The defense played well against the Bucs in the first half but then seemed to “cool off” a bit in the second. Do you feel that came more from the fact they just are not that good, or that the offense was also stagnant causing the defense to tire out?
ANSWER: Football is a team game, and in the second half the Steelers didn’t get the support they needed from their offense and/or special teams. Yes, the defense gave up some hunks of yardage, didn’t go a great job of getting off the field on third and/or fourth downs. But just one touchdown in the second half from the offense or special teams, and we’re not having this discussion.