Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Sept. 30

Let's get to it:

BRENT MILLER FROM OCEANSIDE, CA: I have always thought Mike Tomlin is a great coach and defended him against the nay-sayers, with exception to his clock management skills. Against the Bengals he once again called a mind-boggling timeout with 1:09 left in the first half after we just gained a first down to the Bengals 4-yard line. I literally jumped off the couch screaming at the television. To me, it's an indefensible error and cost the Steelers points. Am I the only crazy person that's thinking this?
ANSWER: I doubt you're the only fan complaining about this, but here's my opinion: The idea once the offense gets to a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line is to get a touchdown, because settling for a field goal would've been a disaster. OK, so what exactly have you seen from the Steelers offense this season that has you believing scoring a touchdown after netting a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line is even a 50:50 proposition? Calling a timeout there allows a respite to figure out a strategy or at least an approach to be taken to get the ball into the end zone, and preserving the time keeps the whole playbook, run or pass, available. And I sincerely doubt that you, or many of the others complaining about this, would have been willing to bet very much money at all that the Steelers were going to score a touchdown on the very next play after getting that first down at the 4-yard line. And what exactly were the Steelers supposed to fear so much that they should've been milking the clock before scoring a touchdown at the end of the first half? The other team's quarterback wasn't Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes. It was Joe Burrow, barely a second-year pro because of the number of games he missed as a rookie, and all due respect to him, but it made sense to believe that the defense should be able to prevent him from directing a 75-yard drive in the 64 seconds that were left after Chris Boswell's kickoff was a touchback. The Bengals drove 75 yards in 27 seconds to score a touchdown, and that's unacceptable. I get it. If you want to complain about something, I can offer some suggestions. I would be placing blame on the defense, or maybe on that horrendous roughing-the-passer call when Melvin Ingram seemed to place Burrow down on his butt. How can James Pierre allow Ja'Marr Chase to get behind him with 43 seconds left in the half when he has no safety help? Why was he in single coverage there? Or was he supposed to get help and didn't? But no, let's complain about clock management.

BRIAN MOURADIAN FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Ben Roethlisberger is a "did not practice" just about every week. Personally, I don't think he has earned the right to skip any practices. Do you agree?
ANSWER: I do not agree, because you're making it sound as though he's skipping school or being given a vacation day. On Wednesdays, and Ben Roethlisberger did not practice yesterday either, which was a Wednesday, he reports to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in the morning at the appointed hour for players to be in the facility. He attends meetings, walk-through, takes whatever treatment is prescribed for him by the athletic trainers. He also attends the day's practice and pays attention to what's going on even though he does not physically participate. Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about this practice at his news conference on Tuesday, and he gave a detailed explanation for why it's done this way. I believe if you read it, you should come away with a better understanding of why Roethlisberger doesn't practice on Wednesdays. And spare me the "he hasn't earned the right" garbage. There are two Lombardi Trophies in the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex whose presence there say he has.

"(Roethlisberger) has a body of work over the course of not only what we've done in preparation this season, but over the course of 18 years (in the NFL), that has us taking that approach," said Tomlin, "and that is a global approach. It rests him, and rightfully so. He's an older guy, and the wear and tear of play affects him differently than younger guys. You've got to look at the totality of the journey. We're going into game four. We have many games that lie ahead, and I don't want to be fielding questions late in the year about the quality of his throwing arm, for example. But it also provides an opportunity for things that have nothing to do with Ben. We've got two quality young quarterbacks we feel good about in [Mason] Rudolph and [Dwayne] Haskins. Days that Ben doesn't work allow them an opportunity to work with the first unit and grow and develop, which is something that they need as well. So, we're serving a lot of things with that approach, and very rarely is that approach or that decision to that approach made in a vacuum or made on a singular set of circumstances."

JERRY HOSE FROM MERCERSBURG, PA: In regard to the comment about practice in a previous Asked and Answered, and not allowing the defense to hit the quarterback I understand and agree with that. Why do you think our offensive linemen don't get stronger and learn to block better with our defense working against them in practice?
ANSWER: OK, let's start with this: According to the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is a limit on the number of padded practices a team can have over the course of the entire regular season, and that limit boils down to fewer than one per week over the 18 weeks – 17 games plus the bye week. Also, during the season, NFL teams don't pit their first-team offense against their first-team defense, and so it's not a situation where you would have T.J. Watt going full speed against Dan Moore Jr., as an example. Teams have no interest in beating their players up over the course of a game week. Practice is about preparing for the schemes and alignments the upcoming opponent is likely to employ, and it's also about installing and practicing the plan to counter the things the upcoming opponent is likely to employ. Players will work on techniques and some fundamentals during individual period, but none of that is full speed nor full contact. That's how business is conducted these days, and in all NFL cities not just Pittsburgh.

KURT CARMEL FROM BALTIMORE, MD: Can you speak to the mood around the team offices after a Sunday like this past one (when the Steelers lost to the Bengals at Heinz Field)? Are the players somber, angry, dejected, motivated? What about support staff? Are they encouraging? Frustrated? As a diehard fan squarely in enemy territory, I have taken a shellacking the past two Mondays and am wondering what the feeling is back home.
ANSWER: Because of the NFL's strict Covid protocols, I have not been inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex since around March 10, 2020. I can tell you that before that date, Mondays after losses, virtually all losses, are not happy days. Depending upon the specifics of the loss, players usually can expect a somewhat miserable, unpleasant experience when Coach Mike Tomlin goes over the video with the whole team.

KEN WIN FROM PETERSBURG, WV: I know Ben Roethlisberger deserves to play until he is ready to retire because of the career he had, but when do you think it's time to sit him down?
ANSWER: My personal opinion is that Ben Roethlisberger should start at quarterback until it's somehow determined that he is the primary reason the team is losing, and if there is a belief there is another quarterback on the roster who would give the team a better chance to win. That move should not be made to pacify the fan base or the media.

MELVIN CRAWFORD FROM ST. LOUIS, MO: With the players who can come off injured reserve this week, do you see any playing in next two weeks?
ANSWER: This is what Coach Mike Tomlin said about this at his news conference on Tuesday: "Our IR guys are working hard, maybe in some instances are close. But I haven't asked for a lot of detailed information about where they are at this point, although we're now starting to get into the phase of their eligibility (to return to practice). Once we deem those guys back to work, they get 20 calendar days to determine it and all of that in terms of their availability, so I don't have a lot of details regarding that other than an acknowledgement we are at that stage. All the guys are working hard. I've been focused more on the updates of the guys that are on the active roster and working to return to us in the immediate future." That sounded to me like it would be a while longer before we saw any of the IR guys on the field, but the only constant in the NFL is change, and on Wednesday Zach Banner returned to practice. Based on the rules for bringing players back from injured reserve, the Steelers have 21 days – now 20 because Banner started practicing yesterday – to activate him to the 53-man roster. If he is not activated during that period, Banner cannot return to the active roster for the rest of the 2021 season.

MICHELE KING FROM OCEANSIDE, CA: Has there been anything from the Steelers coaches or management on when we can expect Stephon Tuitt to return?
ANSWER: There has not. I wish there was more information to pass along, but there has not been any.

KURT McDONALD FROM BURBANK, CA: I am curious why we haven't seen Ahkello Witherspoon get any playing time yet. The reports on him made it sound like he was going to fill the void left by Steven Nelson.
ANSWER: I am curious why fans continue to treat "reports" as though they were the stone tablets brought down from Mt. Sinai by Moses. The last time Ahkello Witherspoon was on the field, Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs was running past him on the way to a 61-yard touchdown that arguably was the critical play in that Steelers loss. Witherspoon is a backup and is to provide depth in the event of an injury to one of the team's outside cornerbacks.