Let's get to it:
MATT CROPP FROM FRANKLIN, PA:
Who is next man up at defensive end behind Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward? I can see the pair getting over-used this season due to a combination of lack of depth and their great skill, therefore increasing the likelihood of injury, in my opinion. Fill me in on the rest of the defensive line talent, please.
ANSWER: The top backups at defensive end are second-year pro L.T. Walton and veteran Ricardo Mathews, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason. This is what Coach Mike Tomlin said about Mathews on Aug. 30: "He's a high-motor, high-energy guy, a blue-collar worker and he doesn't care what you ask him to do. He's willing and able. All of those are good attributes, in terms of the job description in being a versatile backup defensive lineman for us." About Walton, Tomlin said, "He's had some nice moments. This (game against Carolina) is a big opportunity for him."**
CHRIS GUNN FROM SPRING CREEK, NV:
Do you think Matakevich will make the final 53-man roster? If he doesn't and gets put on the practice squad, how long do you think it will be before he gets snatched up by another team?
ANSWER: I believe strongly that Tyler Matakevich will be on the Steelers' 53-man roster to open the season.
JEREMY JAMES FROM CARY, NC:
Every year the Steelers always finish the preseason with a game against the Carolina Panthers. Do you know why they have this arrangement? Is it due to proximity, or the owners, or something else?
ANSWER: The Steelers-Panthers preseason finale series began with a home-and-home arrangement for the 1997-98 seasons. In 1999-2000, the teams played another home-and-home series in the middle of those preseason schedules. The teams didn't play at all in 2001-02, and then the preseason finale series became a traditional part of the Steelers' and Panthers' summers starting in 2003.
That's when the NFL took over the preseason scheduling – previously, teams were responsible for forming their own preseason schedules among themselves – and then with the NFL takeover, teams were permitted to request one home-and-home series against the same opponent each year. The Steelers and Panthers meet every preseason, as one example, as do the Jets and Giants, as another example. The Steelers and Panthers have a cordial relationship from a franchise standpoint that is based on the mutual respect that developed back in the 1990s between Dan Rooney and Jerry Richardson, and because the teams are in difference conferences they only meet in the regular season once every four years.
JASON WOOD FROM LITCHFIELD, IL
Love your BRUTAL honesty. I'm trying to be optimistic about the secondary this season. We all know very well how badly they were ranked in the league after 16 games, but has there been any research into the statistics of how well the secondary ranked for the last 6 games of the season, compared to the first 10 games? It seems like I remember the coaching staff talking like they had improved and they were giving up fewer yards and fewer 30-plus-yard plays.
ANSWER: I'm really not in the comfort-giving business, because that would run counter to brutal honesty. As for the research project you suggest, I gave it a mediocre effort and came up with this: the Steelers defense allowed 30 passing plays of 25-plus yards during the 2015 regular season, and those broke down into 19 of them in the first 10 games and 11 in the last six. That's a slight decrease. The important statistic is that the Steelers were 4-2 over the last six games, with the losses coming in Seattle and in Baltimore. Against the Seahawks, the offense rolled up 538 net yards, including 480 passing, but that was neutered by Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones combining to throw four interceptions. In the 20-17 loss to the Ravens, the Steelers were minus-3 in turnover ratio. Hope those numbers help you sleep at night, because it's all I got.
RUSSELL WALKER FROM CATONSVILLE, MD:
Everyone seems to be wishing the Steelers would make a trade for a backup, when we should really be wishing that a backup never has to touch the field, unless we're up 30. Anyway, my question is about Artie Burns. How much camp/preseason work has he gotten and how did he look? I know he has been hurt.
ANSWER: Artie Burns is scheduled to make his preseason debut tonight against the Panthers. He returned to practice as the Steelers were getting ready for the preseason game in New Orleans, and then during the practice on Aug. 29, Burns had two interceptions.
PATRICK MURREN FROM TRUMBULL, CT:
In regards to play-calling in preseason games, do the coaches ask the quarterback, namely Landry Jones, to execute the play with one receiver in mind regardless of coverage? Or, is the quarterback free to, and expected to, check all receivers and make the best decision he can?
Photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers' trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the Carolina Panthers in a preseason matchup.
ANSWER: On every play in every game, each individual player is evaluated on how he does his job. For a quarterback on a pass play, that means reading the coverage and getting the ball to the open receiver.**
LOUIS ESPINOZA FROM TEMPLE, TX:
Is Le'Veon Bell going to stay healthy?
WILLIAM VAN BENEDEN FROM ASHLAND, KY:
I would like all the Landry Jones haters to look up Peyton Manning's passer rating last year. If Bob finds it's needed, he can repeat it in the answer.
ANSWER: There was no question to answer, but I can provide Peyton Manning's passer rating for 2015. It was 67.9, which was good enough to help the Broncos win a Lombardi Trophy.
LANCE MOORE FROM BREINIGSVILLE, PA:
Not a question, but thank you for your candid responses to some seriously horrible questions. You definitely do not worry about hurting one's ego. We need more of that in this world.
ANSWER: Happy to do my part to make the world a better place.
ROBERT CHULACK FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
Considering the salary cap and the Steelers' need to keep the core of the offensive line intact, I propose trading Maurkice Pouncey (due to his inability to stay on the field) for a nice draft choice and then allocating his salary cap space to re-sign DeCastro.
ANSWER: This is absurd on so many levels that it's difficult to mock it properly, but I'm going to give it a shot. You want to keep the offensive line intact, and your idea for doing that is to trade a three-time first-team All-Pro center who just turned 27 "for a nice draft choice?" And let's not forget that part of Pouncey's "inability to stay on the field" can be traced back to the 2013 opener against Tennessee when David DeCastro took out his knee on the ninth play of the regular season. DeCastro is a great player in his own right, but if you ask most NFL coaches if they'd rather have an All-Pro center or an All-Pro guard, you'd end up with many more votes for the center.