Let's get to it:
CHRISTIAN MARGRIS FROM OLIVET, FRANCE: I have been reading some bad stuff (again) about the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, that despite his good first season with the Steelers he hasn't been able to prove he was worth the first-round pick it cost to bring him to Pittsburgh. I was one of the doubters last year, and he proved me wrong. While not being as decisive as last season his defensive play (in my opinion) has been consistent and efficient. How do you rate him this season as a defensive player? Has he been good enough to merit a first-round pick in a trade?
ANSWER: I make that trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick any day of the week. Last year, he was a first-team All-Pro, and there are numerous first-round picks who never are voted first-team All Pro. So far this season, against the Browns his interception return for a touchdown on the first third-down situation of the game set the tone for what ended up being a 38-7 blowout. Against the Ravens, he forced a Lamar Jackson fumble that Robert Spillane recovered on a fourth-and-3 from the Steelers 8-yard line with two minutes left in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were protecting a 28-24 lead. And then on the last play of the game against the Ravens, Fitzpatrick broke up the pass in the end zone for Willie Snead that could have won the game for the Ravens. In his first 19 games with the Steelers, Fitzpatrick has three defensive touchdowns. To put that into perspective, in 158 games over 12 seasons, Troy Polamalu had five defensive touchdowns; in 201 games over 14 seasons, Donnie Shell had four defensive touchdowns; and both of them have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fitzpatrick has missed some tackles and allowed some completions this season, but there isn't a safety in the league who hasn't done that. Wherever you're getting the information that Fitzpatrick wasn't worth what the Steelers spent to acquire him in a trade, stop reading that garbage. The Steelers are in no way disappointed in Fitzpatrick.
MICHAEL TORSIELLO FROM SUMMIT, NJ: On the final play of the win over the Ravens, some have suggested pass interference should have been called on Minkah Fitzpatrick. But if you watch the tape, it appears he is playing the ball. Don't defensive players have as much of a right as offensive players, on a pass play, to make a play on the ball, per the rules?
ANSWER: I will simply provide a tweet from Gene Steratore, a former NFL referee who since 2018 has served as a rules analyst for CBS Sports, including the NFL on CBS, and the SEC on CBS. "Regarding the end of #PITvsBAL," tweeted Steratore on Sunday night, "Minkah Fitzpatrick is making a play on the ball so the contact to the receiver is not a foul. Any incidental contact by an opponent's hands, arms, or body when both players are competing for the ball isn't a penalty."
ROBERT CARR FROM CHESAPEAKE, VA: What is Coach Mike Tomlin's postseason record against the Ravens?
ANSWER: The Steelers and Ravens have met in the playoffs three times during the Mike Tomlin era, and the Steelers are 2-1 in those games. The Steelers defeated them in the 2008 AFC Championship Game, and in the 2010 AFC Divisional Round. Baltimore beat Pittsburgh in the 2014 Wild Card Round.
DANTE CAMPBELL FROM NEW KENSINGTON, PA: Why were you so quick to say it was a bad idea to trade for Avery Williamson, and less than a week later we trade for him? I love your attitude when fielding stupid questions, but why be like that if you truly don't know until it happens?
ANSWER: When people ask me questions that begin with "What are the chances …" they're asking for me to guess what will happen in the future. Phrase a question like that, and what you're going to get is a guess/opinion, which is what I provided to the Avery Williamson questions. My perception of those were that fans were thinking he was going to be a one-for-one replacement for Devin Bush, and that is not his skill-set and never has been. Williamson is not that kind of player in coverage, and I also never believed the Jets would give him away for the swap of third-day draft picks, because fans always believe teams will trade good players to the Steelers for peanuts and the Steelers can trade their bottom-of-the-depth-chart guys for second-day draft picks. That's why I was against the suggestion, but seeing how this is unfolding as the Steelers adding depth to the position rather than believing Williamson is capable of being an every-situations inside linebacker, and that the Jets are unloading him for almost nothing, and he doesn't carry a huge salary cap number for the rest of this season, I have been convinced. But I guarantee you that was not the tone of the questions I was being asked about him.
GERARDO VIERA FROM McKINNEY, TX: With the Steelers reportedly trading for Avery Williamson, and since he is on a contract that expires in March 2021, if he were to leave as an unrestricted free agent would the Steelers receive a compensatory pick for him?
ANSWER: First, the trade is this: the Jets send Avery Williamson and their seventh-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to the Steelers for their fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Essentially, the Steelers figure they're sending the Jets a late pick in the fifth round in exchange for the player and an early pick in the seventh round. Yes, Williams would be factored into the formula for compensatory picks if he leaves as an unrestricted free agent, but since that formula is based on the size of the contract the player signs, I would doubt it would make much of a ripple on the formula.
PAT HUTCHISON FROM VERO BEACH, FL: On the Ravens first touchdown drive, the possession was extended due to a unnecessary roughness penalty on Cam Heyward. But when Heyward hit Lamar Jackson, he was still inbounds. Is this a rule I'm not aware of involving the quarterback, or just another instance of inconsistent officiating?
ANSWER: I believe a case could be made that Lamar Jackson was still inbounds and a penalty should not have been called on Cam Heyward in that situation, but I also believe that it's a call the officials are going to make over 90 percent of the time. Especially in a game like that and against a quarterback who is the reigning league MVP.
BOBBY BOONE FROM STRYKER, MT: I have seen outside linebacker Alex Highsmith spread out wide often to cover running backs or tight ends (and Bud Dupree as well). Is this a common alignment for the defense, or is this an adjustment due to the loss of Devin Bush?
ANSWER: Having outside linebackers in coverage long has been a staple of the Steelers defensive philosophy – Kurt Warner still whines about James Harrison being where "he wasn't supposed to be" at the end of the first half of Super Bowl XLIII. Looking for outside linebackers with coverage skills adds to the difficulty for the Steelers to find these kinds of players in the draft because colleges don't develop those kinds of dual-responsibility players, and it's also why drafted candidates to play outside linebacker for the Steelers often need time to develop, with Bud Dupree a recent of example of that. An example of the ways different teams utilize their edge players is Cleveland, with Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, and the Steelers, with T.J. Watt and Dupree. Before the Steelers-Browns game on Oct. 18, I asked Coach Mike Tomlin whether Vernon and Garrett were comparable to Watt and Dupree. Tomlin said, "They work in a different way. I would not trade my duo for that duo because there are so many drop responsibilities within our system, and our guys are built for what we ask our guys to do, and those guys are built for the 4-3 system and built to deliver what they ask them to do."
*DAN ARMITAGE FROM RIVERVIEW, NB, CANADA: Before the season there was a lot of chatter about James Conner being and staying healthy for us. So with the next three games against struggling teams, can we expect to give Conner fewer touches to help keep him healthier for the latter part of the season? *ANSWER: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. If that would happen and the Steelers lose in Dallas, you would be one of the first to rip the Steelers and Coach Mike Tomlin for "losing to a team they should beat." The next three teams on the schedule are not JV teams, and this is not the preseason.
TONY TURAY FROM SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA: Is there a difference in the cap hit to a team depending on whether it trades a player or releases him? Example: What is the Jets' cap hit based on the fact they tried to trade Bell, couldn't, and so they released him.
ANSWER: There is no difference to the salary cap hit for a traded player vs. a waived/cut player, so it makes no difference that the Jets tried to trade Le'Veon Bell before cutting him. And according to reports, the dead money charge to the Jets salary cap because of their decision to cut ties with Bell is $15.0625 million.
WAYNE DAVY FROM KEY LARGO, FL: What is the penalty for a player if he throws a football into the stands after a touchdown? It often appears that they think twice about doing it.
ANSWER: In the NFL, there is no yardage assessed to a team if one of its players throws a football into the stands, but there is a $7,000 fine to the individual. A second offense would cost $12,000. The reasoning behind this is fan safety. There is no fine if a player hands the football to a fan in the stands, but throwing it into the stands could cause injuries if people start to fight over possession of the souvenir.
NEIL GLASSER FROM MANALAPAN, NJ: With all of the different personnel packages the Steelers run, how is it communicated to the players who should be on the field for each play?
ANSWER: When the Steelers are on defense, one of the coaches up in the booth will call down to the sideline via headset about what personnel grouping the opponent is sending onto the field, and then someone on the Steelers sideline will call out the corresponding personnel grouping they want to have on the field. Players are instructed to be close to the sideline with their helmets on and buckled so that they can respond immediately to the call. On offense, since the play is generated from the Steelers sideline, it's a similar process only without input from upstairs.
EDWARD SPROULL FROM BELLEVUE, PA: Often in your answers you quote extensive historical facts to support your conclusions. Do you have special access to a database with those facts, or are you on your own to search the web for the answers? If I'm totally off base and this all in your memory, I'm very impressed.
ANSWER: Since I'm old, some of it I remember or witnessed first-hand, but other than that I do my own research.
GLEN WHITTEN FROM AGUADILLA, PUERTO RICO: Nothing wakes me up faster than knowing a new installment of Asked and Answered or the latest "Labriola on..." is waiting to be absorbed. With "morning routines" being such a hot topic by today's success gurus, I think more should recommend reading everything written by you. It sure beats eating bran, running five miles, ice baths, or meditating. If you have no objection, I'd like to make it my mission to add "Labriola Time" as an accepted method for maximizing someone's productivity. We could also call it "Mornings With Bob," if you prefer. Would you mind?
ANSWER: Happy to help make your morning, but I have to believe the bran and exercise is better for your longevity than Asked and Answered.