Best of Asked and Answered: Friday, September 25

Let's get to it:

TODD WALKER FROM PORT SAINT LUCIE, FL: When Derek Watt was signed did you think the Steelers would be going to a two-back formation a little more this year as I did? Doesn't seem like it so far. Not complaining just asking if we thought the same?
ANSWER: I did not see the signing of unrestricted free agent Derek Watt as an indication that the Steelers were going to use a two-back offensive set more often, because the Steelers offense is and will be built around Ben Roethlisberger. A team doesn't decide to pay what the Steelers decided to pay Roethlisberger and then steer the focus of the offense toward a two-back, power-based running game. I find it amusing when Steelers fans reminisce about the times when the Steelers' offense was driven by a big-back running the football behind a fullback. Fun to watch, but those teams always seemed to come up short in the playoffs, because the passing attack wasn't what it needed to be for the team to win a championship.

All along I believed the addition of Watt was to offset the losses of both Tyler Matakevich and Roosevelt Nix and the impact those losses would have on the special teams units. That's not to say Watt will have no impact as a fullback, because in the win over the Broncos the game-clinching 59-yard run by James Conner happened because of the blocking by Watt and Matt Feiler, who both pulled from the left side of the formation and led Conner around the right side.

Another thing to remember is that this was an offseason with no OTAs or minicamps, and so it's possible the plan to incorporate a fullback into the offense on a more regular basis had to be postponed because of a lack of on-field practice time.

KARINA LATSKO FROM CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, PA: It feels like we've seen a lot of dramatic injuries in just the first two weeks of the season. Does this season have a higher rate of injuries than previous years, or are we just noticing them more because of the circumstances? Do you think not having a preseason could really have affected player's health that much?
ANSWER: There are always a rash of serious injuries at the start of an NFL season or preseason because it's at one of those times when players begin to push their bodies seriously to meet the demands of the sport, and when that happens, muscles, ligaments, and tendons sometimes rebel. With no preseason games this year, this phenomenon happened early in this regular season when a lot of eyeballs are focused on the NFL. We're just noticing the injuries at a different time of the season. And yes, the lack of a preseason could contribute to these injuries, because there is something to be said about easing the body into strenuous physical activity, and playing football at the NFL level is a strenuous physical activity. Boxers spar before getting into the ring against a real opponent, and some people believe football is similar to boxing in the respect that working up to competition can be helpful.

BRYCE KYBURZ FROM AUSTIN, TX: I am curious to know if "Renegade" was played at some point in the second half of Sunday's game against the Broncos even though there were no fans to amp up the atmosphere? If they did, what did it feel like it? Was it strange?
ANSWER: Yes, "Renegade" was played on the Heinz Field jumbotron at a point in the fourth quarter, as per usual, and what it felt like was a song being played in an empty stadium. I have made this point many times, and in my opinion what happened on Sunday lent credence to it: The impact of "Renegade" doesn't come from the song itself but from the fans' reaction to it. With no fans in the stands, it seemed to me it had no impact. However, I understand the interest in trying to create something that resembles the normal in-stadium experience, and so at Heinz Field that includes the playing of "Renegade."

JEFFREY BRASHEAR FROM MIAMI BEACH, FL: To my eyes, Dustin Colquitt does not seem to be an upgrade over Jordan Berry as the punter. What do your eyes (and the data) tell you?
ANSWER: My eyes do not disagree with your eyes. And if memory serves, the best punt Dustin Colquitt has hit in the two games of this regular season was the 54-yarder against the Broncos that went for a touchback, which means it counts as a 34-yard net.

JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: Against the Broncos last Sunday, T.J. Watt had another game with multiple sacks when he finished with 2.5. How many times in his young career has he had multiple sacks in a game? I believe Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt are the best outside linebacker tandem the Steelers have had since LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. Since the Steelers switched to a 3-4 alignment, which outside linebacker tandem do you think is their all-time greatest?
ANSWER: In his three full seasons plus two games so far in 2020 – a total of 49 regular season games – T.J. Watt has nine games with multiple sacks. That breaks down into one game in 2017, three in 2018, four in 2019, and one so far in 2020. As for the best tandem of outside linebackers in franchise history, these are the ones, in my opinion, that are in the running for this mythical and arbitrary award (in chronological order): Mike Merriweather and Bryan Hinkle; Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd; Joey Porter and Jason Gildon; James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley; and Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. Admittedly, there are a lot of different ways to try to evaluate these tandems: best season, best tenure with the Steelers, best combination of skills/statistics; and the eye test.

In 1984, Merriweather and Hinkle combined for 20.5 sacks and five interceptions. In 2000, Porter and Gildon combined for 24 sacks, six forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries; and then in 2002 the same tandem combined for 18 sacks, four interceptions, 14 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. In 2008, Harrison and Woodley combined for 27.5 sacks, two interceptions, five passes defensed, nine forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries; and then in 2010 the same tandem combined for 20.5 sacks, four interceptions, 10 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.

All of those tandems and all of those seasons were exceptional, but I'm going to go with Greene and Lloyd, because in 1994 both of them were voted first-team All-Pro after combining for 156 tackles, 24 sacks, six forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. That vote signified that the Steelers had the two best outside linebackers in football that season, and just to complete the picture future Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas was second-team All-Pro at outside linebacker in 1994. With none of the other Steelers tandems was there a season where both players voted first-team All-Pro. On that basis, I'm going with Greene and Lloyd, but each of those other tandems were a handful for opponents as well.

JOE ASHER FROM TAMPA, FL: Chase Claypool's touchdown catch against the Broncos on Sunday was amazing. For a rookie who had no preseason, he seems to be adjusting well to the NFL. I also thought I saw Alex Highsmith on the field, and of course Kevin Dotson started at right guard. What did you think of those two performances, and did any other rookies see playing time last Sunday?
ANSWER: By all accounts Kevin Dotson played well in his first NFL start, and it also should be noted that he missed a decent amount of training camp with a knee injury. Alex Highsmith played 10 defensive snaps and 18 special teams snaps in the opener vs. the Giants and had one tackle on defense; and he played 11 defensive snaps and 21 special teams snaps against the Broncos and didn't show up on the stat sheet. Highsmith is still learning on the fly, but when he has been in the game during the first two weeks he doesn't appear to be a liability, which under these unique circumstances is a plus. The other rookie to see playing time against the Broncos was cornerback James Pierre, who was on the field for nine special teams snaps.

BRIAN TENNANT FROM WEST HAVEN, UT: When was the last time the Steelers had a wide receiver who, during his tenure, was considered one of the best in league, and, was a first-round draft pick?
ANSWER: "Considered one of the best in the league" is kind of a vague label, because it doesn't specify who is doing the considering and what level has to be attained by the player to be "considered" legitimately. But here are a couple of names for you, and you can decide: Lynn Swann was a first-round pick in 1974 and ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; and Louis Lipps was a first-round pick in 1984 and was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons.

CHRIS ZAVADIL FROM FREMONT, NE: Are you hearing any league or fan reaction to the fake crowd noise? I understand trying to replicate an "atmosphere," but personally I would rather hear what's happening on the field.
ANSWER: I have a feeling the fake crowd noise will be continued as long as stadiums aren't permitted to operate at full capacity for two reasons: the fake crowd noise covers up a lot of the audibles and other calls players are making, and coaches like that because they don't want that kind of information going out over the national airwaves; and the artificial crowd noise can help camouflage some of the salty language that comes out of the mouths of players during the heat of the game.