Let’s get to it:
NICK METRAKOUDES FROM ROSCOE, PA: This is not a very technical question, but what is happening, and what is the purpose of the quarterback pointing toward the defense and apparently calling out to his players? I see Ben Roethlisberger doing this frequently.
ANSWER: He is identifying something or someone for the offense. It could be a specific player whose presence on the field or whose positioning on the field is some kind of a tell. It’s another way Ben Roethlisberger contributes in ways that younger, more inexperienced quarterbacks cannot.
DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: Can the NFL help relieve some of their cap problem by expanding to 18 games in 2021, when the players will get a larger share of the revenue?
ANSWER: That kind of expansion would be subject to collective bargaining between the league and the players association, and throughout the last several years the union has shown absolutely no interest in an 18-game regular season.
CHRIS HANN SR. FROM OSPREY, FL: After games are completed, coaches often speak of the three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams. Coach Tomlin is a great coach, but it seems like our special teams have been a weak point in his tenure until this year. So bad that vs. the Ravens last year he deferred the overtime kickoff. Seemed Bill Cowher’s special teams were much better.
ANSWER: I cannot speak to the year-to-year rankings of the Steelers special teams during the Bill Cowher era vs. those same rankings during the Mike Tomlin era, but I can tell you this: Bad special teams cost the Steelers two playoff games during the Bill Cowher era – the 1993 Wild Card Round Game vs. Kansas City, and the 2001 AFC Championship Game vs. New England. In 1993, one of the reasons the Steelers didn’t defend their AFC Central Division title was because of a loss in Cleveland when they got the better of the play on offense and defense, but they lost because Eric Metcalf returned two punts for touchdowns. The game only was close in the fourth quarter because Metcalf returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown, and then the Steelers lost the game in the fourth quarter because Metcalf returned a punt 75 yards for a second touchdown. Then in the 1993 Wild Card Round Game against the Chiefs in Kansas City, the Steelers had a seven-point lead close to the two-minute warning. With the Chiefs out of timeouts, the Steelers essentially needed only to get off a punt to put Kansas City in a dire situation. But the punt got blocked and returned to the Pittsburgh 9-yard line. The Steelers lost in overtime.
In the 2001 AFC Championship Game, New England returned a punt for a touchdown when the Steelers had to re-kick after a penalty, and the Patriots also blocked a field goal and returned that for a touchdown in a game the Steelers eventually would lose, 24-17, after special teams cost them 17 points.
As for Mike Tomlin’s decision against the Ravens last season at Heinz Field at the start of overtime: The Steelers defense was playing well in that game, and Devlin Hodges was at quarterback for the Steelers. Under the rules of overtime, the team that receives the overtime kickoff only can win the game by scoring a touchdown. Tomlin’s assessment of the situation was that the Steelers’ best chance to win was to put the defense on the field first, get a stop, and then all the offense had to do would be to get close enough for Chris Boswell to win the game with a field goal. If the Steelers received the kickoff and Hodges pitched a three-and-out, after the punt the Ravens could’ve won the game by getting into range for Justin Tucker, who has a monster leg. The decision was based on having to play with a third-string quarterback. It had nothing to do with no confidence in his special teams.
SCOTT SHILEY FROM BRICK, NJ: I assume because I never see an NFL player wearing No. 0 or No. 00 that these are illegal numbers in the NFL. Yet college teams have players wearing these numbers. Has it always been the rule in the NFL, and if not has a Steelers player ever worn No. 0 or No. 00?
ANSWER: Numbers 0 and 00 are no longer allowed, but they were in use before the NFL instituted rules about which positions could wear which jersey numbers, which happened in 1973. As an example, wide receiver Ken Burrough of the Houston Oilers wore No. 00 during his career in the 1970s. As for the Steelers, Johnny Clement wore No. 00 in 1946-48, and Jack Collins wore No. 0 in 1962.
RODOLFO GARCIA DE ALBA FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: Given the huge Steelers fan base in Mexico, it seems odd that the team has never played a game here. What is the process to decide which teams are playing international games? Is the team involved or is it an NFL decision?
ANSWER: Actually, the Steelers did play a preseason game at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts prior to the 2000 NFL season. Steelers President Art Rooney II has let the NFL know he would be in favor of playing in Mexico, but the ultimate decision belongs to the NFL.
BRADEN JOHNSON FROM LEBANON, TN: I think our defense played well in the absence of Devin Bush. But as insurance against any additional injuries, based off what you’re hearing, do you think we are going to make any roster moves regarding our depth at inside linebacker?
ANSWER: There are no moves to make, at least none that would make the Steelers better.
JOHN NOH FROM SAN JOSE, CA: Looking ahead, if Kevin Dotson were to switch to right guard next season and earn a starting role there, how difficult of a move would it be for him?
ANSWER: Kevin Dotson already has started at right guard in two games this season when David DeCastro was injured. But allow me to remind you that DeCastro is under contract through the 2021 season, and right guard is his position.
KHARI CLEMMONS FROM MCALPIN, FL: Just curious about your thoughts on acquiring Geno Atkins. I know how you feel about fans clamoring to add veteran players based solely on their “yester-year” reputations, and I agree. But as a depth guy, a quality snaps as part of the rotation guy, a guy who could probably be acquired relatively inexpensively, would you be interested if you were the general manager.
ANSWER: Absolutely, positively not. I find that one of the things I am constantly reminding fans is that this isn’t a video game or fantasy football. It’s the real world, and in the real world, Geno Atkins is a 32-year-old defensive tackle whose body is breaking down, who is signed through the 2022 season at salaries of $11.1 million in 2020, $11.7 million in 2021, and $12.95 million in 2022. That is the polar opposite of inexpensive for a guy you describe as a “depth guy.”
TOM McCORMICK FROM FINDLAY, OH: In a recent blog post the following statement was made: “The Ravens have blitzed on 46.1 percent of their defensive snaps, a league-leading figure that surpasses even the blitz-happy Steelers’ 44.3 percent.” In order for someone to count and therefore calculate those stats, there has to be a consistent definition of a blitz. Can you explain what definition is used for these statistics?
ANSWER: This is the way Coach Mike Tomlin defines a blitz: “It’s defined by us purely as the number of people rushing the passer. Traditionally, there are four people designated to rush the passer, and so anything more than four we designate as a blitz. There are different kinds of coverages behind the blitz – there are fire-zones, there is man-to-man, there is trap coverage and so forth. Generally, a blitz is defined by anything more than four rushing the passer.”
JOEL HIGGINS FROM VANCOUVER, WA: Do you think Cam Sutton’s play has earned him more defensive snaps regardless of Mike Hilton’s health?
ANSWER: I think the Steelers have a role for Cam Sutton, and it’s a necessary one that he fills well. Sutton is a big part of the team’s third-down defensive package, and his versatility allows him to be deployed in a variety of ways to counteract what different offenses might be trying to do. If there are other injuries this season, Sutton’s role may change, but right now he’s a big part of the third-down defense, and as Mike Tomlin says, “All downs aren’t weighted the same.”
TOM BRUZDA FROM WILDOMAR, CA: I am curious about how many games have ended in a tie since the 1970 merger and what is the average per season?
ANSWER: There have been 26 tied games since overtime was introduced in 1974; 17 ties occurred from 1974 to 2011 under the original overtime rules, while nine ties have occurred since the overtime rules were modified in 2012. That works out to an average of .55 ties per season.