Wed, 27 Oct 2021

Asked and Answered: Sept. 21

The Steelers
23 Sep 2021, 06:30 GMT+10

Bob Labriola

Let's get to it:

PERCY SONDAG FROM NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ: Punting on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter when trailing by nine points felt to me like giving up. I don't usually question coaching decisions (there is a reason why Mike Tomlin is a professional coach, and I am not), but I cannot make any sense of that one. Were they hoping for a magical turnover to avoid the clock running out before they got a chance to tie?

ANSWER: I don't disagree with the idea of going for it in that situation, but where I have some hesitation is with what to call to try to gain the necessary yardage. If you're the coach, what do you call? If I was in that role, I wouldn't have any real confidence in being able to run for the necessary yardage based on what I had seen to that point in the game, and there isn't a particular pass play or receiver I would characterize as go-to in that situation. Watching the game from the press box at Heinz Field, my first thought as the fourth-and-1 materialized after a pass to Pat Freiermuth gained 5 of the 6 yards needed to convert the third down was that this was a time to go for it on fourth down. But being that the line of scrimmage was the 34-yard line, I would want to have a decent idea for a play in which I had confidence in that situation because failing would have all but conceded a field goal to the Raiders, which would have made it a 12-point deficit with a little more than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter once it came time to kick the field goal. A decision about punting vs. going for it is only the first part of the process; then it comes down to calling a play and executing it. By punting and playing defense, the Steelers got the ball back at virtually the same spot on the field (their 31-yard line) and with 5:51 left on the clock, but the deficit was still nine points instead of 12. In my opinion, the 61-yard touchdown pass allowed to Henry Ruggs was more significant in the loss than the decision on fourth-and-1.

BEN MURPHY FROM CORK, IRELAND: With Chuks Okorafor struggling in the first two games and Zach Banner not back yet, do you think there is any chance we could see Joe Haeg start at right tackle to help the run game against the Bengals next week?

ANSWER: Joe Haeg is a versatile backup-type offensive lineman. He wouldn't be a better option as a starting right tackle than Chuks Okorafor.

SEAN DELANEY FROM UPTON, MA: Ben Roethlisberger still has some moments, but how long before Coach Mike Tomlin tries something else? No way this happens in Week 3, nor should it. Just asking how long can the team wait?

ANSWER: Changing quarterbacks in the NFL, which again is where real football is played and not fantasy football or the videogame version, is not a simple matter. And whether you care to believe it or not, the Steelers are playing the quarterback who gives the team the best chance to win games this season. The Steelers brought Roethlisberger back for the 2021 season because an organizational decision was made that he was the team's best option at the position if the goal was to try to compete this season, and that's always the franchise's goal. I'm not implying that Roethlisberger is currently on track for his first MVP season, but I cannot see a change at quarterback until Coach Mike Tomlin comes to believe that the quarterback is the sole/primary reason the team is losing games. I just don't believe that adding a young, inexperienced quarterback to a unit that's already starting two rookies on the offensive line, a rookie running back, a rookie tight end, and a group of wide receivers whose senior member is 25 years old is the path to making things better.

TIM KISSELL FROM STREETSBORO, OH: After what I witnessed at Heinz Field in the game against the Raiders, let's just say that I believe that fans' patience will be tested this season. The defense is easy. When healthy, it can be very good if not great. So, fans need to wait for healthy players to return, or for others to step up. The offense is not as easy. That group needs a lot of improvement. Scoring 17 points a game isn't good enough in the NFL. What's your advice to fans at this point? How patient should we be?

ANSWER: A lot more patient than Steelers fans traditionally are.

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RICHARD D. WILLIAMS FROM COLUMBUS, OH: Why do the Steelers still have issues with their secondary? Playing one-on-one with other teams, they always seem to be a step or two slower. Why is that? When the Steelers lose, they lose because their secondary gets exposed something awful. That's what happened vs. the Raiders on Sunday. Help me out?

ANSWER: Let's begin with this: Will you agree that there is a correlation between pressure and coverage when it comes to playing good pass defense in the NFL? In the game against the Raiders, the Steelers were without Stephon Tuitt, Devin Bush, and Joe Haden at the start of the game, and then they lost Tyson Alualu and T.J. Watt relatively early in the game. Those are five significant defensive starters, and believing that had no impact on the ability to design and execute coverages is to trivialize the abilities of those players and their combined impact on the defense as a whole. Oh, and by the way, the Raiders have a big-time passing attack that's led by a very good quarterback and a nice complement of eligibles. If you don't believe me, ask the Baltimore Ravens, who allowed more passing yards, 435-382, and more touchdowns, 4-2, than the Steelers in their loss to the Raiders the week before. I acknowledge that injuries are a part of the game, and "next man up" and all of that stuff, but when the Steelers had all of those players available for the game in Buffalo (except for Tuitt, who was and still is on injured reserve), Josh Allen and his receivers didn't exactly expose the secondary. And Las Vegas wide receiver Henry Ruggs ran a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and so you can rest assured that it isn't only the Steelers' defensive backs who are "a step or two slower" than him.

VINCE SCOTTI FROM COLUMBIA, SC: I "stuck" with Ben Roethlisberger through his problems years ago, but am I the only one tired of hearing him say the problems of the offense are "on him," or "I have to be better," etc.? Secondly, is it time to panic about the offense, or should we all just hope it will develop as the season continues?

ANSWER: So, you "stuck" with Ben Roethlisberger? How noble to stick with one of the two best quarterbacks in the history of a franchise that has been a part of the NFL since 1933, who is one of only a dozen quarterbacks in NFL history to win more than one Super Bowl. Anyway, would you rather Roethlisberger sit in front of the media after a game and rip offensive coordinator Matt Canada, or point the finger at the rookie offensive linemen, or criticize the receivers for dropping the ball? Taking responsibility for your own actions is what a leader does. And secondly, please feel free to panic. I'm sure many other Steelers fans believe you're arriving way too late to that party.

MICHAEL ROSKO FROM CHESAPEAKE, VA: The Steelers knew Las Vegas was going to throw the football, and they still couldn't stop them. Is there a fix for this?

ANSWER: My idea would be to gather up all of the Steelers' injured defensive players and plan a road trip to Lourdes.

JOHN THOMPSON FROM CONNEAUT, OH: Do you believe that Chris Boswell has displaced Gary Anderson as the best kicker in Steelers' history?

ANSWER: We might be able to debate when that exactly happened, but in my opinion, there is no doubt Chris Boswell is a better placekicker than Gary Anderson was for the Steelers. Anderson left Pittsburgh with a 78.2 percent success rate on field goals, while Boswell's success rate is 88.2 percent. Anderson finished eight seasons with a field goal success rate below 80 percent, while Boswell has finished below 90 percent only twice. And when it comes to the postseason, Boswell is 16-for-16 in seven playoff games, while Anderson was 15-for-19 (78.9 percent) in 10 playoff games.

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