Thu, 07 Dec 2023

Asked and Answered: Sept. 24

The Steelers
25 Sep 2023, 06:30 GMT+10

Bob Labriola

Let's get to it:

MICHAEL PAOLINI FROM SCHWENKSVILLE, PA: When T.J. Watt scored the touchdown on the fumble recovery against Cleveland on Monday night, the announcers and other outlets said that was Watt's first career touchdown. What about his touchdown against Kansas City in the Wild Card Round, a game that was played on Jan. 26, 2022? Wouldn't this be his first career touchdown?

ANSWER: From a chronological standpoint, you are correct. But often, the NFL distinguishes regular season statistics from postseason statistics, and that's likely where that discrepancy originated. My personal opinion is that when it comes to an individual's career, whether player or coach, postseason statistics should count, and not as an addendum to the regular season statistics. But it's not up to me.

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LARRY ALLEN FROM SPRING VALLEY, OH: In the order of importance, what needs to change to make the Steeler offense more productive?

ANSWER: Since professional football is a results-centric business, I'm going to go with what Steelers President Art Rooney II said back in January: "Score more points."

JEFFREY BRASHEAR FROM MIAMI BEACH, FL: Robert Spillane has looked really good in the first two games with the Raiders. Do you happen to know why he and the Steelers didn't come to an agreement this past offseason?

ANSWER: In the first two games of the 2023 regular season, Robert Spillane has started and played every snap for the Raiders as an outside linebacker in the team's 4-3 base alignment. In those two games he has combined for 24 tackles, including 1 tackle for loss on a running play, plus 1 sack that came when he tackled Buffalo's Josh Allen at the line of scrimmage at the end of a scramble. Spillane is a tough, durable, intelligent player, but his time with the Steelers revealed him to be a liability in coverage. Maybe the Raiders are utilizing him differently, but Spillane just wasn't a good fit as an inside linebacker in Pittsburgh because of what's required of the position in passing situations.

MATT RYAN FROM SARASOTA, FLA: With the Steelers run defense always getting gashed, why do they not run out of the 3-4 base defense more often?

ANSWER: Because the opposing offense won't play along and always run the ball when the Steelers have their 3-4 base defense personnel on the field. NFL opponents are uncooperative in that way.

ROD KEEFER FROM EDMOND, OK: With Zach Gentry's release, the Steelers in my opinion lost the one at-least-average run-blocking tight end they had. Given the woeful ground attack to this point, would they consider signing him off the Bengals practice squad, or has that ship sailed?

ANSWER: If the Steelers had wanted to add Zach Gentry to their own practice squad following his release in the cut-down to 53 players, my sense is that would have happened. Since it didn't, I'm left to conclude that the ship has sailed. And in my opinion, it won't be very long until Darnell Washington is recognized as the team's best blocking tight end, if it hasn't happened already.

ERIC SCHIER FROM DOWNINGTOWN, PA: In a recent Asked and Answered, I was surprised to see the disparity in the games required to reach 81.5 sacks between T.J. Watt (88) vs. James Harrison (174), because I thought Harrison was unblockable. How much of that was due to games attributed to Harrison when he played special teams and very few or zero defensive snaps?

ANSWER: I'm sure it was a factor, but during that stage of James Harrison's career, Coach Bill Cowher evidently believed Joey Porter and Clark Haggans - the primary starters at outside linebacker at the time - were better options for the team than Harrison. Starting in 2007 when Mike Tomlin followed Cowher as the Steelers coach, Harrison became a full-time starter and started 74 games over the next 5 seasons and recorded 54 sacks.

WILLIAM HEISE FROM SUMTER, SC: In the game vs. the Browns, Alex Highsmith hit Deshaun Watson causing a fumble. Does Highsmith just get credit for a forced fumble or does he get credit for a sack as well?

ANSWER: That type of play typically is referred to as a strip/sack (if the hit on the quarterback comes in the backfield during a passing play), and in that situation the defensive player is credited with both a sack and a forced fumble.

COREY WISE FROM WATERFORD, PA: I don't usually pay any mind to the absurdities coming from Pro Football Focus, but a recent analysis caught my eye. How can PFF score Myles Garrett's one tackle, one QB pressure performance on Monday night higher than it scored the performances of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith? Please make it make sense.

ANSWER: I cannot make it make sense, and that's why I never pay attention to Pro Football Focus or lend any credence to its "analysis."

ANTHONY MATULONIS FROM RENO, NV: I was just watching the video on showing all 81.5 sacks made by T.J. Watt to set the Steelers' all-time career sack record. It got me thinking, what dictates a half-sack in the NFL? Who and how is that call made?

ANSWER: A half-sack can be awarded to each of two players when it's judged that those two players combined to make the play and get the quarterback on the ground. It's a decision made at the time by the on-site stats crew in the home team's press box, and since sacks are a recognized NFL statistic that decision can be reviewed by Elias Sports Bureau, which then makes a ruling whether to uphold the stats crew's decision or change it. Then the determination by Elias is final.

GABE KENNEDY FROM DEFOREST, WI: I seem to recall in a previous Asked and Answered that there's a story about Chuck Noll that when a rookie asked him to give a pregame speech Noll said something along the lines of "If you're a professional, you shouldn't need me to motivate you." Is this even remotely correct?

ANSWER: The teller of the story was Andy Russell, an outside linebacker whose Steelers career spanned 1963-76 with some time away while he was in the military. It wasn't about a situation where Coach Chuck Noll was asked to deliver a pregame speech, but it was about Noll's philosophy about motivating his players. Russell's quote was: "He would tell you, 'My job is to teach you how to play this game correctly. I will never give you a motivational speech. If I have to motivate you, I will fire you.'"

DANIEL UTLEY FROM OLATHE, KS: I'm not saying Pat Meyer or Matt Canada or any other position coach or head coach are to blame for lack of offensive scoring production, but at what point should any of the coaches be held accountable for the lack of "score(ing) more points"? And in your opinion are any of them in the so-called "hot seat" this year?

ANSWER: The way the Steelers typically handle their business is to make decisions on "accountability" after the season is over. And as I have mentioned many times previously, my opinion doesn't matter on such things, and since my opinion doesn't matter on such things I choose to keep it to myself.

SHAWN O'BRIEN FROM AUSTIN, TX: On Kenny Pickett's first interception against the Browns last week, the broadcast replay clearly showed the ball hitting the ground before the defender secured it. With all the time between plays due to the lengthy Browns celebration, how in the world is that call not overturned in this day and age of league monitored turnover reviews?

ANSWER: I have no reasonable explanation for the "why," but what I can tell you is that since it was ruled a turnover on the field, the play is automatically reviewed in New York, and on plays automatically reviewed in New York there is no recourse in the form of the coach throwing the challenge flag.

CRAIG DUMNICH FROM AVONDALE, PA: Kenny Pickett has been off these first two games. Does he have a quarterback coach? What advice would you give Kenny?

ANSWER: Mike Sullivan is the Steelers quarterback coach, and he is on the sideline throughout the game. I would never presume to have any worthwhile advice to give Kenny Pickett. That's Mike Sullivan's job.

MICHAEL VELLUCCI FROM ATCO, NJ: I don't have a question but just wanted to say it's an awesome thing when the rookies visit the children in the hospital. Great job to everyone who makes this possible. Watching the kids interact with the players is so heartwarming. I always enjoy the photos. Thanks to the Steelers for being such a class organization.

ANSWER: The Steelers have a long history of visiting the children at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, with two of the players who were especially involved being Franco Harris and Troy Polamalu, but there also have been many others as well. And after Coach Mike Tomlin was hired in 2007, one of his initiatives was creating what has become known as the Rookie Club, where rookies were taken - typically on Tuesdays during the regular season, which is the players' day off on normal weeks - into the community to learn and experience the value of giving back.

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