Mon, 29 Nov 2021

Asked and Answered: Oct. 21

The Steelers
23 Oct 2021, 05:30 GMT+10

Bob Labriola

Let's get to it:

DANIEL CLIFF FROM NORTH CHILI, NY: In the last Asked and Answered, the lack of snaps for James Washington was touched on, but there were several players who didn't seem to get on the field that I found curious, namely Melvin Ingram III, Isaiah Buggs, and Isaiahh Loudermilk. You hear a lot of talk about Buggs and Loudermilk, but they never seem to be on the field. And 17 snaps for Ingram? What goes into coaches determining who gets on the field during a game?

ANSWER: What goes into decisions about who gets on the field? Well, let's begin with this - and I'm quoting Hall of Fame Coach Bill Cowher on this - "The starters will start." None of the guys you mention are starters, and so their number of snaps in a game typically will be lower - barring injury - than the starters. Isaiah Buggs is a nose tackle, and even when that position was manned by Tyson Alualu, the nose tackle saw fewer snaps than the defensive ends, because the Steelers are aligned in a sub-package defense around 70 percent of the time. "You hear a lot of talk about Buggs and Loudermilk." Talk by whom, exactly? And what are these "talkers" talking about, exactly? When Isaiahh Loudermilk was drafted, he was projected as a player with good size and athletic ability, but also as a player who would need to develop before he would be ready to play in the NFL. And all due respect to Isaiah Buggs, I'm not all that certain he even makes the roster without the absence of Stephon Tuitt, and if Carlos Davis hadn't injured his knee in the opener and missed the next five games, maybe Buggs is on the inactive list each week of the regular season. Finally, the case of Melvin Ingram: when the Steelers signed Ingram, the idea was to have him as a rotational outside linebacker, with T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith being the starters. The idea was that Ingram, 32 and with an uncooperative knee, would provide 20-25 quality snaps a game to allow Watt and Highsmith to get occasional breathers to be able to go 100 miles an hour at crunch time. In truth, to this point of the season, Ingram has played too much, maybe way too much, but that has been because of the groin injuries to Watt and Highsmith. Against Seattle, Ingram played only 17 snaps, but guess what? Highsmith played 100 percent of the snaps, the first time all season he was over 70 percent. That was the plan all along.

MIKE MILLER FROM SEVERANCE, CO: When Geno Smith spiked the ball, the game clock on my television showed there was one second left when the ball hit the ground and then the clock went to zeros when an official blew a whistle. Had the replay official not stopped the clock on the clear-as-day D.K. Metcalf catch-fumble-recovery, would the game have been over, or would they review the spike and put one second up on the clock which still would have given the Seahawks a chance to kick the field goal?

ANSWER: I'm afraid the only thing I'm going to be able to tell you definitively is that the clock shown on the bottom of your television screen has nothing to do with the official time remaining in the game. That clock is a service to the viewer, and regardless of how it's operated or who is operating it, no final decision would be made based on what that clock showed. With that out of the way, I can tell you there are several instances in a game where there is a discrepancy with the game clock - an example is when a coach calls a timeout and when that finally is conveyed to the clock operator - and on those occasions you'll usually hear the referee (the official wearing the white hat) turn on his in-stadium microphone and say something like, "Will the clock operator please re-set the game clock to 10:05. And then the clock will be re-set. My belief is that there is someone in an official capacity keeping an eye on the clock at all times to correct little mistakes/discrepancies such as that, and it's done as soon as they happen. So, I don't know that instant replay would've been involved in the scenario you described, but it would have been handled by the on-site crew instead.

WILLIAM STREET FROM CASPER, WY: The catch and fumble at the end of regulation occurred when the Seahawks started a play with 18 seconds, no timeouts, and needing a field goal. After the fumble, shouldn't the three players close by have dived for the ball, like players do with most fumbles. The effort to secure the ball could have resulted in seconds ticking down when time was of the essence? Instead, the Seattle player was allowed to just jump up and get the ball back into position. Or do you think the refs would have stopped the clock? I know the review call negated all of that, but I'm just curious.

ANSWER: It's pretty easy to come up with that scenario more than 24 hours after the game - what coulda been done, what shoulda been done - but in real time I believe players in that situation are thinking about things such as getting the defensive call for the next play, getting themselves into position for the next play, looking at the offensive alignment to make certain they know what their assignment will be for the next play. It's not up to them to have come up with an antidote for incompetent officiating.

AMY RIEG FROM WASHINGTON, NC: At the time of the Freddie Swain fumble recovery, with the clock running out, Russell Wilson ran out to him to tell him to get the ball back to the line of scrimmage. Mike Tirico made the comment that Wilson was out on the field. Is that permissible while the clock was running?

ANSWER: No.

JENNIFER FRAZIER FROM FORT WAYNE, IN: Is there a rule against kicking a field goal on first down in overtime? I wondered why Ben Roethlisberger spiked the ball on first down and second down, and then Chris Boswell came in to kick it on third down if the next score won the game?

ANSWER: There is no rule against attempting a field goal on any down at any point of an NFL game, from the first quarter through the end of overtime. And Ben Roethlisberger didn't spike the ball on first and second downs. On first down, Roethlisberger took the snap and moved the ball to the right, to get it into the middle of the field. On second down, he took a knee. Spiking the ball would've stopped the clock each time; what Roethlisberger did kept the clock moving. The only thing I can offer as to an explanation for why the Steelers didn't immediately attempt a field goal after Devin Bush's fumble is that Coach Mike Tomlin wanted to make sure his field goal unit was ready. And by the field goal unit, I'm referring to long-snapper Christian Kuntz and holder Pressley Harvin III, because Kuntz is a virtual rookie because this season is his first on the active roster, and Harvin literally is a rookie. Kuntz and Havin and Chris Boswell likely were sitting on the bench cold because Seattle had just gotten the ball when T.J. Watt created the takeaway. Rather than rush young players in a veritable do-or-die situation, Tomlin probably wanted them to go through the process a couple of times on the sideline just to restore the muscle memory. There was time left on the game clock, but the play clock was running. So, on first down, you move the ball into the middle of the field, and on second down you take a knee. That gave the snapper and holder some time to get a couple of practice snaps in so there were no glitches when they were doing it for real.

TRAVIS JONES FROM RAPID CITY, SD: Do team officials in the booth or on the sideline have access to video of the game to help them decide whether to challenge a particular play or not? If so, is it something other than what is being televised?

ANSWER: Yes, there is a television in both teams' coaches' booths upstairs that is tuned to the network feed of the game. No video is allowed on an NFL sideline.

TIM BAUMGARTEN FROM NORTHPORT, AL: Any update on Stephon Tuitt and when he may be cleared to play?

ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin addressed the media following the team's practice on Tuesday, Oct. 19, and he was asked, "Can you give us any clarity on Stephon Tuitt's status?" Tomlin said, "He's still on IR and working hard and making progress. How close he is to returning to play, I do not have an answer to that as I stand here right now."

PAUL SOMERVILLE FROM HAMILTON, ONTARIO, CANADA: What are the chances that after this bye week we get Zach Banner and Stephon Tuitt back?

ANSWER: Zach Banner was added to the 53-man roster on the day before the game against Seattle, and as for Stephon Tuitt, see Coach Mike Tomlin's answer in the above submission.

KWEKU HAYFORD FROM ROCKVILLE, MD: I understand why kickoff returns are not as common anymore, but what rules did they change in punt returns recently that makes it where the returner never has enough time to return the kick?

ANSWER: It's called hang time. Punters who have good hang time on their kicks get jobs in the NFL. Those who don't, get cut.

GLENN SMITH FROM FAYETTEVILLE, NC: What determines which teams have their home openers on Week 1?

ANSWER: For franchises in cities that have a Major League Baseball franchise, where the stadium shares parking lots with the baseball park - as is the case in Pittsburgh with Heinz Field for the Steelers and PNC Park for the Pirates - there is not a football game scheduled the same weekend that the baseball team is at home, even in a case where the start times at the two facilities aren't in direct conflict. So, this is how to determine whether the Steelers will open their 2022 regular season at home: When Major League Baseball releases sits 2022 schedule, and if the Pirates are at home during the weekend after Labor Day, then the Steelers will open on the road.

JACK STALEY FROM LEESBURG, FL: Benny Snell came up holding his forearm, and it appeared to be hanging. It looked broken to me. Any update on his injury?

ANSWER: Benny Snell went back into the game shortly after that. I doubt he did that with a broken arm.

SCOTT BEAUCHAM FROM JACKSONVILLE, IL: Why did we trade a fifth-round pick for Ahkello Witherspoon when he has played four snaps on defense?

ANSWER: First, a little context: The Steelers traded a fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft for Ahkello Witherspoon. That's a draft that's two years away. Consider Witherspoon insurance against an injury to Joe Haden, and since Haden has been healthy, Witherspoon has not been needed. It amuses me that fans whined and cried for a quarterback to be drafted with a first-round pick so he could sit behind Ben Roethlisberger for "a couple of years to learn the system," but a fifth-round pick in a draft that's two years away for a backup outside cornerback is somehow a mortal sin.

SCOTT SOKOLOWSKI FROM CLARKSVILLE, MD: How does Pat Freiermuth compare with Jesse James?

ANSWER: To put it simply, Pat Freiermuth is better in every phase, in every aspect of the game than Jesse James. And that's as it should be, because Freiermuth was a second-round pick and James was a fifth-round pick.

BRYAN PATTON FROM LEWISTOWN, PA: Devin Bush gets pushed around often in the middle of the field. He's quick laterally and is certainly athletic, but his lack of size/presence in the middle is obvious, at times. Do you see this regarding Bush?

ANSWER: Devin Bush just played in his 26th regular season NFL game, and I'm wondering whether you would have offered this same observation of Ryan Shazier after his 26th regular season NFL game? I'm not predicting Bush will become another Shazier, but there is a learning curve in the NFL, and it usually lasts longer than 15 minutes. Do you have any idea how many Steelers fans like you were so intent on moving Shazier to safety for the very reasons you state? Remember, Vince Williams had size and presence in the middle of the field, but he was a major liability in coverage.

LARRY MORRISON FROM PENSACOLA, FL: In 1984 the Steelers made a huge mistake by not taking Dan Marino, who would been a great replacement for Terry Bradshaw, in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft. Ben Roethlisberger is near the end, and there is a guy with the same size, big arm at Pitt again. Any chance they may consider Kenny Pickett? His numbers are better than Marino's, not to say that guarantees anything.

ANSWER: I enjoy watching Kenny Pickett play on television, and from everything I understand he is a nice guy. Certainly, too nice to have a comparison to Dan Marino hanging over his head before his college career is over. Marino as a player was listed at 6-foot-4, 224 pounds, which are NFL measurements, while Pickett is listed at 6-3, 220, which are college measurements, which are to be taken with a mountain of salt until he has to go to the NFL Combine and officially get measured and weighed. Anyway, you know who else finished with better "numbers" at Pitt than Marino? Alex Van Pelt, who was an eighth-round pick in the 1993 NFL Draft. It's fair to compliment Van Pelt as a quality NFL offensive coordinator, but as an NFL quarterback? No thanks. Just because a guy has good college numbers doesn't project to a successful career in the NFL.

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