Poll Question: What is the biggest problem facing Mike Tomlin? Answer #1: The red zone offense (Votes: 4) Answer #2: The aging defense (33%) Answer #3: Offensive line (48%)
The Dude: Can we resign Drew Butler already and let Mesko get on with his life's work? I realize the Steelers have bigger problems, but this one seems to be easily correctable.
Ray Fittipaldo: I would not be surprised at all if that takes place between now and tomorrow. Mesko was put on notice last week by Tomlin and he did not help himself yesterday. He fumbled with the snap that was blocked and did not deliver with a good punt near the end of the first half. Also, those holds on Suisham's two misses did not look great. I am no expert on field goals, but his placement appeared crooked.
Coach Shaft: Obviously the Steelers dug themseleves a hole, if you will. What will be the one biggest factor in turning the season around to get back above the line? Is attrition football the answer or the problem?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm not sure what you mean by "attrition football" but I am not sure this season can be turned around at this point. They are 2-5 with a game at the Patriots next week. The Patriots, by the way, have plenty of issues on offense but still have figured out ways to win, something the Steelers have failed to do.
Hi5Steeler: A lot of people are complaining about Haley's offense. I happen to like it. Nothing excites more more than hitting slants. Is Mr. Rooney happy with his job to far?
Ray Fittipaldo: The Rooneys don't generally comment during a season on the job performance of their coaches, so the answer to you question is not known. However, the Rooneys made the decision following the 2011 season to not retain Bruce Arians and go in a different direction. As I pointed out in a blog entry I posted at <a href="http://post-gazette.com" target="_blank" >post-gazette.com</a> a little while ago the Steelers were 55-25 with Arians in charge of the offense. They are 10-13 with Haley. I'm not pointing fingers. I happen to think Haley has his hands tied by the personnel he is working with, but the records speak for themselves.
Eddie Munster Rooney: Todd Haley was hired by the Steelers ownership to reign in Ben Roethlisberer and return to a ball control rushing attack. Do you think Haley has succeeded in neutering Roethlisberger as planned?
Ray Fittipaldo: Roethlisberger and Haley continue to say the right things in the media, but something seems amiss with Ben. He did not play very well yesterday and made some questionable decisions regarding the two-minute drill at the end. He has to take some blame for the way things have turned since Haley took over. Players play and coaches coach. But it's hard not to look back on the Arians affair now and second-guess the decision to let him go. There was a comfort level between Ben and Arians and the team won. The Haley relationship might be getting better but the record is not.
Demetrius Gore: Is it just me or are officials in the NFL getting worse every year? If I was as accurate as them I'd be out of a job (I work in a bank)
Ray Fittipaldo: Officiating is a difficult job that has become easier to dissect with the new technology available from television networks. Even though there were a ton of reviews yesterday and the game got bogged down as a result, I am in favor if replay review because it can correct mistakes. The one change I would make is giving coaches a third challenge. There are too many plays now and limiting a coach to two does not seem fair, especially if those first two were overturned.
Its a Steel: Will the Steelers Sign Plax again after this season or will he retire?
Ray Fittipaldo: He might want to play next season, but I have a hard time seeing it happen with the Steelers.
CK Steeler: I have been working on a Steelers stats project for a few years now. I just noticed they are on pace to shatter the record for fewest turnovers forced ever in a season! What is being done to remedy this?
Ray Fittipaldo: Well, they had three turnovers yesterday so I guess things are looking up. I did a story on this before the season started. The coaches were not of the opinion that anything needed to be changed. They and the players feel like turnovers will be produced by the defense if they force the offense into third-and-long situations and it helps if the offense can get them a lead. The latter certainly hasn't happened with any regularity this season and the defense hasn't helped the cause with their performance on first and second downs.
iRon: Will Mr. Rooney please hire Tomlin 3 more assistants? One to schedule travel more than a day before a game, one to handle clock management, and one to come up with some new cliches?
Ray Fittipaldo: You might be onto something regarding the travel...As for the clock management this is on Ben and the coaches. It happens quite a bit and for it not be be remedied by now is surprising. I'm all for questioning coaches if it's deserved and it might be in this situation, but Ben has been a quarterback in this league for a decade now. If he does not understand certain situations in the two-minute offense by now on his own, without the guidance of coaches, he'll never understand them.
WyomingCowgirlBarbie: Any chance Brett Keisel will be extended for a few more years? I love the beard!
Ray Fittipaldo: Not sure what the point would be. He is getting older and while his play might be solid it's probably not to the point that he could command another big pay day. I think he's been terrific for the Steelers, but at some point you have to move on and get younger.
BethlehemSteel: Help me settle a bet. Is it ok for a guy from Central PA to be a fan of the Steelers and the Flyers at the same time?
Ray Fittipaldo: I say no, but I know of some people where that is the case.
Kodiak: Will Bill Cowher ever return to coaching? I always thought he'd be a great for for the Chiefs.
Ray Fittipaldo: Ed Bouchette talked to him before the Jets game and he seemed very content doing his TV work. It's always possible. Dick Vermeil came back when he was 60 or 62 after a long stint in TV, but the longer he stays in his current role the more likely it appears his coaching days are over.
Scott in Dallas: Anyone knocking on the door offering a 3rd for Sanders before tomorrow? We need to replace that 3rd we gave up since this team is very obviously moving into rebuilding/retooling/sucking territory.
Ray Fittipaldo: I can't see a team forking over a third-round choice for Sanders. If they do, the Steelers would jump at the opportunity. In order for that to happen you would need a desperate team. The Patriots might need him, but they are comfortably in first place and don't need to overpay for him. They can simply wait and sign him as an unrestricted free agent after the season when it won't cost them anything.
Fury: Coach Tomlin alluded to young players being sensitive to media criticism last week. Do players read internet message boards?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think Tomlin was referencing younger players, most notably Le'Veon Bell. Tomlin referred to it as "elevator music." I suppose some younger players pay attention to what he is being said or written about them, but it's hard to believe it would be a big issue. Sounded like more of a situation where Tomlin wanted to protect a young player who was coming off a rough game.
Nick: I'd put the chances of Steelers drafting a LT in the first round, especially if its in the top-10, somewhere between 98 and 99%. You agree?
Ray Fittipaldo: Left tackle is a good option for sure. But I have noted many times in the past two months if you do that you are ignoring other positions that also need help. They might get an opportunity to get one of the best college linemen, and they might pull the trigger. But they haven't exactly had great success projecting college linemen in the recent past. It get easier the higher you draft, of course, but there have been plenty of offensive linemen busting as top 10 picks, too. In addition to a left tackle this team could use a big receiver that can stretch the field, a long-term replacement for Heath Miller who can contribute right away as a second TE option, an inside linebacker and defensive ends. Other than they, they're in great shape.
Fitzy: Have you heard the Larry Fitzgerald trade rumors? Think the Steelers would be interested in him if he gives them a discount to return home?
Ray Fittipaldo: I did see some stories on it this morning, but Pittsburgh is not home to Fitzgerald. Minnesota is. He spent two years at Pitt in college. It would be interesting to watch Fitzgerald in another uniform. His greatness has not been on display to the national audience because the Cardinals have been bad for long stretches since he's been there. I'm anxious to see how that turns out.
SteelStillSlays: Ryan Clark is a liability on the field. Isn't it about Shamarko time now?
Ray Fittipaldo: That thought crossed my mind after the game yesterday. At some point you have to look to the future and see what you have. I just don't think the time is when you're 2-5 with nine games remaining. Now if the Steelers are 4-9 in December I think the chances of that and a few other personnel changes are more likely.
JamesinNYC: I really wasn't on the bandwagon that thought they turned it around. Better I think if they have a really stinky season then a soso one. What steps do you think they should take to be better NEXT year vs trying to salvage this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Long term they have to come up with a plan for the offensive line. It's been an issue for about a decade now. Tomlin has had three offensive line coaches. At some point they need to become invested in a system. And, of course, it helps if the high draft picks they select play up to their billing. That hasn't happened. That's on offense. On defense, the lack of turnovers has been a problem for three years now. Nothing has changed in that time. I just think they need a difference maker or two, maybe a cornerback or a pass rusher who can start making some splash plays.
Charles Demarr: Top 3 needs in the draft? I think they are:
Ray Fittipaldo: 1. Left tackle 2. WR 3. Inside linebacker
Charles Demarr: Top 3 needs in the draft? I think they are 1. A BIG WR, 2. a LT, 3. TE
Ray Fittipaldo: We're on the same page, Charles. You are right. A tight end is not a bad idea, either.
Dude _ From _Cali_: Ray: I hate to be bearer of bad news, but outside of Big Ben, 95% of big names on roster are OVERPAID, OVER THE HILL gang. SMH. THOUGHTS?
Ray Fittipaldo: On the bright side, if you don't pay Keisel or Clark after this season and let's say another high-priced vet is axed before his contract is over, you have lots of spare change to sign an impact player.
Guest: Why is Ike Taylor still on this team. He horrible pass defender and cannot INT. He needs to benched along with Clark
Ray Fittipaldo: LeBeau already benched Cortez Allen in favor of William Gay. You want Antown Blake or Isaiah Green out there instead?
Rich: When its 3rd and 12, why do we throw the ball 5 yds?
Ray Fittipaldo: Good question. Probably because the coordinator has no confidence that the offensive line will protect Ben long enough for an 12-yard route to develop. I don't know about you, but I'd rather see Ben sacked than throw another pass short of the sticks. That's getting old.
Fake_Don_Meridith: Ray: From an untrained eye, mine, the Steelers looked unprepared and un-ORGANIZED. Agree?
Ray Fittipaldo: Certainly at times this season they have appeared to be both. I have no idea how Terrelle Pryor can run the read option and go untouched 93 yards for a touchdown on the opening play of the game. It's almost like they never thought that could happen. I don't care if the Raiders cleverly designed the play to trick the Steelers or not. That cannot happen. And yes, the offense has been unorganized at times, too. The clock management at the end of the game was atrocious.
steelmann58: If the Steelers get a Top 5 pick, which direction do they go? LT? Edge rusher? Skill offensive player? Wouldn't be a QB yet, right?
Ray Fittipaldo: Roethlisberger did not play well yesterday and this has not been one of his better seasons, but there is no way I invest a top 5 pick in another QB when he is still on my roster. I think you try to fix what's around him. A blindside protector would be nice and a No. 1 receiver would be an option. I like Antonio Brown and I know he's on pace for a terrific season, but this offense needs help he cannot provide.
Gus: What are the chances this is Troy's last year? I say save the cap space.
Ray Fittipaldo: As I mentioned a little while ago, other high salaries are likely to come off the books. I think Polamalu is playing well for the most part. You can't jettison the entire roster in one offseason. You still have to line up and play a schedule next season.
Steelers nat: Ray, I've heard lots of gripes about the Steelers running the wildcat offense the past couple of games and I see it a completely different way. Its been reliable to gain us 3-5 yards a carry, something we can't seem to do with a quarterback taking the snap. I get that it shouldn't be run more than 1 or 2 set of downs, but its a way to move the ball when we often find ourselves not being able to do so. What are your thoughts on the wildcat offense?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm OK with it in small doses. Why not use it in the red zone? Nothing else is working down there. The Raiders had success with it in the red zone yesterday. There is also the school of thought that you truly won't threaten defense unless the wildcat QB is reading and making the defense make a decision. As it stands now, Bell isn't reading the defense, he's simply faking a handoff and then taking it himself.
steelspiker18: Jarvis Jones showed he was a poor athlete at the combine and now it shows on the field. How much longer until he is labeled a bust?
Ray Fittipaldo: He's seven games into his rookie season so that label is far off. But if you noticed yesterday Jason Worilds played more than he did. Not sure if that was because Jones was coming off a concussion or if the coaches were not satisfied with his performance. But yes, it would be nice if he came up with a sack every now and then.
Poltargyst: What ever happened to all of the Bruce Arians bashers? Do they have some remorse now?
Ray Fittipaldo: Probably. There are a lot of issues with this team, but the fact that they rank 29th in scoring offense under Haley is not a good sign.
Tom: I am amazed that the media treats these Steelers like they are a talentless team getting blown out week after week. There is a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL. Most losses this year were due to a single bad play or missed opportunity. After watching the Pirates AAA team for 20 years, shouldn't the Pittsburgh media and fans know the difference between a talentless team and a competitive team just not playing up to par?
Ray Fittipaldo: This team has some talent, but there are a lot of holes, too. They have a rookie sixth-rounder starting in the middle of their defense. The offensive line is patchwork. This happens when you consistently draft near the end of the first round instead of the beginning. It was bound to happen. But I also will not ignore that the Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings have similar talent issues and the Steelers managed to find a way to lose them. That's not good.
computerjumpstar: is thise the woarst steelers team sence the 80s?
Ray Fittipaldo: Record-wise, trending that way.
Macklamore_$20_in_my_pocket: Did Woodley make the trip? #56 was not on the game's stat sheet. Not a single assist or solo tackle.
Ray Fittipaldo: Not one of Woodley's better games. He had been playing well, though. That's the problem with this team. There has not been consistency from game to game.
Nate: So if the injuries to Decastro and Whimper are serious, what options are out there to pick up?
Ray Fittipaldo: At this point, maybe you find out about the guys on the practice squad -- Joe Long and Chris Hubbard.
Tom: So explain to me how Ben missing open receivers, Antonio not securring a first down catch in his hands, Heath dropping a TD pass in his chest is Haley's fault. Haley's plays have been creative and been amazingly successful and getting guys open. Bottom line is the players aren't making play. Getting a new coach will only set us back another 3 years.
Ray Fittipaldo: I am not quite sure he was "amazingly successful" getting guys open in the first half when the Steelers trailed 21-3. That said, I'm not blaming him, either. The whole operation seems broken.
Macklamore_$20_in_my_pocket: Ray: some fan suggested go to Oakland a day earlier, that would mean 100 hotel rooms extra cost of 20k which is paltry to NFL stands. It might be wise to do so to get a win.
Ray Fittipaldo: I am sure after the season they will look at their travel arrangements because they have not enjoyed a lot of success going west in recent years. But they have many more pressing concerns.
Eddie Munster: Art II is the problem. He hand picked the OC and dictated the direction of the offense.
Rich: We need am impact NT and two beast at DL nad play them as rookies and let them sit for 4 yrs.
Ray Fittipaldo: They have invested two first-round picks in the D-line in the past five years. Cam Heyward, by the way, isn't playing bad. I agree, though, that another impact player up front would help.
JamesinNYC: Think you have to take the best available in draft, but top 10 TE and ILB are out I think. You have to take a shot for a premium position in top 10. QB, OT, DE, or maybe WR (if Megatron's clone is ready yet)
Ray Fittipaldo: It would take some guts to take another DE in the first round, especially if it's in the top 10. But I agree with you, James. I'm thinking left tackle because there are more than one quality guy projected in the top 10.
Tiffany Amber Theissen: Will next season be any better?
Ray Fittipaldo: The Kansas City Chiefs were 2-14 last season and undefeated now. It's the NFL. Things can turn quickly. But this team does have a lot of issues to sort out.
Law-Deezie: Ray, where do you see the Steelers ending up record wise at the end of the season? I say 6-10. Also, they're desperately in need of a LT. I don't see one worthy of a top 10 pick. Sam Watkins from Clemson or Evans from A&M would be solid picks. Thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: 6-10 might be about right. I have seen three left tackles in some top 10 projections. I have seen Evans and Watkins in those same projections. Whoever they pick he has to be a starter right away and I think getting a franchise type left tackle could solidify the line, especially if Pouncey bounces back from his knee injury.
Cappy: Ray you are wrong about the Steelers signing a free agent. They are absolutely screwed cap wise due to bad contracts.
Ray Fittipaldo: I said they would have to get rid of a veteran whose contract is not up. And they don't have to break the bank to bring in an impact player. An under-the-radar signing like James Farrior would do just fine.
Nick: A follow up to Rich's question: when were inside the redzone, why do we never throw the ball into the endzone? They do realize the player doesnt have to actually carry the ball over the goal line for the TD to count, right?
Ray Fittipaldo: I sound like a broke record because I say this every week, but what would it hurt to throw on up to Derek Moye once in a while down there? I saw in one formation near the goal line yesterday he was in the slot. He's not nearly as dangerous in there. When he is lined up outside at least Roethlisberger can throw a pass that he and only he can catch. I must be missing something, though, because they almost never call it.
M. from latrobe: Just thinking, the defense is not a dominating one, but it is a decent one, the offensive line is probably the biggest problem with the team. No matter how gifted a QB you have, he isn't going to be able to do much if he's under constant pressure or lying on his back, no matter how gifted your RB is there is only so much he can do when there are no holes to run thru or while his O-lone is being shoved back into his face. That being said, why despite the high picks is this line so bad again? Is it poor coaching, bad player evaluation, poor play calling, they just don't care or are just bad players?
Ray Fittipaldo: High draft picks have not panned out in some instances. Injuries have been a problem. Depth has been a problem. It's a little bit of everything you mentioned.
nerdbird: saw the Pryor replay , Troy could not even gain ground on pryor. Is he too slow
Ray Fittipaldo: Pryor had a full head of steam and a step or two on Polamalu there. I am sure he's not as fast as he was when a rookie, but he's still an effective player. The safety who made the mistake on that play was Ryan Clark, who abandoned his center field position to bite on a run fake.
Rich: Ray, As Chuck Noll would say "We have problems and they are many" This is just an average team. Most of the talent that won super bowls is gone or on the down side. No quick fixes in store.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the great questions this week. We'll do it again next Monday at the same time.