Poll Question: Mike Tomlin said more changes could be coming. Who's next to be demoted? Ryan Clark (85%) Troy Polamalu (0%) Ike Taylor (11%) Kelvin Beachum (4%)
Sam: Ray, much speculation about the Steelers possibly extending Ben's contract after the season. But, what if he doesn't want to stay especially if the team is rebuilding or really wants to re-unite with Bruce Arians?
Ray Fittipaldo: I have not heard anything along the lines of what you suggest. Ben has won two Super Bowls and been to another as a Steeler. He has never said anything publicly about wanting to go elsewhere. People will connect the dots with Arizona, but it's pure speculation at this point. Ben knows his NFL history and understands how playing for one team can be a great thing for a franchise quarterback. Plus, what does Arizona have to offer other than a reunion with Arians. The Cardinals offensive line is even worse than the Steelers.
Spirit Sniper: Why was Ben still on the field when the game was out of reach?
Ray Fittipaldo: I heard Phil Simms say something about that, but I was fine with it. Ben was quoted in the paper this morning saying someone would have had to dragged him off the field. That's his game. He wants to fight with his guys. It didn't bother me as much as it bothered others.
Sam: Good Afternoon Ray, I picture another off year for the Steelers in 2014 due to older vets and high contracts. Which person is more likely to stay...Keisel or Hood? Cotchery or Sanders? LeBeau or Haley?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'll say Keisel more than Hood, but I don't think either is a strong chance. Keisel is in the final year of a deal and would have to come back at a reduced rate. Even then, I'm not sure it happens because he is 34. I say Cotchery because he is a 10-year vet and won't command as much as Sanders on the open market. For someone who is 32, Cotchery is playing pretty well and it wouldn't be a bad idea to bring him back on a one-year deal if he continues to play well, especially if they don't pick up another quality receiver in the draft. As for your last question, it's a coin flip. LeBeau is 76 and might opt to retire. Haley could end up being a sacrificial lamb. If this team goes 4-12 someone on the coaching will go. Just a matter of who at this point.
Alan: Is it possible all the rules on hitting have taken the fear factor from the Steelers defense and basically w/o it the defense is ordinary
Ray Fittipaldo: I asked that question to Ryan Clark early in the season and he kind of brushed it off. If anyone in the locker room would have given me a truthful answer on that question it's Clark, so the fact that he didn't bite told me there might not be much to that theory. It could be that Warren Sapp is finally right about this team, albeit three years late. Old, slow and over. It's harsh, but it might be true. The secondary looks older than any other position group. It seems like all of those guys have lost a step at the same time. I'm sure it doesn't help that the Steelers can't deliver those big hits that they used to deliver in years past. But everyone in the league is adapting to same rules. It really shouldn't be that big of a deal.
The Dude: I thought Ryan Clark played great last year and while I don't know their specific assignments, there have been numerous times on both running and passing plays where he appeared to be grossly out of position. If this is true, how do you explain such a drop off in 1 year? Nobody gets old that fast.
Ray Fittipaldo: How did anyone explain the sudden drop-off in Hines Ward's play? He was a starter on a Super Bowl team in 2010 (caught a TD pass in the game) and the next season he's benched early in the season. It happens to the best of them. Old-man time eventually gets everyone. I think there's also something to Clark and others on this defense trying to cover up for other deficiencies within the defense and this is the reason they're getting caught out of position. There doesn't seem to be a lot of trust in one another in regards to assignments or belief that their comrades can get the job done.
Zack: Any chance Tomlin gets canned?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not unless things really go sour on and off the field. It's not the Rooney Way. He'll get another chance.
Sam: Hello Ray, Much discussion has been made about preventing concussions such as finding a better helmet. But what about ACLs? Would a knee brace reduce the amount injuries?
Ray Fittipaldo: Knee braces are not popular with players because they don't feel as athletic or fast wearing them. Now, if everyone was required to wear one, it wouldn't be an issue, but with such little difference between a starter and a reserve in this league you'll never see them worn unless it's mandated. Plus, they're not foolproof. Players can tear ACLs while wearing braces. It can only stabilize a knee to a certain point.
Kevin: As much as we all love LeBeau, do you think he is still beyond reproach? Is he stuck in his ways with inability to adjust? I think that Haley is alright they just need better linemen.
Ray Fittipaldo: Everyone in the organization can be criticized especially in times like this. His defense has not been good at forcing turnovers for three years now. The blitzes are being picked up. The very thing that made this defense a success is lacking. And when blitzes aren't getting home and players can't win one-on-one battles the results are not pretty. But there's no denying he has personnel issues with this team. He is a Hall of Fame coach for a reason. The defense has a track record of being successful. He did not forget how to coach. When it comes to the performance of the defense everyone in the organization from the scouts to the coaches to the players can take some blame. And there is plenty to go around.
Mad Chatter: When is the last time you saw this much Steeler Fury in Pittsburgh? 1980's maybe?
Ray Fittipaldo: In 1988, the Steelers were 5-11. Not much better in 2003 when they were 6-10. And yes there were some bad losses those years. In '88, they lost to the Bengals, 42-7. Not quite a loss of historic proportions but some bad losses nonetheless.
Dude _ From _ Cali: Ray, is it time to sing Don Meredith's MNF classic, " Turn out the lights, Party's over~! ". Thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, and ESPN is thanking the scheduling gods they don't have to air another game involving the Steelers, although NBC gets stuck with a Steelers-Ravens game on Thanksgiving. I'm sure NBC wasn't banking on having two losing teams close out Turkey Day, but it's looking like that will be the case.
GreekSteel: Which big name / big money players get cut after the season? Polamalu, Taylor, Woodley, & Timmons are all way overpaid.
Ray Fittipaldo: Of the players you mentioned I would say Taylor and Polamalu are more likely because of their age and salary. Woodley's salary is higher than anyone's except for Roethlisberger, but he's not playing poorly. People will argue he's not worth $9 million a year, but he's been among the team's best defensive players this season.
iRon: Will the Steelers be able to coheres Polamalu or Ike Taylor into a big pay cut for next year?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm sure they'll be asked to take a pay cut much in the same way James Harrison was. Will they accept one is another question altogether.
Matthew1516: Ryan Clark said Robert Golden was the best Safety in camp. Why isn't he playing now? Clark has been AWFUL or worse every game!
Ray Fittipaldo: You might see some younger players getting into these late-season games with more frequency. The Steelers probably want to see what they have in these younger players and the best way to find out is playing them. I'm not sure that will come this week or next week, but if the losing continues you will see some different faces out there.
steelman58: The Steelers went from the best to one of the worst run defenses since Steve McClendon took over at NT. Why does Hebron Fanguopo never dress for a game?
Ray Fittipaldo: My guess is the coaches don't feel like he is an upgrade over McLendon, who is actually ranked fairly high by Pro Football Focus. He is the 25th-ranked interior defensive lineman in the NFL out of 71. That's not bad for a first-year starter. He's not the run-stopper Casey Hampton was, but those types of 3-4 nose guards don't grow on trees. The Steelers had to invest a No. 1 pick in Hampton. They invested a fourth-round pick in Ta-Amu and he's gone after a year. It takes a unique player to fill that role. Until the Steelers get another player of that ilk, it's my opinion that McLendon is a serviceable player in the middle.
FCfreeStD: I was listening to a Steelers podcast this week, and they mentioned Curtis Brown being absent from the team. What is his story?
Ray Fittipaldo: His absence was "not injury related" according to the team. I heard it was for personal reasons, but maybe we'll get an update from Tomlin tomorrow at his presser, which should be interesting.
EJ: Are Tomlin's comments about benching players more "unleash hell" nonsense, or should we expect to see someone like Ryan Clark on the bench Sunday?
Ray Fittipaldo: Tomlin doesn't have many options. He could bench his captain and give Golden or Thomas a chance to play. He could bench Kelvin Beachum and give someone else a try at left tackle. But really, there aren't many options on the roster.
ElGuapoGrande: When will Jarvis Jones finally net a sack this season? And I mean a real sack where be beat an offesive tackle, not a dong sack where he is unblocked.
Ray Fittipaldo: Jones did not play much against the Patriots. I think it was only 22 snaps if my memory serves me. I'm sure he'll get one eventually, but he's not going to be very productive playing with that type of infrequency. He must regain the trust of his coaches. When he does that he'll get more opportunities.
Guest: The Steeler's have no threats on offense, whats the chances the steelers go after fitzgerald in the offseason?
Ray Fittipaldo: They're up against the cap, so unless there are some unexpected retirements that free up money I would not expect a big free agent signing. This team is going to be rebuilt the way it's always been rebuilt -- through the draft.
Dude _ From _ Cali: Problem on D is obvious: aging FF & FS, ordinary CB's. Result, an ordinary team that gets worse on selective weeks.
Ray Fittipaldo: The only aging veteran on the front four is Brett Keisel and he's actually played well the past two weeks. McLendon and Heyward are first-year starters and so is Worilds. But you're right about Clark and the corners. They get exposed unless there is pressure and there hasn't been nearly enough pressure this season.
iRon: Ben Roethlisberger seems to be a bit flabby around the midsection. Why isn't the team on him to work on his physique more in the off season? He'd be better if he were more chisled like a Cam Newton or Brady Quinn.
Ray Fittipaldo: Roethlisberger is 31 so I wouldn't expect him to be the runner he was early in his career. That being said it's obvious he's not as mobile as he once was. And when he does have an opportunity to run it seems like he's conditioned not to. Ideally, he'd have a line to protect him and he could play his later years as a pocket quarterback, but that's clearly not going to happen anytime soon with this line.
Anti-Warren Sapp: Before everyone starts with age, the only Steelers remaining from the "08 and '09 draft classes are Ziggy and David Johnson. Both are probably gone after this year. Is it that the team is too old or that the young guys aren't playing well enough?
Ray Fittipaldo: Both. You make a good point that players like Hood never materialized the way management had hoped, but there is no denying that this team has aging veterans like Clark, Taylor and Keisel who are not playing as well as they once did.
FanofSteel: Years ago I coached football, even taught a young Rey Mauluga how to tackle. The Steelers defense seems to lack proper tackling technique. Is this something they even try to work on in practice?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's hard to work on tackling in practice because there is really only one day a week when teams are permitted to practice in pads. This is part of the new collective bargaining agreement. So to answer your question, no, there's not much a coaching staff can do.
RiddleOfSteel: Your chats are the best thing since greek yogurt! Any chance Steelers ownership reads them? Readers here post some great suggestions.
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm glad I'm held in such high esteem. Maybe we can get Oikos (or whatever the brand name is) to sponsor this chat. I have no idea if ownership reads anything about the team, but I'm certain they don't take advice from fans or journalists. At least they'll admit they do.
Spirit Sniper: It is clear that Brady isn't fooled by all the different looks from our D, and hasn't been for years. Wouldn't the unit have been more effective against the pass if they had consistently covered the middle of the field rather than having Troy do his wild card thing?
Ray Fittipaldo: Or by playing press coverage the way they did in 2011 when they won at Heinz Field 25-17. Patriots receivers were given free releases for much of the game. The Steelers eventually went to some press coverage, but it didn't happen much in the first half, if at all.
SacOfSteel: Give me a reason to continue watching the Steelers this season. I think I might just start walking the dogs on Sundays.
Ray Fittipaldo: A sick curiosity of whether things can get any worse.
Six: By my math the Steelers paid Lamarr Woodley $1.5 million for 2 solo tackles combined the last two weeks. How can they justify his pay vs performance?
Ray Fittipaldo: I mentioned earlier he might not be playing up to salary, but he's not the biggest problem for this defense. Far from it. He has five sacks and a bunch of hurries. The team could ask him to take a pay cut, but I doubt it. Who's going to replace him if he balks? Jason Worilds?
Nick79: This team is as screwed up as the Obamacare website they are promoting. Do the Rooneys fear backlash over mixing football and politics?
Ray Fittipaldo: Was anyone complaining in 2008 when Rooney campaigned for Obama? No, because the Steelers won the Super Bowl. He was the ambassador to Ireland for the past few years and no one ever complained because the team was winning. Now that the team is going through a losing season a few people will come out of the woodwork, but I don't think Steelers can care very much one way or the other where the Rooneys stand concerning their politics.
Hi5Steeler: Watching the Steelers play has become as fun as fighting a 7 foot Iranian. Give me something positive to look forward to!
Ray Fittipaldo: Three consecutive 1 o'clock starts, a return to traditional Sunday afternoon viewing, or dog walking as a previous commenter threatened.
Spirit Sniper: Why was a QB sneak not called on 4th and inches? Ben could have lunged forward with out stretched arms and picked up the first down easily.
Ray Fittipaldo: I brought this up in my blog this morning. The Steelers don't call a lot of QB sneaks because Roethlisberger has never been very good at executing them. That's on him, though. When his team needs a yard it should be able to call on him to execute a simple play. There's no excuse for him not being able to get a yard in any situation. All he has to do is fall forward and drive his legs.
Guest: Butler has been the heir apparent to LeBeau for a few years. Any insight into how he would change the D if given the job?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm sure he has his own ideas, but he's learned at the foot of LeBeau so I don't think there would be any drastic changes.
John: it seems pretty clear that many are calling for Clark's demotion. If so does thomas get the job? or will golden get it thomas stay in his current role?
Ray Fittipaldo: On the team's depth chart, Golden is listed as Clark's backup and Thomas is Troy's backup.
The Dude: Just like finding out who was behind James Harrison, I would not be excited to see who is behind Ike Taylor. Also, I am not ready to write off Shamarko, but he clearly needs to up his game if he is going to be what they hoped.
Ray Fittipaldo: What is behind Taylor is Cortez Allen. If Taylor is not brought back, Allen steps in as the starter and Gay remains a starter on the other side. Unless, of course, they draft a corner in the first or second round.
MSGM: I think it's time for the Rooneys to really look at the team. They have a very good QB, one that about 26 teams in the NFL would love to have. Time to commit to build the team around Ben, build an offense that's got a good chance to score every time they have the ball. As for the defense, make sure that it's adequate, it's difficult to have both an outstanding offense and defense anymore so take advantage of your best and in the Steelers case that is Ben
Ray Fittipaldo: They've been trying to build around Roethlisberger for years. Pouncey and DeCastro were No. 1 picks in the past four years. Gilbert and Adams were No. 2 picks. Bell was a No. 2 picks. They've tried, and at times, failed in building around him. The one position they have not invested a high-round pick is receiver. Maybe they'll do that this year and maybe it will make a difference, but probably not unless the line shows it can protect him in a more effective manner.
Jesse: Ray, a. few bright spots in a dismal season....Cam Heyward looks like the light has finally come on and Laveon Bell looks like he has a bright future
Ray Fittipaldo: Agree on Heyward. Bell looks good, too, although his performance yesterday came versus the 31st-ranked rush defense in the NFL. The Patriots aren't that good on defense.
JamesinNYC: This is only my opinion on Troy...but he is trying to play the same as he did when he was younger but is a step slower so instead of 1 in 10 plays looking bad with 9 great ones you get half looking bad or really bad and 1-2 great ones. Sound right to you?
Ray Fittipaldo: The game yesterday was the first really bad one of the season for Troy. He has been really good against the run. He has been spotty in coverage. I have no idea why he was so out of position yesterday. But yes it's fairly obvious that he's lost a step from his younger years. He's 32. You would hope he'd make up for that lost step by knowing team's tendencies, but that doesn't seem to be the case. it seems like he's guessing more than ever and not guessing right.
MSGM: Everyone seems to jumping all over Woodley and ignoring Troy. Am I wrong in saying that Woodley is actually playing pretty good this season but he's not getting any help from the other outside linebacker spot? Teams have nothing to worry about with either Worldes or Jones and double up on Woodley. Troy is not as quick as he once was and needs to stop freelancing and play more disciplined. keep to his assignment, them maybe Clark won't look as bad since he's not trying to cover ground Troy gave up with freelancing? Allen played very well last year filling in for Troy because he stuck to his assignment.
Ray Fittipaldo: You're right about Allen, but I'm sorry I just have a hard tie seeing Tomlin making that move. If they felt that way about Troy they should have traded him and got something for him at the trade deadline. I just think they have too much respect for him to do that. Plus, as I mentioned the Patriots game was his first really bad outing of the year.
Alan: Any new news on Spence?
Ray Fittipaldo: The Steelers have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to add him to the 53-man roster or place him on IR. Likely to IR.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the great questions this week. We'll do it again next week at the same time. I'll have midseason grades on all 22 starters up on the blog shortly.