Poll Question: Which team will win the AFC North? Answer #1: Bengals (39%) Answer #2: Ravens (9%) Answer #3: Browns (3%) Answer #4: Steelers (49%)
Mad Chatter: So which free agents do the Steelers extend after the season? Cotchery looks like he has some gas left in the tank.
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, Cotchery will be an interesting one. Emmanuel Sanders is likely to sign somewhere else as an unrestricted free agent. If that happens, I assume Markus Wheaton will be the starter opposite Sanders and Cotchery would be perfect in his current slot role if he'd like to return for the right price. Clark's contract is up at the end of the year and I don't think he'll be back. Keisel is up too. He's played OK and his situation is also interesting because Ziggy Hood is likely to be gone and they need players along the defensive line. But Keisel is 34 and that figures to be a detriment. Still seven games left and lots of time for the Stelers to figure it out.
StillMC: I am still sitting in my basement dungeon sulking about the report the Steelers may trade Roethlisberger. This won't happen right?
Ray Fittipaldo: The Steelers, Roethlisberger and his representation all strongly denied the report. I don't think it will happen. It seems like the reporter, Ian Rapoport, maybe had some bad information, but I don't know that for sure. I know this isn't the first time he's had some misinformation concerning the Steelers. He reported Todd Haley interviewed with Arizona for its head coaching job and the Steelers said he did not. It turns out he did not.
SeaEweEnTea: Why is this Rap Report guy not getting heat for his false report on Roethlisberger? His source probably wasn't even associated with the Steelers organization.
Ray Fittipaldo: He's on 93.7 the Fan later this afternoon. Call the show and ask him about it.
SteelDeebo: Will the Steelers extend Jerricho Cotchery before he hits free agency or will we all be on a Cotch Watch to see where he ends up?
Ray Fittipaldo: Cotchery is in the final year of his deal and the Steelers don't negotiate during the season, so you'll be on Cotch Watch. He's certainly making himself some money. His touchdown yesterday tied his personal high in a season. He has six, four in the past two weeks.
BeepBeep: When the Dolphins finally cut Richie Inconito I think the Steelers should sign him. He'd add toughness to the line and maybe help Mike Adams progress.
Ray Fittipaldo: Please tell me this is a joke.
ANYGIVENSUNDAY: Did bad salary cap management waist Ben Roethlisberger's prime years?
Ray Fittipaldo: You'd certainly like for the team to be capitalizing better on his prime years, but it doesn't always work out that way. I can't say if bad cap management or bad drafting, or underperforming players are the reason. Perhaps it's a little of all three. By the way, the Steelers are only two games behind the Bengals in the loss column with seven games remaining.
KC: The team hasn't hit on an undrafted rookie in a while. Finding guys like Nate Washington, Willie Parker, and Isaac Redman supplement drafts and build winners. Plus I love the underdogs!
Ray Fittipaldo: What about Ramon Foster. He's been a starter since early on in his career and he's rated among the top 20 guards by Pro Football Focus. He was undrafted in 2009.
Swissvale72: Are the Steelers "cheap"? Not in terms of salary cap spending, but they have one of the smaller scouting and player personnel evaluation staffs and are way behind in football analytics personnel.
Ray Fittipaldo: Some teams have bigger staffs, some have smaller and none of it necessarily correlates with winning and losing.
Flanker: What is a biggest indictment on the Steelers scouting process? Bad draft picks like Limas Sweed, cutting Dwyer in favor of Redman, or letting good players like Cam Heyward and Keenan Lewis rot on the bench for 3 years behind scrubs?
Ray Fittipaldo: Draft picks such as Sweed definitely hurt more. He was a second-rounder and teams count on second-rounders to develop into starters. As for Heyward and Lewis sitting the bench before getting their chance to start, it happens a lot in Dick LeBeau's defense. Aaron Smith didn't start as a rookie and he's one of the top 3-4 ends in team history. Brett Keisel did not start until his fourth season in the league. I could go on and on.
Ex Altoids: Why has Mike Tomlin not put a stop to Ryan Clark's spouting off in the media. First he criticized Ben for turnovers, and then last week he said the front 7 isn't doing their job in the run game. Wouldn't a competent coach put an end to this before it creates an internal issue?
Ray Fittipaldo: Ryan Clark is 34. He is a team captain. Is he outspoken? Sure. But he is viewed as a leader in that locker room, so Mike Tomlin is not going to stifle one of his captains just because he doesn't like what he's saying.
Steel Ubaldo: Keenan Lewis looks really good for the Saints. Ike Taylor looks his age for the Steelers. Anyone besides me regret keeping an old Ike over a young Keenan?
Ray Fittipaldo: Hindsight is 20-20. This hasn't been Taylor's best year, but corners sometimes have a longer shelf life than players at other positions. There's not as much wear and tear. So maybe they were thinking Taylor had a few more good years left. And maybe he does.
Steelknife: Who is the next player to break a record on the Steelers defense? I'm torn between Calvin Johnson and Eddie Lacy.
Ray Fittipaldo: If you're making me choose, Johnson. He came within a whisker a couple of weeks ago of breaking the NFL record for most receiving yards in a game. Not that I think he'll approach anything close at Heinz Field. He was actually held under 100 yards yesterday vs. the Bears.
Franco32: Cameron Heyward completed his 3 year apprenticeship and is now dominating. Why can't the team speed up the development process?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a question for LeBeau. I just don't know if it's feasible with many of the positions on that defense. I think a nose tackle can come in and play right away. Casey Hampton did. I think corners can do it, too. But think about it. Troy Polamalu, who cold be in the Hall of Fame someday, needed a year to learn the defense. It just one of those things that takes time.
Stlcrtn74: My homer guess at AFC North final records. Steelers 9-7, Bengals 9-7, Ravens 6-10, Browns 6-10. Still a chance to sneak into the playoffs?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'd say there's about a 2 percent chance of that happening. That means a 6-1 record down the stretch for the Steelers and the Bengals to go 3-3 over their final six. The Bengals have four home games, too, and they haven't lost at Paul Brown Stadium yet this season.
fuquafan: Why is there a Saturday Pitt home game and Sunday home Steelers game scheduled back to back weeks in November? That turf is going to be destroyed.
Ray Fittipaldo: This isn't anything new. Neither team has a lot of control over when games are played. They just have to deal with the deteriorating conditions late in the year. I will say the grass did not all that bad yesterday. It was re-sodded a few weeks ago and it's holding up pretty well.
computerjumpstar: cam hayword had another nice run. will they everr use him like the bears used teh fridg?
Ray Fittipaldo: I asked him if he was auditioning for a role with the goal line offense a few weeks ago after he scooped up that squib kick on kickoff return. He said no and kind of laughed it off. But if they're ever going to use a big guy as a blocker down there -- and a rare run or pass -- he'd definitely be an option. He's really athletic for a big guy.
Ryan: What is up with the Steelers not playing Moye more? The guy has shown more heart than Wheaton. Only targeted 4 times, 2 catches 1 TD. Seems like the local 2 or 3 spot next season.
Ray Fittipaldo: When Wheaton is healthy they have played him over Moye because Wheaton plays special teams and Moye does not. Wheaton only saw four snaps on offense yesterday and was the target when Roethlisberger threw an interception. Wheaton did not appear to know the ball was coming. He also was off sides on a kickoff. I don't know if that will get Moye back into the lineup over Wheaton, but Moye's inability to contribute on special teams is the reason he's not dressing.
Sam: Ray, in general, how awkward is the relationship between the reporter and the source if the information provided is incorrect? And, how would the media bosses react?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's simple, if a source gives you bad information and you get burned you don't go back to that source again. Or if you do you make sure another source tells you the same thing.
Scott in Dallas: With regard to the drafting philosophy... How do we get the success from the Bill Cowher drafts into the current drafts? Was coach Cowher and his coaches better at asking for talent that fit their schemes or just better at developing the talent they were given?
Ray Fittipaldo: Cowher had some bad draft picks under his watch, too. As a matter of fact, he listed them on CBS radio a week or two ago. If I remember correctly, Troy Edwards, Jamain Stephens and Jeremy Staat were among those he listed. I think he had Edwards No. 1.
Brandon: If we can go out and pull out 2 wins the next 2 weeks, what do you think the state of the AFC North will be looking like? Alsoâ€¦.what are your thoughts at a Positional switch between Hood and Mclendon
Ray Fittipaldo: The Hood-McLendon thing would never happen in-season. It could be explored over the offseason, although I doubt Hood is back. If the Steelers draft a nose tackle in the first couple of rounds then McLendon could be moved to end. As far as the AFC North, there's not much room for error. You basically have to go 6-1 and hope the Bengals falter and I don't see the Bengals folding, even though they have some injury concerns.
Judge Dredd: If Mike Evans is there next year do the steelers grab him?
Ray Fittipaldo: A guy like Evans, who is 6-5 and about 230, could certainly help in the red zone. If not a big receiver then maybe a big pass-catching tight end. They had a chance at Eiefrt and picked Jarvis Jones instead. Eifert might have helped with the red zone offense, which currently ranks 28th in the league. The Steelers are scoring touchdowns on only 44 percent of their trips inside the opponents' 20. But as much as they need a red zone threat they also could take an offensive tackle, or a linebacker, though I'm not sure there is an inside LB worthy of being selected in the top 10. Or maybe they think a nose guard (Notre Dame's Nix?) could solve their run defense problems. As we have discussed in recent weeks, there are plenty of holes to fill.
Sam: Good Afternoon Ray, who do you think will have the final say on whether or not Todd Haley returns (Mr Rooney, Ben R., or M. Tomlin)?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not Ben, but it could be a collaborative effort between ownership and the head coach.
Phil: Absolutely the Steelers are right back in the race with a win against the Lions. Has anyone watched Dalton play qb the last two weeks? He's throwing the ball as if it's a volley ball. Not only that, but look at the wildcard--the Chargers ar blowing it, the Titans will rely on Fitzpatrick, the Steelers have the tie breaker over the Jets...
Ray Fittipaldo: And they lose a tiebreaker to the Titans because they lost to them AT HOME. It's the longest of long shots.
Bill L: Timmons first team AP all-pro? There can't be many better ilbs at this point.
Ray Fittipaldo: He's having an OK year but not as good as last year. He was the No. 4 rated inside linebacker last year according to Pro Football Focus. Before this week -- and he had a solid game that might have boosted his ranking, he was the 25th-ranked inside backer. Sean Lee was No. 1.
Nick: Is Ben worth another $100m? How many NFL players have ever gotten multiple $100m contracts?
Ray Fittipaldo: Maybe hell take a cue from Brady and take a home-town discount. But no matter what franchise QBs don't come cheap. He's goig to affect the salary cap one way or the other. It's a matter of finding affordable talent to put around him and that's where the team has failed in recent years.
Monisha: What will need to happen in our division for the steelers to win the division?
Ray Fittipaldo: Win the remaining five division games and hope the Bengals fold.
FreeTankCarter: The last decent O-line the Steelers had was in 2006. The problems started in 2007, and each line since then has ranged from below average to disastrous. Coincidentally 2007 was the year Mike Tomlin started, and Russ Grimm left. How much blame do you think Tomlin should get for the lack of O-line effectiveness? Yes, he reached 3 super bowls in spite of these lines. But it seems that the shuffling coaches, his philosophy of "position flexibility", lack of depth, constant injuries, not having back-ups dressed or ready to play on gameday, etcâ€¦ has finally ruined a season. Yes, the defense has its problems now, but you can't do anything if you don't have an offensive line.
Ray Fittipaldo: First of all, Tomlin has no control over injuries and for some reason the line has been hit hard by injuries. As to your other points, they're good. He's on his third offensive line coach and you can certainly make an argument that their high draft picks have not panned out. It's a little bit of everything you mentioned. But bringing Grimm into this serves no purpose. He was going to be the head coach or he wasn't going to be on the staff. When the Rooneys made the decision to hire Tomlin there was no way Grimm was ever to remain with the team.
jim: will Pittsburgh move pounce to guard and keep the current center?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think so. Velasco gave up five pressures yesterday. He's been solid but you don't replace a Pro Bowl center with a solid player, especially when DeCastro and Foster have been more than solid this season.
Phil: Cowher must have forgotten second round safety Scott Shields. Did that guy make it out of Latrobe?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think he made it out of Latrobe, but they dropped him by the time they got to North Huntington.
Scott in Dallas: There were some poor picks under Coach Cowher but I am talking specifically after he won the power struggle and Colbert came in as the GM/whatever they called him. From 2000 until he left the Steelers were in another Golden Age of drafts...
Ray Fittipaldo: You are right. There were some very good drafts. I was just pointing out that every coach is going to have good picks and bad picks. There have been some high profile misses in recent years that have hurt. I think they'll look at everything in regards to their scouting/drafting operation after the season. All good teams do. You're always looking to get better.
latrobe guy: Hi Ray, thanks for hosting these chats, they are really fun. I was thinking about this yesterday. The defense has it's issues, more that the offense really, but with the offense. Isn't it going to take at least a season or tow for Hailey to get the right players to fit the type of offense he wants? He's inherited players but they may not be the type he really needs. I know e was supposed to stick close to the old OC's system but if you're the new coach would you being in a new system. I mean if you're going to run the old system why change coaches? I think another draft & the offense will be very good. I'd go for the biggest fastest WR I could find, and a real left tackle although Adams is showing signs of life.
Ray Fittipaldo: They have to address the left tackle situation either through the draft or free agency. You just can't go into next season with the same players and hope it works out this time. My opinion is Adams could be a good right tackle. As far as the offense goes, you can't expect a coach to take two or three years to develop an offense. It's all about winning now in the NFL. A coordinator makes the big bucks because he works with what he has.
Billy Z: Other than Bell, are any rookies playing "above the line"? Is Vince Williams going to start next year? Jones seems like a huge disappointment and Shamarko Thomas hasn't really stepped up (and may be down for the year).
Ray Fittipaldo: Bell is probably going to win rookie of the year for the Steelers. He's been solid since coming back from his foot injury. Vince Williams played pretty well yesterday I thought, but I don't necessarily view him as a long-term answer. He's filling in for an injured Larry Foote and doing his best, but it's a lot to ask of a rookie sixth-rounder to come in and be productive in this defense. I do give him credit for being good enough to be the starter over veterans like Stevenson Sylvester and Kion Wilson, though. That says something.
latrobe guy: wow, I thought the last decent O-line was in 2008, you know, when they won the Super Bowl, with Tomlin as coach.
Ray Fittipaldo: You mean that line with Darnell Stapleton and Justin Hartwig as starters?
Phil: The list of qbs of 1983 to 2004 is a bad dream, but was there anything more beatiful than Bubby rolling right and hitting LOOOO 70 yards downfield or Kordell running away from the whole Panther defense that day in Charlotte?
Ray Fittipaldo: Or of Mark Malone fumbling an attempted option play against the Cleveland Browns at Three Rivers Stadium.
Jason: Was at yesterday's game and left convinced of two things. 1) When given adequate time, Ben is as good and capable as any QB in the league. 3 AFC titles are no accident. 2) Our offensive line is incapable of producing adequate time. When extra protectors were not left in (Heath or a RB), the pocket would collapse within a few seconds not allowing time to throw downfield. No quarterback can operate successfully that way. Can we just stop pretending that trading Ben is a viable option to build a winning team? Sure things like Andrew Luck are not waiting in the wings each year. Ask the Cleveland Browns.
Ray Fittipaldo: Good comment. And on that note it's time for me to get back to work on some other things. Check out the blog. I have a few items up on the red zone offense, the AFC North and a special NFL Films piece featuring Charlie Batch that will air later this week. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll do it again next week.