Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to my weekly Steelers chat. Please post your questions and we'll get started.
Guy: Who will start at DE for the Steelers next season being that Hood and Keisel are both free agents?
Ray Fittipaldo: Well, the Steelers have the option to sign both, but as I have explained in earlier chats there is a down side to re-signing Keisel, the main being he is 34 years old. Hood filled in well yesterday when Keisel was injured, but he has not lived up to the expectations of a first-round pick so I'm not sure there will be a ton of interest for the Steelers to re-sign him unless it's at a good price. So, by default, it could be someone like Al Woods, a reserve for the past few years. He knows the system and we all know how hard it is for a rookie to come in and learn the system.
Sam: Good Afternoon Ray, whether it was a lacklaster Lions defense or good blocking by the o-line, it seems obvious that giving Ben time in the pocket, he can truly be a top tier quarterback. With that said, do you think the Steelers should draft high any offensive lineman who can come in and produce right away regardless of what the time has invested in the past few years?
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, I think a left tackle might be an option in the first round in April because the Steelers don't have a true LT on the roster now. Kelvin Beachum has been filling that role out of necessity. They tried Marcus Gilbert there in the summer and they didn't like what they saw. Then they tried Mike Adams there and they had to bench him. So there are three good ones who are ranked in or near the top 10, so depending on where the Steelers finish int he standings there might be one available worth taking. They have many other needs as well, but to answer your question, drafting another offensive lineman should be an option.
Dude_From_Cali: Was Woriids given the raw deal label BUST when he's stuck behind 2 all pro's Woodley and Silverback? Was his 1 sack legit or gimme against The Lions?
Ray Fittipaldo: I thought Worilds played very well yesterday. He had a bunch of hurries in addition to that sack. I thought Jarvis Jones played OK, too. I still don't know if Worilds has a long-term future with the team, but I'll give him credit for the game yesterday against the Lions.
Willy: The Steeles secondary is awful. Given the huge contracts due, will Polamalu, Clark or Taylor be back next year?
Ray Fittipaldo: That "awful" secondary played pretty well in the second half after that disastrous second quarter. Clark is 34 and I don't think he's a strong candidate to be re-signed. Polamalu has had some lapses in recent weeks (see Patriots and the second quarter vs. Lions) but he's been more than solid in other games. Ike is 32 or 33 and I'm not sure about him, either. It's going to be an interesting situation that will be complicated by the fact that their perceived top young cornerback, Cortez Allen, failed to keep a starting job that was handed to him and was replaced by William Gay midseason. It should be an interesting offseason in regards to the secondary.
John in Ohio: Any chance Steelers keep Worlids in Woodley's spot remainder of the season?
Ray Fittipaldo: And bench the team's leading sacker? No.
OldSchool: I thought Worlids was really good yesterday. He seems to consistently play much better on the left side than the right... Any chance they sign him again? seems a much better impact per $ than Wood.
Ray Fittipaldo: Let's see what Worilds does for the rest of the season. Woodley is a big cap hit and they'd eat some money if they decided to let him go. Not sure if that would be a viable option for the team from a financial perspective.
Dude_From_Cali: Is this beginning of the end to the great Heath Miller? or 1-2 seasons left?
Ray Fittipaldo: Other than the drop in the end zone I thought Miller played pretty well vs. the Lions. He led the team with eight catches for 67 yards. He's got a year left on his contract after this season. I expect him be here next year. After that, who knows? Will be interesting to see what happens in the draft this year. They passed on Tyler Eifert this year to draft Jarvis Jones. Eventually, they have to find Miller's replacement because he's not currently on the roster.
Robert Q: Big Ben is still a Top 5 QB in the NFL. Will the franchise finally give him the keys to the offense and let him call his own plays?
Ray Fittipaldo: He looked pretty good calling his own plays yesterday. Some of it was Ben improvising, too, such as his stepping up in the pocket and hitting Antonio Brown in stride for one of his touchdowns after his protection broke down. I'm sure that will be a hot topic at Mike Tomlin's presser tomorrow and in the locker room this week.
Freddy Walnut: Marcus Wheaton played well. Will the Sanders injury allow him to finally emerge?
Ray Fittipaldo: Sanders said after the game the training staff was being cautious about his injury. He's had it before and it can flare up sometimes. I'm not sure if Wheaton will get the same number of snaps if Sanders is healthy enough to play this week. But I agree with you, Wheaton had some positive moments vs. the Lions.
JamesinNYC: Doesn't it just figure that we bury Hood for dead then he has a good game? Looks like the Steelers are moving into the #10 pick area...if no LT is good do you think they need CB next or WR or best of the two...I like the kid for Texas Tech too.
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm not sure if there is a corner worth taking in the top 10, James. There are plenty of good offensive linemen and the big receiver from Texas A&M. I'd go with a big receiver over a corner, but you are right. They have to start drafting corners higher in the draft as those guys age.
Sam: Hi Ray, are there any current Steeler member whose contract is about to expire you think the Steelers should re-sign? Or will the focus be on the future contacts of guys like Troy, Ike, and Ben?
Ray Fittipaldo: The way Jerricho Cotchery is playing I'd try to sign him to a one- or two-year deal. He fits in well here. Even though he's 32 or so I think that'd be worth the gameble, especially with Sanders likely to leave via free agency.
Troy and Ike, I believe, have one year left after this one. Ben has two. Pouncey is looming, too. He has one year left after this one. Will be a busy offseason for Kevin Colbert.
John in Ohio: Will we see more no huddle remainder of the season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Honestly, I think it will depend on the opponent. I think with the Lions having some holes in their secondary it was a good option in that game. The way Ben played yesterday it certainly gives offensive coordinator Todd Haley another option if the offense bogs down and they need a spark.
J Point Breezy: Hey Ray, thanks again as always for the chat. In previous years, news of Ryan Clark's decline was greatly exaggerated. This year, his play seems to have fallen off a cliff, physically and mentally (which I'm sad to say because I adore the guy). Since it seems so sudden, I'm just curious: are there any external factors we're not aware of contributing to this? Or has he just lost the proverbial step--and done so in a hurry?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm not aware of any other factors. Clark has not looked fleet of foot in coverage this season, but he's never been a speedster. I'm not sure if those blown coverages were on Clark or Polamalu or a combination of both, but there have been far too many of those this season. There was a stretch there in the second quarter when the Lions were ripping off big plays on almost every snap. That can't happen in this defense. That can't happen in any defense.
Coach Fi: Didn't get to see much of the game, was Williams on the field at LB ver much?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not very much at all. The Steelers were in dime a lot and Will Allen saw a lot of snaps in the place of Williams. The Steelers dared the Lions to run and they never really took the bait. Plus, the Steelers' front did a pretty good job of shutting down the run to the point where LeBeau did not feel any pressure to get out of the dime.
Charles: With an aging Heath and no viable backups, do you think it's important the Steelers spend a high to mid round draft choice on a TE to groom?
Ray Fittipaldo: If not in April then in 2015. Miller came in and earned the starting job as a rookie, so another quality first-round pick could do the same. The way the NFL is going, though, it wouldn't be a bad idea to draft one next year and use him alongside Miller in the passing game.
John in Ohio: Was DeCastro main lineman in charge of blocking Suh?
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, for the most part. I didn't rewatch the game yet, but I know he was matched up with him for a lot of the game. He allowed some hurries, but Suh was pretty much a non-factor. Another feather in DeCastro's cap, although I should point out that Pro Football Focus disagrees. I think they downgraded him for the hurries.
Stephanie: Does the Steelers front office watch the games? If so, how can they watch Calvin Johnson and not get Ben a BIG weapon. Freaks like him make average QB's great and great QB's unstoppable.
Ray Fittipaldo: Because Calvin Johnsons come around once every 20 years or so.
pothole paul: Do the Rooneys recognize how awful crowds are at Heinz Field? Parking is too expensive, they ruined tailgating, and the open endzone kills homefield advantage as the sound carries right out of the stadium.
Ray Fittipaldo: They are looking to add seats in the end zone. When the team is good the fans come. When they don't win there are no-shows. I just have a hard time figuring out how those season ticket holders who don't show up can't find someone who never gets to go to games to go.
John in Ohio: Why give up on Worlids, why not resign him to replace Woodley and help with the cap?
Ray Fittipaldo: As I said earlier, let's see how Worilds does the rest of the year.
Porkchop: What will it take for the running game ever to be good again? It seems like Bell is a good back and Decastro, Velasco, and Gilbert are playing well, yet they still cant run a lick.
Ray Fittipaldo: Good question and I don't have a good answer for you. The injuries have been an issue here for a while. Maybe if they can get through a season without injuries to their starters there would be different results. That might be a leap of faith, though.
Coach Fi: Woodley and Keisel back next game?
Ray Fittipaldo: Keisel's has plantar fascitis and that cana be a tricky injury. It lingers sometimes. Woodley never really had a shot to play this week even though he always says he does. We'll find out more at Tomlin's presser tomorrow.
Legs McGee: Why can't the Steelers find a punter that can consistently punt the ball more than 40 yards?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a great question. This newest guy is just as inconsistent as Zoltan Mesko. He did boot one 70 yards but a few others were of the 40-yard variety.
Nick: Even in a worst possible scenario, wouldnt it make more sense to let guys like Ike, Troy and even Lamar go before making Ben a cap-casualty? At this point in their careers I'd trade all three for Ben anyday.
Ray Fittipaldo: In the NFL, you're nowhere without a franchise QB. The Steelers have one and they're not looking to change that.
Scott in Dallas: Omar Khan was a hot name this offseason for another job but the Steelers kept him. If he is such hot stuff why did the Steelers feel the need to bring in another cap manager?
Ray Fittipaldo: Probably to be groomed as his successor.
Renegade: Saw note that Lebeau said no adjustments were made in 2nd half. Gay and Allen were on CJ (instead of Ike) on the interception. Same play Ike was burned on earlier. Looked like there were coverage changes. Did they make adjustments to help Ike?
Ray Fittipaldo: The players said no after the game. Ryan Clark said they all just played better.
Ray Fittipaldo: I agree with you. The Steelers and Ravens have as good a shot as any of those teams. The Raiders will implode because that's what they do. The Titans lost their starting QB for the remainder of the year. The Jets and Dolphins, in addition to being flawed, have some difficult remaining games.
Tom: Are the Steelers really as bad as the media has made them out to be? Assuming a kicker can make 30 yrd field goals we could be 500 and on a huge roll? With a weak AFC could we still contend for a playoff spot?
Ray Fittipaldo: I said all along they weren't as bad as their record indicated. However, I'm not sure if they're anything more than a .500 club, which this season could be good enough to grab the final playoff berth in the AFC.
JAMESH: Mclendon saw only 15 snaps and Vince Williams only 7 because of the use of 6 DBs in the sub-packages used. If this trend on defense continues in a pass-happy league, isn't the value of a NT diminished? I remember McLendon displayed many of the attributes at DE that we are now seeing from Cam Heyward. With Ziggy and Keisel gone next year, might we see Heyward and McLendon as the DEs with Fangupo or someone else at NT?
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, that could happen, James. He's not your typical nose guard and does have the ability to slide out the way Chris Hoke did every once in a while when he played. I know what you're saying about the snaps, but I will point out that the Chiefs are doing pretty well after drafting Dontari Poe in the first round this season. A great nose tackle can make all the difference in a 3-4 defense.
Scott in Dallas: I am a huge Texas A&M fan and love what Mike Evans has done. Do you think he can function at a high level in the NFL with out above average speed. I just don't see him being a top 10 pick with his speed.
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm not aware of his 40-yard dash time, but I know he was on some draft boards as a top 10 pick in a few mock drafts. I'm sure the NFL scouts will pick his game apart at the combine and we'll get a better view on his prospects at the draft. But from all I hear he is top big receiver in the draft. And that's what the Steelers need. I'm not sure they need another smaller one because they have Brown and Wheaton.
Rags from Baltimore: After seeing how the Steelers can play, yesterday, against the jets and ravens, explain to me why there is such bad play this year? Lack of motivation, coaching or since we are losing they are trying schemes since there is nothing to lose at this point>
Ray Fittipaldo: It's the NFL. Parity rules. There are a lot of teams that are inconsistent on a week to week basis in this league, hence the eight teams within one game of each other in the AFC wild card race.
JamesinNYC: Well at least Megatron didn't put up 300 yards again right?
Ray Fittipaldo: He was on pace for 360 at halftime. Good thing the Lions offensive coordinator took stupid pills at halftime.
Guest: Did you see any reason why the Oline seemed to do a great job of protection against a solid Lions defensive line?
Ray Fittipaldo: The Lions rush the QB about as well as the Steelers do, which is to say they don't do it very well at all.
Bill L: Is there any doubt who the 5th best quarterback in the league is? It's not even close. And I'd take Ben over everyone except Brady if we're really talking a January game.
Ray Fittipaldo: These top 5 QB arguments change every week. Last year I remember Ben, Eli and Flacco all being in the conversation. It has to do with the talent surrounding these players, too. Look at the situation in San Francisco. Kaepernick doesn't have the same weapons as last year and he's struggling.
Bah Humbug: I have gone from hoping for the Steelers to lose more than they win the rest of the way to having a glimmer of hope. Will they unleash Hell the rest of the way or end the season with a THUD?
Ray Fittipaldo: Two big road tests in the coming weeks at Cleveland and Baltimore. We all know what happened in Cleveland last year. The truth is we're not even having this conversation about the playoffs if there weren't so many other mediocre teams fighting along with the Steelers for that sixth spot. Some of this is generated by that. You hear about any 4-6 teams in the NFL being int he playoff hunt?
Bah Humbug: Is it harder for a patchwork line to run block or pass protect?
Ray Fittipaldo: There are intricacies to both and cohesion is a plus for either, but I'd say it's easier to pass protect with a patchwork line
Bill from NC: Do you think line is getting better with more snaps or was it just bad day from lines D line?
Ray Fittipaldo: I give them credit because they all battled through injuries. Four of the five starters were on the injury report last week. They battled.
Tom: Are the Steelers back? 4-2 since their aweful start and could be 5-1 if their kicker doesn't shank gimme field goals
Ray Fittipaldo: I think things will really get interesting if they beat the Browns this week, but I'm not saying any team is "back" when their longest winning streak of the year is two and they're two games below .500.
Dude_From_Cali: What is difference between NICKLE vs DIME DEFENSE?
Ray Fittipaldo: Five DBS vs. six DBs
Phil: Ray, I've chosen your chat to briefly vent avout the NFL Network. What have they done to deserve any respect other than put on NFL Films stuff. Eisen is beyond smug, too many ex-players in studio, the Thursday games don't have any juice. They're a joke and I'm sick of their dumb pursuit of the Ben story. There's nothing there.
Ray Fittipaldo: There. I let you vent.
Charles: I see Jarvis more suited as an ILB - savvy, nose for ball, better in open space. Seems to get swallowed by LTs. You think they may make the switch similar to Farrior?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think Jarvis, if he gets in the weight room, can be an effective OLB. That's why they drafted him and that's where they wanted him to play.
RR: Time will tell, and it was against a suspect defense, but was yesterday finally the day, after a season and a half, that the Tood Haley Steelers offense officially clicked?
Ray Fittipaldo: The 37 points were the most the Steelers put up in his 26-game tenure. Plus, they scored 23 and 31 in previous two weeks. There is reason to believe they might have something going. However, it's hard to jump up and down about this unit when their red-zone efficiency is so bad. They have to get that fixed.
RR: While I still don't expect the Steelers to do a thing this season, going 4-2 since that dreadful start and having been mostly in all of their games this season leads me to believe now that the Steelers are few surgical moves away from being a contender again rather than a total reclamation project. What say you?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't know. Lots of age on this team in key spots. There is some young talent to build around, but some familiar faces won't be around next season and it's unknown how they'll deal with that.
JamesinNYC: All the pistol guys are struggling this year Kaepernick, RGIII, Vick before he was hurt....Foles is drop back guy....think NFL coaches can adjust better and have the athletes to defeat those guys ...or they get killed.
Ray Fittipaldo: I said it when the Redskins vowed to limit RG III's running over the summer. You cannot make them into something they're not. RG III was successful because he could take off and run and beat a defense with his feet. The same with Kaepernick. Maybe Shanahan and Harbaugh are getting too conservative in the way they use those guys.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the great questions this week. We'll do it again next week after the Cleveland game.