Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to my weekly Steelers chat. Please post your questions and we’ll get started.
Sam: Good Afternoon Ray, Jason Worilds...motivated by a new contract? playing against weaker competition? or simply better suited as a LOLB?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think it’s looking more like he is suited better for LOLB. I’m doing a piece for tomorrow on Worilds and here’s a little preview. In 152 snaps the past two weeks at LOLB he has produced one sack, 10 tackles, 10 hits in the quarterback and four pressures. In the first nine games at right outside linebacker he had three sacks, eight tackles, three hits in the quarterback and 11 hurries in 386 snaps. It’s pretty obvious he is more comfortable there. Now, what will they do once Woodley is healthy? I have no idea, but I know there hasn’t been much dropoff the past two weeks with Worilds at LOLB.
Dude_From_Cali: so there is no chance Woodley will be cut or traded if there is a cheaper Woriids?
Ray Fittipaldo: There’s always a chance. Woodley wasn’t having a great season before his calf injury, but he wasn’t playing poorly either. As a matter of fact, I think he still leads the team in sacks. I think the dead cap money would be a big issue in terms of cutting him, too. I don’t know if that would make sense for the Steelers.
Dude_From_Cali: Ben went from avg 5 sacks to zero. anomaly or better execution?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think the no-huddle offense certainly is a benefit for the offensive line in terms of protection. Fernando Velasco was commenting today how it tires out defensive linemen and it does not allow defensive coordinators to rotate linemen the way they like. I think Ben is getting the ball out sooner, too. You haven’t seen too many of those plays where Ben is hanging onto the ball forever the way he does sometimes.
Mike: Ray, can you explain why Pittsburgh burned a timeout in the 1st half only to avoid a 5 yard penalty before punting?
Ray Fittipaldo: They were trying to draw the Browns off sides. I don’t recall exactly where they were on the field, but Tomlin or Ben obviously felt that five yards mattered in terms of field position. That’s the only reason to call a timeout there. If it’s closer to midfield they probably take the penalty because it doesn’t affect field position as much.
Dude_From_Cali: What happened to all the preseason optimism on MARK WHEATON, besides the injury excuse?
Ray Fittipaldo: Well, they have Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL in receptions, having a great season. Emmanuel Sanders is their No. 2 and Jerricho Cotchery is having a career year as the third receiver. Generally, fourth receivers on teams don’t get a lot of run and that’s the case with Wheaton right now. I’m sure the finger injury set him back some, but I don’t think it’s a major reason as to why he’s not as involved as the others. I just think Todd Haley likes the three guys he has right now and there’s no reason to change when things are going well.
Ryan: What RB’s stay after the season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Bell for sure. Jonathan Dwyer has redeemed himself some after getting cut in training camp although I’m not convinced that means he’ll definitely be back next season. Same goes for Felix Jones. I don’t know if he’s back either.
Coachfi: Keep Worilds-let Lamar go??
Ray Fittipaldo: At the very least they’ll have a tough decision to make. As a decision-maker you’d rather have those than choosing between two guys who aren’t that good. Worilds’ progress might make that decision tougher, but it’s not a bad place to be for the team.
Tship: Is the secondary the biggest key to beating the Ravens on Thursday?
Ray Fittipaldo: It’s a strange thing with the defense the past two weeks. They’ve been gouged at times by Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon, but there have been some huge plays provided by the defensive backs, too. Troy Polamalu forced two fumbles yesterday and recovered one of them. William Gay forced a fumble on a sack and intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown and Will Allen forced another turnover this week. Flacco has had their number in the past, but the Steelers did a good job of limiting his effectiveness in the first game here a few weeks ago.
Iron Mike: If Velasco is as good as they say! why not resign him if it makes financial sense and either move him or Pouncy to guard.
Ray Fittipaldo: Because Pouncey is an All Pro center and the team has David DeCastro and Ramon Foster at guard. DeCastro is entrenched as a starter and Foster has proven to be a dependable player. Plus, as you point out, Velasco has performed well, so another team that needs a center is likely to attempt to sign him.
Ryan: Why do the Steelers keep risking Brown as the PR? Why not put Felix or Wheaton back their? If Brown gets injured I think we might be some trouble.
Ray Fittipaldo: No. 1, I see enough of Felix Jones on kickoff returns to know I don’t want to see him return punts, too. No. 2, I don’t think punt returns are as dangerous as kickoff returns. I’m not saying a player cannot get injured, but it’s more likely to happen on a kickoff return where the collisions are more violent. But you’re right, if Brown is injured, the Steelers are in trouble. Mike Tomlin obviously believes it’s worth the gamble to have him back there. I will say, too, that Brown fair catches a lot of punts even when he maybe shouldn’t. It’s not like he’s risking injury on every one of those punt returns.
Guest: What was so bad about Drew Butler that they didn’t go back to him after the failed Zoltan experiment? McBriar not exactly lighting the world on fire either.
Ray Fittipaldo: I’m not sure other than the obvious: they just saw enough to know he wasn’t their long-term answer. It’s not like Butler was Ray Guy, either. He had a decent rookie season, but they brought in a veteran to challenge him in camp because they weren’t happy with his performance.
Austin: I know the big Ben trade rumors have been killed but we have been sending some of the highest scouting members to look at ppl like teddy Bridgewater do u think we will be drafting one of these top qbs in the first?
Ray Fittipaldo: You do know that these teams have more players on their rosters other than QBs who care capable of playing in the NFL, right. So when it’s noted that Kevin Colbert was in the press box at Clemson a few weeks ago it’s not only to see Tahj Boyd but 15 or 20 or so other players who might be draftable. I was in the press box the week before when Notre Dame played Pitt and Colbert was there, too. Did I, or any other reporter, make a big deal about it and take a leap to suggest they Steelers are going to draft Nix, the nose guard for the Irish? No.
Bill L: Ray, Bills, the overrated Lions, and the Browns. Anything to an argument that the competition has been really bad since the New England debacle? Or is something else going on?
Ray Fittipaldo: Other than the Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Saints teams parity reigns in the NFL. Plus, I think the Steelers are healthier than they were at the beginning of the season. Since Heath Miller and LeVeon Bell returned to the lineup together they’ve been a pretty good offense. And the defense is starting to create turnovers and get more pressure on quarterbacks. You can say it’s the competition, but you can say that about a lot of teams in the NFL with modest three-game winning streaks. It’s not easy to win in the NFL any week, so I’ll give the Steelers a little credit for developing some consistency and stringing together a few wins. Even with these three wins in a row there is little margin for error.
Coachfi: Will #99 come back for a cut in pay?
Ray Fittipaldo: He’s in the final year of his contract, so it’s not like he’d be asked to take a pay cut. They’d just be asking him to come back for much less. That could happen, but it’s just as likely that they’d prefer to move on and give some younger guys like Al Woods an opportunity to play more.
Paul: Ray, I really enjoy your chats, isn’t great to have the Steelers playing relevant football games now. The coaches and players have done an exceptional job keeping this thing together, it was close to getting ugly. Real fans never lose hope. I was pretty disgusted how everyone turned on them several weeks ago.
Ray Fittipaldo: At the very least it has halted the draft talk on these chats for a few weeks. For that, I am thankful.
Chief: Don’t get if. First drive third and seven while moving and they run and get stuffed. Later, like earlier poster said, burn timeout on fourth and one at midfield. Five yard penalty meant nothing. Little things like this could be huge in a tight game.
Ray Fittipaldo: Every team has a few plays here and there in games they’d like to have back. It’s how you adjust and bounce back from bad breaks or poor decisions, and the Steelers have overcome adversity fairly well during this three-game winning streak. Is their offensive operation perfect? No. Far from it. But it’s miles and miles better than what it was early in the season when they couldn’t get out of their own way.
Beaten like a rented mule: Any idea if Ike Taylor had Gordon on Ike’s fantasy team yesterday? Forget about Woodley, at least he can play when not injured but it seems Ike has no such excuse to get paid big bucks to be beaten and abused by the opposition WRs mulitple times this year. Can’t tackle, cover, intercept or impeded progress and looks disinterested. Has he just lost it quickly like Hines apparently did?
Ray Fittipaldo: It’s certainly not a good sign what’s happened the past two weeks. I would think the next time the Steelers face a top-notch receiver they’ll elect to help Ike by giving him some help. There was a time he held up very well in one-on-one coverage against elite receivers, but evidence seems to show those days might be in the past.
Alan: Troy at this point in his career basically a linebacker playing safety? I think Timmons covers better than him.
Ray Fittipaldo: Really? You weren’t watching the game in the first quarter yesterday then because the Browns were targeting Timmons by running crossing routes through Timmon’s place in the zone and Timmons couldn’t make many of those plays. The Steelers made an adjustment, or Timmons merely started to play better, but Timmons did not have a good day in coverage yesterday. At least not in the first quarter vs. the Browns.
Ken: Why are people writing off the division? Dalton hasn’t been good and a win Thursday with a Bengal loss in San Diego brings us to one game back with December 15th on the horizon.
Ray Fittipaldo: I’m not saying it’s out of the question, but a two-game lead with five games to go is hard to blow. Plus, I think people view the wild card as a more plausible scenario because the Steelers are one of six teams that are 5-6 and tied for that sixth and final playoff berth from the AFC.
Chris in Columbus: Heath looking as good as ever, updates on the other TE’s?
Ray Fittipaldo: Matt Spaeth continues to work his way back from a foot injury. He can practice with the team for another two weeks before the team must decide if they’ll activate him or place him on IR. Michael Palmer and David Paulson are role players who are used sparingly in the offense. Both contribute on special teams, though.
Darren: Is there a real chance the Steelers bring in a true NG, and move Mclendon over to DE this offseason?
Ray Fittipaldo: There’s always a chance, but finding a starting nose guard in the draft is hard to do. You basically have to identify a guy as a first-rounder and go get him. That’s what the Steelers did with Casey Hampton. That’s what the Chiefs did with Poe. Typically, you don’t get a mid-round guy or free agent and expect him to be an impact player. The best ones have to be drafted high and there just aren’t that many out there.
Phil: I want to compliment Ed Bouchette indirectly for his take on Bettis’ Canton candidacy yesterday. I’m sorry but if you’re just going to be a bean counter you shouldn’t be voting. An eye test is more important--Bettis passes the eye test as an all time NFL great. He should be enshrined.
Ray Fittipaldo: I thought Ed made some great points in his story, too.
Steelerfan: What I wonder is why they cut Kapinos a year ago in favor of Butler. He was very good.
Ray Fittipaldo: And where is Kapinos now? I don’t even think he’s in the NFL.
TD: Anyone else sad to see we won’t get a top 5 pick in the draft? I have enjoyed seeing a blue chip talent added to this solid team. More wasted talent going to Cleveland
Ray Fittipaldo: Yeah and look at what Cleveland has done with that top talent. This is the NFL. Anything can happen in the playoffs. The Steelers were a No. 6 seed and won the Super Bowl eight years ago. The Giants did it as well. Enjoy the playoff chase because it might not last long.
Nathan: Why does having Troy down close to the line, with another db in make for better run defense than huge linebacker Williams?
Ray Fittipaldo: I would not characterize Williams as “huge” or at this point in his career as a better run-stopper than Polamalu. They’re using Polamalu as a linebacker because he’s efficient there and makes coordinators think about what they’re doing. I can guarantee you coordinators aren’t worrying about Vince Williams when he is on the field.
Phil: To what degree can the Steelers withstand a loss on Thursday night? I’m not one of those who automatically assume a loss at Lambeau. That team is missing something other than Aaron Rodgers.
Ray Fittipaldo: It would be really tough to make the playoffs if they lose in Baltimore. It would be another AFC loss and the Steelers already have plenty of those, including two to teams --Tennessee and Oakland -- who are also in the playoff hunt. A loss certainly would not eliminate them from the conversation, but their chances would take a hit.
Paul: I really like how Beachum has settled in at LT, if he continues to play well, they should take a NT with the first pick, and possibly a CB or TE next. Your thoughts
Ray Fittipaldo: I spoke too soon. A draft question. All three positions you mentioned will be options. I’m still not convinced Beachum is a long-term answer, but he certainly has settled things down and helped the team out immensely this season.
Coachfi: Same deal with Ryan Clark as #99
Ray Fittipaldo: Except for the fact the Steelers have younger safeties who might be closer to being starter-ready. The Steelers are thinner at DE, which is why Keisel probably has a better shot to return.
Adam: With all the talk about the emergence of the Worldis and Heyward, why isn’ the defense generating more sacks?
Ray Fittipaldo: They had five sacks yesterday. Plus, it’s not always about sacks. Getting QBs to hurry or getting hits on QBs have a cumulative effect. It certainly had a big effect against the Browns.
Alan: Lebeau’s defense historically performs at its best with leads, had non early in the season, now that we have been getting leads it is looking closer to normal.
Ray Fittipaldo: Very good point. I wrote about this early in the season when they were struggling and the players said the same thing. Again, I don;t know what that says about the defense as a whole. You’d like to be just as effective with or without the lead, but it’s plain to see this defense has been more effective with the lead.
Joey: Point is: NEED to win these next two division games
Ray Fittipaldo: Agree. If the Steelers finish 5-1 in the division I like their chances to make the playoffs.
Adam: Will 8-8 be enough to make the playoffs?
Ray Fittipaldo: 8-8 for some team in the AFC might be enough, but for the Steelers I don’t know because they already have four AFC losses. If those other two losses are within the conference I have a hard time envisioning them winning a tiebreaker in a multiple team tie.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the great questions this week. We’ll do it again next Monday. Enjoy Thanksgiving.