Ray Fittipaldo's Steelers chat transcript: 12.09.13

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Poll: What will the Steelers' final record be?
• 5-11 (Votes: 1)
6-10 (Votes: 15)
• 7-9 (Votes: 9)
• 8-8 (Votes: 3)
Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to my weekly Steelers chat. Post your questions and we'll get it going a little early.
Guest: If you are Colbert whats your first priority in the draft?
Ray Fittipaldo: There are so many to choose from it's difficult to pick just one. Even though the offensive line has steadied some in the second half of the season if there is a franchise left tackle available at No. 10 it would not be a bad idea for the Steelers to take him. But there is also a need for a big receiver or a pass-catching tight end that is all the rage now in the league. You don't need a running back or quarterback in the first round.

On defense, there are even more holes to fill. This team can use a nose tackle if they plan to continue to use the 3-4 as their base defense. They can use an inside linebacker to complement Lawrence Timmons. They can use a cornerback and a free safety. Out of all those needs on defense my first priority would be nose tackle if there is a franchise nose tackle there because you need to stop the run first in this defense and this team can no longer stop the run.
DormontyDawson: Ray, During either the Browns or Ravens game, one of the TV announcers noticed that when Ben was running the no huddle and his last audible call to the offense was "January," it meant that the snap count was on the first count. February and March presumably would have meant the snaps would be on the second and third sounds. Listening to Ben the rest of the game, it was clear the announcer was correct. Fast forward to yesterday's game and Ben was again yelling "January," which invariably was followed by a snap on the first sound. He might as well have yelled, "Fellas, it's on one!" Something tells me Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and their offensive coordinators don't permit their signals to be so easily deciphered, much less fail to change audible signals from game to game. Question: Do the Steelers have reputation in the NFL as being sloppy in their preparation compared to other teams?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a tough question to answer because I am not around other teams as much as I am the Steelers. All teams switch their signals from time to time to make sure teams aren't stealing them. Everyone attempts to do it and it's just second nature for offensive coaches to make these adjustments. I don't think teams try to make a defense jump off side more than once or twice a game, so the snap count is not the reason they lost the Ravens game or the Dolphins game. There are so many other problems with their sideline operation such as their decision to call a timeout after an incomplete pass late in the game before that fourth down. That is the type of stuff that cannot happen in a successful two-minute drive at the end of a game. Not the snap count stuff.
Guest: Do you think they'll entertain trade offers for Woodley to help their cap situation?
Ray Fittipaldo: Anything is possible. I just wonder what a team would offer to get him. I mean, if the Steelers want to get rid of him so bad those teams will just wait to see if the Steelers release him. And the draft pick offered in such a deal would not be a high pick because the team would be pikcing up his hefty salary. I cannot imagine a team offering anything higher than a fourth or fifth rounder for Woodley. Maybe I am wrong, but I just don't think there is a big market for players like that who have what might be perceived as bad contracts. I still think Woodley can play, but I don't think he is worth the money he is making. Other NFL teams likely have a similar view.
Sam: Good Afternoon Ray, Has Todd Haley done enough to warrant a 3rd season with the Steelers?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a really good question, Sam. The offense has not been the problem in the second half of the season. It was bad early but Haley's offense has routinely score enough points to win games in the second half of the season. But we don't know everything that goes on behind the scenes. Is there enough friction between Haley and Ben for the organization to pull the plug after two years despite the modest success in the second half of the season? It might be. I know this: if the Steelers finish 5-11 or 6-10 they will not stand pat and Haley might not be the only one to exit.
Big City: It seems like some sacred cow veterans will have to be let go this summer. They can't let Worilds walk away a la Keenan Lewis. Thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: It will be interesting to see what Jason Worilds commands on the open market. That's a bit of bad luck for them that he had to blossom in a contract year. It's obvious he can play and that he's so much more effective on the left side. I just question how much a player is worth when his level of play fluctuates so much when moving from one side to the other. James Harrison didn't have any problems being productive on the right side. Why does Worilds have a problem matching his level of productivity? I don't know the answer to that question, but I am sure that will factor into the contract negotiations.
Sam: Hi Ray, Assuming Keith Butler is the defensive coordinator, do you think the defense turns in the same results this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think much would change once Butler assumes the role, if he assumes the role. He learned under Dick LeBeau for a decade or more. I am sure he has some ideas he'd want to try, but I don't think he abruptly change philosophies.
SteelDad: Ray, all morning I've heard debate about Haley's future as OC. Why is there no debate over LeBeau? This defense is falling apart.
Ray Fittipaldo: I think Haley is a lightning rod. In fairness, there should probably be more focus on the defense, but LeBeau has a Hall of Fame resume and Super Bowl rings. Haley does not. Plus, and this holds true in evaluating Haley as well, it's more about the players than the coaches. The defense is older and slower and it's starting to show more and more. I did a blog post on this that is up on post-gazette.com. Coaches can make a difference and maybe some new ideas are in order, but I just have a hard time believing he became a bad coach overnight. He was doing something right all those years.
Ryan: What is up with this fake 4th down stuff they try to pull every week? It never works. So why do they keep going to it?
Ray Fittipaldo: I have no problem with it as long as the ball is near midfield and they don't take a timeout. What does it hurt? Maybe once in a while you get a cheap first down. At worst, you take a 5-yard penalty, which if near midfield, doesn't really hurt you field position-wise.
Mike B: It was good to see Antonio Brown laughing it up with Mike Wallace after the game and exchanging jerseys. For a minute I thought he might be upset about losing and being bounced from the playoffs. But hey, when you have a good game... Can you imagine Jack Lambert acting like that? Me either.
Ray Fittipaldo: Brown exchanges jerseys a lot. He did it with Calvin Johnson of the Lions. Times change. I cannot imagine Jack Lambert or Joe Greene doing that, but there wasn't free agency then. Almost everyone on those 70s rosters were homegrown players who were originally drafted or signed as free agents by the Steelers. Now half the players come from other teams. It's just different. I'm not saying it's bad, it's just a different era.
DormontyDawson: Ray, I would take a 4th Rounder for Woodley in a heartbeat. His effort on that 55 yard run play was nauseating. If no offers, release him. A message needs to be sent on this team, IMHO. Your thoughts Ray?
Ray Fittipaldo: I did not focus in on Woodley on the 55-yard run. It might come to the Steelers releasing him because as I said I don't think there will be a market for an aging pass rusher with a fat contract.
Steelersfanohio: Do the Steelers coaching staff have any particular reason for abandoning the running game after the first drive that looked like it could have been one of our running backs best games all season?
Ray Fittipaldo: The run game helped them to a 7-0 lead, but it wasn't long before they trailed, 10-7. And then 17-7 early in the third quarter. The Steelers opened it up and started scoring touchdowns because they were passing so much in the second half. I don't have a big problem with the play calling. The only criticism I would offer is in the fourth quarter when they led 28-24 and twice had opportunities to close the game. They tried to continue to pass. On the one drive, penalties were the culprit, back-to-back ones on offensive linemen. Once again, the players play the game. The Steelers were nearing field goal range if Foster does not get called for illegally going down the field on that screen pass. Is that the coach's fault?
Tom: It's not a game of "ifs and buts", but the Steelers have been close in nearly every game the past 9 weeks. A small step further in bounds, an attempted 50 yrd field goal, and not misses a few other kicks and the Steelers are well on their way to the playoffs. I'm sort of tire of hearing that we are so aweful, when its a game of inches. Do you really think we are the worst team in football?
Ray Fittipaldo: The worst team in football? No. One of the 5 or 10 worst? Absolutely. Good teams find ways to win. Bad teams find ways to lose. The Steelers are finding ways to lose games this season. They found ways to lose games last season. And the most alarming thing is they find ways to lose to bad or mediocre teams. Those are the games that get you to the playoffs. When you can't beat Oakland and Minnesota and Tennessee you don't deserve to go to the playoffs. Period.
Steelersfanohio: Ray, has anyone on the Steelers coaching staff given a reason for abandoning the running game again, when it was working so well?
Ray Fittipaldo: Assistant coaches are not permitted to get interviewed after games. Only the head coach. Mike Tomlin said after the game it was the flow of the game that changed the play calling.
Rich: Is the reason Tomlin is no benching Ike and Clark is because they are frat brothers? I konw it sounds crazy but just maybe that's reason. I would rather play some rookies because those guys are worthless at this point....just my thoughts.Every game Ike is getting burnt
Ray Fittipaldo: I think the reason Tomlin continued to play them was because the playoffs were still attainable. Now that the playoffs are all but out of reach you might start to see some guys like Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas see a little more playing time. It seems like a good time to do it, but I also know Tomlin has a lot of respect for what those guys have done and he doesn't want them to go out watching younger guys play. The best solution might be for them to continue to start but for some of the younger guys to get mixed in. It's hard to say what will happen because the Steelers haven't been in this situation for such a long time.
Steeler Fanatic: The Steelers have to pare down the salary cap, right? Troy, Ryan and Ike, for example... but wouldn't it make sense to franchise Worilds (it can't be more the $$$ per for Woodley) and release Woodley on June 1. They need draft picks and free agents. Thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: Clark is in the last year of his contract so he wasn't going to count against the cap anyway. At some point you might look at things and bite the bullet with some cap hits. I would say that's much more likely to happen after a 5-11 season or a 6-10 season. I think the players know it's coming, too. I remember talking to Ike in training camp and he said he'd be gone if the team failed to make the playoffs again. These guys know the business side of the sport. The Steelers enjoyed success for years and the core of the team got to play together for a lot of years. But now that some hard times have set in changes have to be made. They are more aware of that than you think.
mark: ray, very frustrated with the coaching decisions around play selection, use of timeouts, especially a 4 and 10 from the 10 with two time out and the two minute warning, how does Tomlin do these type of things week in and week out with little backlash ? Frustrated ticket holder
Ray Fittipaldo: I have no problem at all with the decision to go for it on fourth-and-10. The defense was getting shredded. All it was going to take for the Dolphins to run the clock out was one first down. What he was doing was taking a calculated gamble that the Dolphins would be conservative, run the ball and kick the field goal, which is exactly what they did. The Steelers get the ball back with a minute or so to go and still have a chance to win with a touchdown. Even if they punt, force a three-and-out they still get the ball with a minute or so left and are pinned in the same area of the field after the Dolphins punt.

What I have a problem with is the timeout. The sideline operation isn't very good. I've lost count of the number of times Tomlin has said after a game that there was a communication problem that led to a timeout. That type of stuff can't happen in that situation. You have to know you're going on fourth down and have a play ready.
Keith: I think the offense has done a pretty good job the second half of the season and bell has made the running game more where you need it to be. I'd say you would want to give haley another year at this point if they keep going like this.
Ray Fittipaldo: That's not out of the realm of possibility. These final three games are important for the coaches just as much as the players. As I stated earlier, the organization will not stand pat after a 5-11 season. Changes would be coming.
Pistol: Do you think Emmanuel Sanders returns next year?? If not i would think that WR has to be pretty high on the list in April no?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think Sanders returns and Wheaton is the likely No. 2 behind Brown next season. I think you hope to get Cotchery to agree to come back as the slot receiver if you get him for the right price. I agree the team can use a big receiver or a pass catching tight end but there are so many other needs to fill. The more I think about it the more I think you wait until the second or third round to get one of these pass catching tight ends and you let Brown lead the group and hope Wheaton comes into his own.
Guest: Why all the fuss about making the playoffs, this team would get embarrased in the playoffs, worse than when Tebow beat us in OT.
Ray Fittipaldo: Because the NFL playoffs are the best time of the sports year and anything can happen. The Steelers came from the No. 6 seed to win the Super Bowl in 2005. The Packers did the same in 2010. Not that I think the Steelers, or Ravens, or Dolphins can do the same this year. But would anyone be surprised if the Ravens beat the Bengals in a 6-3 matchup on wildcard weekend?
JamesinNYC: I think 4 holes that you have to plug two of in rounds 1+2. I thought left tackle was the highest but now I think CB, NT, WR(tall), and LT. Best available each of the first two rounds. I would take a ILB in round two only if one blew me away and was by a mircle still there. What is your ranking of need?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a good take, James. I think it all depends on what's available. I don't think there are any franchise cornerbacks in the top 10, so if the Steelers are in the top 10 I think they'd have to go for a left tackle or a nose tackle if one is available because there are more higher-ranked players at those position in the early mock drafts. I know those will change in the coming months, so maybe my and your need order would change, but you're not wrong in your assessment.
Steeler Fanatic: As much as I want to Ben to remain a Steeler for life, is he going to drive the organization to hire "his guy" as OC, and should he? Or should he call his own plays with Randy Fichtner as a de facto o'coordinator who falls flat?
Ray Fittipaldo: They certainly did not have Ben's feelings in mind when they replaced his friend, Bruce Arians, and hired someone whose job was to, at least in part, change or tweak his style of play. I'm not sure why the organization would do a 180 and consider Ben this time around, if there is a change. Maybe they would just come to the conclusion that Ben is their best player and they have to make the most of him while he's in his prime. And maybe they feel Haley can be the coach who turns him loose. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Rags from Baltimore: I hear people say all the time that its the players not the coaches. But,coaches have a major impact and set the tone. Just look at coaching changes in SF and KC have done for those teams. It's time for major changes in Pgh and start the rebuilding process. Your Thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: They also change coaches a lot in places like Jacksonville and Oakland and the results are not the same. The thing about SF and KC was they had good defenses in place and they needed a decent offense to get the team headed in the right direction. If you make that read in Pittsburgh you're saying you have an offense and you need a coach to turn the defense around. It's a completely different situation in Pittsburgh than it was in SF or KC.
Guest: I read in "Their Life's Work' Lambert invited Ken Anderson into the sauna for some beers. So there.
Ray Fittipaldo: There you go. I have to read that book. I keep hearing fantastic reviews.
Steeler Fanatic: Time management is horrible. This is a key component to a head coach and his staff's responsibilities. The timeout when the clock was stopped was irresponsible. In your opinion do the Rooneys consider this?
Ray Fittipaldo: When you say 'consider this' do you mean consider this in terms of firing Tomlin? The answer is no. Tomlin will be back unless the Steelers get outscored 100-0 over the final three games. Even then, I'm not sure it would happen.
Guest: Why can't we see what Landry Jones can do at this point?
Ray Fittipaldo: I see what he does almost every day in practice. I don't think you want to witness it in a game.
Rags from Baltimore: What's the chance we start seeing the young guys get more playing time? We need to see what we have in them and get them experience
Ray Fittipaldo: I addressed this a little while ago. I would not be against seeing Markus Wheaton play a lot more than he has considering the situation with Sanders. Wheaton only played four snaps against the Dolphins.
Ryan: What is the deal with Jarvis Jones and Sharmako Thomas? Haven't seen much production out of them this season. Are they having a hard time with the play book or what?
Ray Fittipaldo: Shamarko was playing a lot before his injury. When he was injured Will Allen took his place and was more productive so he's stayed in the lineup as the dime defensive back. Jones hasn't been very productive. What he needs is to spend five hours a day in the weight room for six months straight starting the first week of January. He's athletic enough to play the outside linebacker position in the 3-4 defense but not nearly strong enough.
Phil: Something happened yesterday that leads me to believe the thing needs to be torn down on one side of the ball--another long run by a quarterback in the first half of a game after getting humilated in Oakland by Pryor earlier in the season? C'mon!
Ray Fittipaldo: Jones tackled the running back on that play. I did not ask whose assignment it was to have the quarterback on that play. I seem to remember after the Oakland game that Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Clark took the blame for the Pryor run. It looked like the same play, but I'm not going to pass judgment because I don't know what the assignments were on that play.
Chunkles: Anyone sad about the Steelers loss against the Dolphins should remember the scene at the end of the broadcast, Mike Wallace and Emmanual Sanders yucking it up with one another and exchanging their game shirts. These guys are all paid well, very few take losing to heart. Two weeks in a row Sanders dropped a game changing pass and he had a smile as wide as Heinz Field! Most don't care so why should we?
Ray Fittipaldo: You're entitled to your opinion, but as I said before this is a different time in the NFL. It's not just the Steelers who act this way after games. It's one big fraternity because of free agency.
DormontyDawson: Ray, I didn't know Ast. Coaches were not permitted to give interviews after the game. If this is so, doesn't that make Ben's repeated suggestion to reporters to "Talk to him [Haley]" even more disrespectful to Haley than it already sounds?
Ray Fittipaldo: No because I am not sure that Ben knows Haley is not permitted to talk after games. Ben was very short with all of his answers yesterday so I am not going to make too much of that comment. He was frustrated.
Rags from Baltimore: Who do you think will be gone after this season? Hear is my list,Keisel, Clark, Hood and Ike.
Ray Fittipaldo: Clark and Keisel are good bets. Keisel not so much because of his play but because his body is breaking down on him. Troy has made some splash plays this year but he's also missed tackles and gotten caught out of position quite a few times. I'm not advocating that they cut him but I acknowledge that it's a possibility. The same goes for Woodley. Your list is a good start, though.
Mike B: Ray, please tell me Ben's lateral was a foward pain, just to relieve my "what if" pain.
Ray Fittipaldo: The referee told Ben that all aspects of that play would have been reviewed. I looked at it dozens of times last night from one angle and I don't know if I would have overturned it. It was close. But I only had the one angle and there are others in the press box who swore it was forward and would have been called back.

The biggest surprise to me on that play was Brown stepping out of bounds when there was no need to get so close. It's an example of how things have gone this season. Brown has been one of your top players all season but when it's time to make the simplest of plays he makes an error. It seems to have happened a lot this season with other players, too.
Tom: Sure appears to me that Ben isn't their best player as everyone makes him out to be. How is his record when he passes over 30 times? The past year he has been a problem more than helpful. Maybe Ben's the diva, and Haley does need to rein him in?
Ray Fittipaldo: Ben isn't having his best year, but it's certainly not his worst. And I still think he's a top 10 QB in this league.
Mike from Latrobe: I was thinking of this, most of this season actually. The Steelers took a gamble with the players they have, all teams do to a point. the gamble didn't pay off. Now that its clear there some serious issues based on the team's past history for at least the past 20 years, they will move as quickly as possible to correct what's wrong, they always have, I mean, the Steeler organization isn't dumb, you don't win 6 Super Bowls by being dumb and on one is that lucky
Ray Fittipaldo: I agree there will be major changes. The players and coaches know it, too.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the great questions this week. We'll do it again next week after the Bengals game.

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