Ray Fittipaldo's Steelers chat transcript: 12.16.13

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Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to my weekly Steelers chat. Post your questions and we'll get started.

FAKE_JAMESH: Ray: I'm tired of 2 seasons in a row both missing post season by 1-2 games. Stinks. Thoughts?

Ray Fittipaldo: Good teams beat the bad teams and the Steelers failed to do that the past two years. They lost to Oakland last season and this season and the Raiders stunk both years. The Steelers also lost to Minnesota at a neutral site and Tennessee at home. And I'm not even mentioning the close losses to decent or good teams such as Baltimore and Miami this season. Good teams also find ways to win games against other good teams. The Steelers beat a good team in Cincinnati Sunday night, but it was likely too little too late. Like a lot of other people I'm wondering where that type of performance was all season.

FAKE_JAMESH: Some site erroneously posted Miami win eliminated Steelers play off chances. 'ya mean Steelers still in it by the skin of a horse's teeth?

Poll Question
What is least likely to happen in the Steelers' desperate playoff scenario?
• Steelers win final two games (15%)
Jets win final two games (70%)
• Ravens lose two of final three (5%)
• Chargers split final two (0%)
• Miami loses final two (10%)

Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, the Steelers are still alive. I've been practicing all morning so let me see if I got this scenario straight. If not, you guys can correct me. The Steelers must win final two to get to 8-8. Miami must lose final two to get to 8-8. Jets also must win final two to get to 8-8. And Baltimore must lose two of final three (Ravens played at Detroit tonight) to get to 8-8. In a complicated tiebreaker scenario the Steelers would go as the No. 6 seed.

Adam: Hi Ray, on last night's telecast Collinsworth said that the Steelers are excited about Beachum as long-term solution at LT. Is that true or will the team be in the market for another player?

Ray Fittipaldo: I know Todd Haley was singing Beachum's praises when he spoke to the media last Thursday. There had been some speculation in the media that the Steelers would let Mike Adams finish out the season at left tackle because he played well in place of Beachum against the Dolphins. But Haley put that to rest when he said the job was Beachum's for the rest of the season, and he made it sound like it would be Beachum's to lose entering training camp next season. I think Beachum has solidified that spot. I am not convinced he'll ever be one of the top left tackles in the league, but if the Steelers continue to play up-tempo with the no-huddle and don;t allow defensive coordinators to dial up blitzes then I think Beachum is a good option. However, if the team ever reverts back to huddling up and playing a conventional style offense I am not convinced Beachum, or the line as a whole, is capable of protecting Roethlisberger the way he needs to be protected.

Lee: Hey Ray, I grew up in the same part of Ohio as Kevin Huber. I realize that Garvin got him with an illegal hit, but what isn't being reported is that Hubers are known in those parts for having genetically weaker jaws than non-Hubers in that area. His older brother had the same type of injury in high school. So, my point is that, while Garvin was wrong, Huber is genetically disposed to having a weak jaw. Facts is facts, Ray. This needs to get out there are it may make Garvin feel better to hear it. Can you pass that on if he hasn't heard it? Thanks.

Ray Fittipaldo: Didn't get to see the silliness aspect of your question before I posted it. Apologies for that to the other readers. I watched block several times. Garvin's shoulder impacted Huber's chest first and then his helmet clipped Huber's chin. I understand punters and kickers are labeled as "defenseless" players and thus are not allowed to be blocked in the manner others are, which is such a stupid concept in the first place. I'm guessing Garvin will be fined, but it's one of those letter of the law fines. It was, in my opinion, a textbook perfect block.

KENT: What was the secret, Mr. Ray? How did the lame ol' Steelers put the hurtin' on the strong Bengals last night?

Ray Fittipaldo: The Bengals are banged up on the offensive line and also missed cornerback Terrence Newman last night to injuries. In the game, they lost their punter, James Harrison and Jermaine Gresham. Believe me, the Steelers aren't feeling sorry for the Bengals because of their injury situation. The Steelers have endured more than their fair share of injuries this season. I'm just pointing out that the Bengals, who had overcome the loss of Geno Atkins and Leon Joseph, to get to 9-5 entering the game, had a few more key guys out that likely contributed to their lackluster effort. Plus, their special teams were terrible and pretty much handed the Steelers 14 points. Give the Steelers credit for taking advantage and playing a solid game in their own right to get the W.

TAKE_IT_EASY: I told a fellow Steelers fan had Le'veon Bell were A GO from day one, we prolly picked up 2 more wins. Naivete?

Ray Fittipaldo: Having Bell for the first three games certainly might have helped the Steelers in those first three games. They only managed nine points against the Titans in the opener and the only touchdown in that game came late. They also had a hard time scoring at Cincinnati. The Bears game? That was out of hand early, so I'm not going to say the Steelers could have won that game with a healthy Bell.

It's not a secret how much the coaches like Bell. You can tell by the way they're using him. He's not running particularly well, but he is so effective as a pass catcher that they're keeping him on the field for a good number of snaps. When he figures out how to read the holes in this league, or gets to run behind a better line, I think he'll become more of a complete back. Right now, he's a much better receiver than a runner.

Eds favorite tiebreakernick: In your tie-breaker scenario, don't forget about the Chargers. Need a loss from them too.

Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, apologize if I forgot that. I believe I included the Chargers in the poll question, though. Chargers have to split, and they play Oakland this week and KC next week. KC could be playing for something the finale, too.

Scott in Dallas: When we look back at this season, during another miserable offseason, what should give us hope for a turnaround next year?

Ray Fittipaldo: How about the offense? I wrote a blog post on how the offense is becoming a consistent force. Here is the Cliff Notes version: They've scored 20 or more points in the past seven games. That hasn't happened since 2002, when they did that in nine consecutive games with Tommy Maddox at quarterback. The offense is averaging 28.1 points per game in the past seven games after averaging 17.8 ppg in the first seven games. Provided Markus Wheaton can step into the role of starting receiver in place of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery returns next season I think the offense will be a positive again.

DSF: Was wondering if you think the improved run defense and apparently William's play was b/c McClendon was not at NT?

Ray Fittipaldo: As I mentioned earlier, the Bengals offensive line is banged up and was patchwork for the game Sunday. I think that contributed to their running woes. But I think Al Woods looked pretty solid in there. He's a defensive end who played out of position and held up pretty well in there for the most part.

curt: Who are the steelers gonna draft in April? Answer - NO ONE. The draft has been moved to May. Who will they draft in May? Sammy Watkins or an O-lineman?

Ray Fittipaldo: How about Mike Evans instead of Watkins? If they draft offense in the first round it's looking like it'll be a receiver and not a left tackle because the line has settled down and become pretty efficient in terms of keeping Roethlisberger clean.

Sam: Ray, Woodley's calf injury has to be another chip against him coming back or at least do what the Steelers can to bring Worild's back, right?

Ray Fittipaldo: I would think so, especially considering he injured his right calf last night and the left calf is the one that kept him out of three consecutive games earlier this season. He just has a hard time staying healthy. He was inactive for nine games combined the past two seasons as well.

Sam: Good Afternoon Ray, as the season has unfolded, it now seems the Steelers will use 7 of their 10 draft picks on defense with the exceptions on offense being a big WR, and OL for depth, and a TE. What is your thinking at this point?

Ray Fittipaldo: I'd go heavy on defense, but I would think long and hard about drafting a receiver if you're in the top 12 for a couple of reasons. The first is that the Steelers bring their defensive players along slowly no matter how high they are picked. Secondly, the offense could really take off and be something special if Roethlisberger has a big weapon at his disposal.

Ray Fittipaldo: Jets have to win two to get to 8-8. Miami has to lose two to get to 8-8.

Ken: Jets and Dolphins can't both lose two. They play each other in the final week. Leads me to believe the Jets are irrelevant going forward. For what it's worth they probably can't beat Miami under any circumstances anyway.

Ray Fittipaldo: Several have pointed out the injured Cincy CB is Leon Hall of course, not Joseph.

Hools: I personally see no reason to make any coaching changes. Personnel changes of course. I see their #1 need in the draft being a wide receiver. At 8-8 or 7-9, what are the choices?

Ray Fittipaldo: There are a couple currently rated in the top 10: Mike Evans of Texas A&M and Sammy Watkins of Clemson. Still a lot of time until the draft so those guys could fall or climb and be out of Steelers reach.

Scott in Dallas: Follow up question. Does the personnel currently exist on the roster to make the defense competitive on a weekly basis? If not what additions need to be made to make it so (obviously not addressable through the draft)?

Ray Fittipaldo: Short answer: No. The defense has a lot of needs. I think a nose tackle in the mold of Casey Hampton would help. Steve McLendon hasn't played poorly, but he's not a typical 3-4 nose guard. I think a Hampton type of nose guard could solve the run defense problems and teams would have a harder time getting into second- and third-and-manageable situations. And of course their secondary is aging, so corners and safeties are needed in the short and long term. Plus, a linebacker if Sean Spence cannot play next season. Lots of holes to fill.

Tship: Ray thanks again for your time. I don't want to sound negative but if they in fact win out will this cloud the decdision making on coahces/personel moves for next year?

Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think it will. The entire season will be examined by the team at the end of the season. I don't think a strong finish would necessarily cloud their judgement on what took place for the first eight weeks.

Teton Steel: Ray, in years past, Ryan Clark rarely got credit for being the stay at home guy whose responsible nature allowed Troy to freelance and make splash plays. Would you say that Clark's decline, especially apparent this season, has therefore affected Troy's ability to roam and occasionally miss assignments?

Ray Fittipaldo: I don't pretend to know all of the intricacies in how those two played off each other in years past or this season. I just know they've been the safeties on a defense that has allowed 11 plays of 50 yards or more this season. All of them were not their fault, but they played in a part in a few of them. Maybe more than a few. You'll never hear them admit to this, but I think both players gambled a little more this year to make up for deficiencies they saw in the front seven.

Chunkles: Nothing drives me crazier than when the Steelers get up on a team and start running the ball to kill the clock, IN THE THIRD QUARTER! Their running game and O line isnt good enough yet to start that process that early. THEN, on the defensive side, they do the same, play prevent and the Bengals slice and dice. Why Ray?

Ray Fittipaldo: They won the game by 10 and the Bengals never seriously threatened. Coaches want to use the clock to their advantage in those situations to close out games. What would have said had Roethlisberger threw a pick-six in the third quarter to allow the Bengals to get back in the game? They played the percentages and they won, which is what they almost always do when they get up by 11 points on an opponent for the past 20 years or so.

Phil: Why are people still insisting that the Bengals might do something special. Dalton is only good in spots. The secondary can't tackle. Marvin is probably a better coordinator, than a head coach. AJ Green is slightly overrated. Burfict is way overrated...

Ray Fittipaldo: The Bengals did not look good Sunday night. I think the injuries might be catching up to them. I think when you hear about people touting the Bengals as a Super Bowl contender it's because the Patriots, despite their 10-4 record, don't look like a contender and I think everyone is anticipating another Peyton Manning playoff collapse in Denver. So they're looking for other possibilities. Had Atkins and Hall not been lost for the season I think the Bengals could have been that team despite the presence of Dalton as the quarterback. But now, it might be wishful thinking to envisioning that team as a Super Bowl contender. Then again, who in the AFC looks like a Super Bowl team?

Chunkles: I have no problem with the Steelers trying to get to 8-8 and MAYBE getting into the play-offs but I cant help but thinking about this, every victory may be one less chance of getting their guy in the upcoming draft.

Ray Fittipaldo: This is true and it's why being average in the NFL is the absolute worst thing to be.

Coach Fi: #24,#25,#99, #56, COULD THEY ALL BE GONE, OR WHICH 2 GO FIRST

Ray Fittipaldo: Clark and then take your pick.

Coach Fi: Could we pick the Bicknell,O Line Coach, as the teams MVP? He's done an amazing job considering.

Ray Fittipaldo: I think the no-huddle offense has helped the line tremendously. I'm not trying to lessen the influence of a position coach, but I will pose this question to you: why was this line so ill-prepared to run block and protect the quarterback at the beginning of the season?

Paul: What are the chances that Vince Williams wins a ilb starting spot next year?

Ray Fittipaldo: Depends on the health of Sean Spence and whether they draft an ILB in one of the top three or four rounds. I think Williams has proven to be serviceable.

WASH_RINSE_REPEAT: Ray: Even if Sean Spence returns, due to his size, is he full time or rotational player?

Ray Fittipaldo: They liked him to be a starter before his horrific injury.

Scott: It seems to me that the Steelers are leaning more and more on the no-huddle offense. I know that Coach Tomlin said that circumstances would dictate the use of the no-huddle, but could it be the case of the exception becoming the rule seeing the success rate the team has had with it?

Ray Fittipaldo: I see no reason to go back to a conventional offense when this one is working so well. Ben is comfortable calling his own plays and the coaches seem fine with him making those decisions. It's hard to argue with the results over the past seven games, no?

Violet: For years I've been surprised by how experienced players - pro bowlers, even - can be so bad on fundamentals. Polamalu, Clark, and others routinely try to knock guys out instead of tackling them. Polamalu made amazing plays for years because of his incredible athleticism, but he's obviously not 26 anymore. I thought Clark looked really bad last night. He can't just rely on trying to take someone's head off. Your thoughts?

Ray Fittipaldo: Bad tackling is an epidemic in the NFL it's not exclusive to the Steelers. Much of it has to do with the collective bargaining agreement and the number of padded practices during a season. Even when they do practice in pads there's not a lot of live hitting going on. Teams try to preserve their players for Sundays and tackling suffers as a result.

Adam: Is Clark's replacement on the roster now or do we see somebody new come in?

Ray Fittipaldo: Shamarko Thomas was not drafted in the fourth round to be a depth player. I think they view him as a starter in the future.

The Chief: Ray, biggest change in the Steelers, based on your opinion from 0-4 to 6-8?

Ray Fittipaldo: The offense has found a way to score points. They're scoring more touchdowns in the red zone now and when they don't they have Mr. Reliable Shaun Suisham to boot the field goals.

Guest: Good solid first half, still see some minor mistakes/miscues. A few missed assignments again by both sides of the ball, much improved, Jones still has issues disengaging too small to bull rush (although he did have one solid bull rush) my question is Haley takes a lot of fire (by me as well) but when you oeel back the onion the offense has been pretty solid in the last 12 games avg points close to Arians term, the D was the big one that sticks out '6.4 09-12 to 22. plus seems like Steelers need to refresh the zone blitz, I know Tomlin comes from a Tampa 2 system thoughts?

Ray Fittipaldo: Tomlin has been on record saying he believes the 3-4 defense is better suited to deal with some of the dual-threat quarterbacks in the league. If he really wanted Tampa Two influences in the Steelers defense I think you would have seen them by now in Year 7. Your other points are valid. Jones has to get in the weight room and fully digest the playbook. I think he'll be OK if he gets stronger.

Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the great questions this week. We'll do it next week after the Green Bay game.

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