Ray Fittipaldo's Steelers chat transcript: 12.23.13

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

Clint: Any word on how bad the Sanders injury is?

Ray Fittipaldo: Tomlin said he has a lateral meniscus injury. He termed him questionable for Sunday. Said it's more optimistic news than what he had received after the game.

Players talk about regular season finale against Browns

Ben Roethlisberger and Jarvis Jones talk about the final game of the regular season against the Browns. (Video by Lake Fong; 12/24/2013)

Jason: Ray, in terms of clock management, does Tomlin just not get it or have a difference of opinion?

Ray Fittipaldo: He has his story and he's sticking to it. He reiterated today that the weather conditions influenced that decision. He cited how Mason Crosby had a field goal blocked at the same end of the field and said it wasn't anything the Steelers did on the block. It was just a low kick because of the field conditions. Tomlin said he did what he felt he needed to do to win the game.

Which team will not cooperate in the Steelers' playoff scenario?

Dolphins losing to Jets - 48%

Chargers losing to Chiefs - 38%

Ravens losing to Bengals - 10%

Steelers losing to Browns - 5%

If you kneel there and you kick with a few ticks on the clock you give yourself a higher percent chance of winning because you don't give the Packers the ball back. But clearly, Tomlin was not interested in putting the ball in the hands of his long snapper and place kicker under the circumstances. He'd rather go up 7 and put it on his defense. He also said he was not thinking his kickoff return unit would give up a 70-yard return.

Paul: Merry Christams Ray! How come Heath Miller misses several practices, non injury related? also we need to draft a Big NT in draft!

Ray Fittipaldo: When Miller and Polamalu are given days off during the week and it's listed as "non-injury related" that simply means it's a maintaince day for a veteran. For Miller, it's about resting his surgically repaired knee. As for drafting a nose tackle, you're probably right, but there are only a few really good ones every year and you have to be in position to draft them.

The Dude: Obviously,the call after the blocked kick was wrong due to possession. Is it correct that possession on that play is not reviewable? If so, it's ridiculous. Also, must give props to Ed who says replay delays the game and then they still miss calls.

Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, the referee was correct in his assessment that that aspect of the play is not reviewable because the officials determined (wrongly) that the Steelers never had possession. It's about the only thing they got right on that botched call.

Clint: Does this late season surge increase the chances in your mind of the coaching staff staying in tact underneath Tomlin?

Ray Fittipaldo: I think it's been trending that way for a number of weeks when it comes to the offensive coaches. Roethlisberger has come out and said he doesn't want much to change. And there isn't much reason to change when you're averaging 28 points a game, which is what they're doing over the past six games. I don't pretend to know what the franchise will do regarding coaching decisions in the coming weeks, but it does seem more unlikely now than it did two months ago.

Sam: Good Afternoon Ray, I know it's a miracle longshot for the Steelers to make the playoffs, but I was surprised the Steelers put him on IR. Is his calf that bad? What if the team does make the playoffs? It seems the Steelers were willing to go through the post-season without him.

Ray Fittipaldo: I assume you're talking about Velasco. If so, it's a months-long rehab for an Achilles injury. It's not a calf injury. Cody Wallace has been solid the past few games by the way. Not great, but he's getting the job done.

JP: Ray, what positions on Defense would you upgrade? Would you draft an ILB or wait to see how Spence recovers?

Ray Fittipaldo: If they don't draft an inside linebacker I think that will be a pretty good sign that Spence is someone that might be able to count on. Obviously, they need to get younger in the secondary and could use a franchise type nose tackle if one is available.

Abbie Normal: The rules regarding what is challengeable and what is not need to be reviewed, they just don't make any sense. Two plays, the blocked FG and the non-call of pass interference on AB's slant on 3rd down late in the game could have cost the Steelers the game. Do you agree?

Ray Fittipaldo: Tomlin, who is a new appointee on the competition committee, was asked about that today, and he said he has not thought "one iota" about what types of plays might be reviewed by the committee after the season. I am sure these issues will come up when they meet, but they don't always make changes to rules, even when the rules in place don't make much sense.

Jeff: With all of the problems with the defense this year, is it a sign that lebeau's calls are off or he just does not have the players right now?

Ray Fittipaldo: I think a lot of what's transpired is on the players. They're the ones giving up the big plays. They're the ones not tackling. They're the ones who are not communicating. You can blame Lebeau and the defensive staff to a point, but after a while the players have to play. And many of them have not played up to the standards that have been set before them.

Sam: Hi Ray, I love the numbers you provided about playing time in a complex defense. Do you think the Steelers should simplify the plays a bit on defense so the younger guys can get on the field more and see what they can do? With the new rookie contracts capped at four years, it seems like as soon as a player learns the defense and plays one successful year, it's a risk giving a big contract on so little playing time.

Ray Fittipaldo: That's one of the reasons I wrote the story. I was wondering how it can be that a team can afford to keep assets on the bench for such long periods while other teams are finding out about their assets sooner. For what it's worth, LeBeau has not inclination to change a philosophy that has worked for 30-plus years. I would have loved to have asked Kevin Colbert about this, but he doesn't do interviews during the season. Perhaps when he speaks to the media after the season I can pose this question about the new collective bargaining agreement and rookie contracts. Thanks for reading, Sam

Spirit Sniper: Does Cincy have anything to gain by beating Baltimore? Are they in contention for a 1st round bye?

Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, Cincinnati can secure the No. 2 seed if it wins and if the Patriots lose at home to Buffalo. I know it's far-fetched, but at least the Bengals and Ravens play at 1 and the Patriots play at 4:25.

John in CT: Any chance of kicking McClendon out to Kiesels position next season and drafting a true NG. I think 90 would be dominant as a 5 technique and the move would help free up our LB's more next season

Ray Fittipaldo: McLendon was position flexible before they asked him to be a full-time nose guard. I'm sure he could go back to that role. But as far as your belief that he could be "dominant", I am quite sure he would have already been inserted into the starting lineup as an edn if that were the case.

Spirit Sniper: Are the Steelers players required to get flu shots?

Ray Fittipaldo: I can only assume they all receive flu shots, but it's not 100 percent guaranteed to prevent every strain that's out there. At least I don't think it is.

Spirit Sniper: I think Sam meant Woodley, not Velasco.

Ray Fittipaldo: OK. In that case, I can only assume that the injury is more long term than short term. Players on injured reserve are not permitted to speak to reporters so we haven't been able to ask Woodley about the severity of the calf injury.

Hines_Army: Does Tomlin get coached by anyone in the organization about things like clock management or is he on his own as head coach?

Ray Fittipaldo: I don't know the answer to that question, but to my knowledge he has never publicly acknowledged that someone is coaching him on clock management issues.

jerry pellegrino: Hi ray. can I have a two part question the first one was why haven't we seen Markus Wheaton come out more and try to be more of a staple in our offense especially when we may be getting rid of Sanders?and number 2 what is the percentage chances of Dick LeBeau finally retiring ?

Ray Fittipaldo: As for Wheaton, they're trying to win games and they feel like they have a better chance of doing that with Sanders in there instead of a rookie. As for LeBeau, he has said he wants to return. So it appears he'd have to have a change of heart or the franchise would have to convince him to step aside.

Chunkles: Ray, the good news is the Steelers scored 38 points, the bad news is the Steelers gave up 31 points. Who do you blame, the lack of pressure put on the quarterback or the secondary?

Ray Fittipaldo: Combination of both. There was decent pressure yesterday. I think they finished with three sacks. Covering guys has been an issue all season and it's exacerbated when there is no pressure.

JamesinNYC: Williams keeps looking better at ILB, or maybe he is just really good at the goalline.

Ray Fittipaldo: He's been pretty good in short-yardage situations. I think the coaches have a pretty good idea of when he can be effective and when he'd be a liability. That's why you see Terence Garvin in at ILB in some packages and Troy Polamalu at ILB in some other packages.

Billy From Blawnox: Getting a hugh NT in first round would be a wasted pick in today's NFL. A giant chubster at NT would probably come out on all third downs an many second downs. Look at Seattle's D. The game is speed, speed, and more speed. Your thoguhts Ray?

Ray Fittipaldo: Casey Hampton always left the field against certain teams in certain downs and distances, but he made sure those teams were facing second- and third-and-long situations. If every NFL team had Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, then no you don't draft a nose tackle high. But there are a bunch of teams with Jason Campbells and Matt Flynns at quarterback, which is why you probably take one if he's available.

Tom: Did Tomlin really make a bad judgement on going for a TD over a fieldgoal? Did Suisham misses on TWO 30 yrds in Oakland and blowing a potential game winner in Baltimore play a role?

Ray Fittipaldo: Tomlin did not mention those plays but I am sure all past blunders factor into his decisions.

jerry pellegrino: does Kansas City need to win for any reason against San Diego

Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, Kansas City needs to beat San Diego for the Steelers to make it, among other things.

BlackGold: Ray... if we assume that the coaching staff is mostly here to stay, which I'm okay with, then where does the responsibility lie for the performance of our players? Front office for their draft choices? Tomlin get too much input on draft day? Can there be any denying that, in addition to skill, we also haven't replaced our leadership?

Ray Fittipaldo: If the Steelers finish 8-8 and make the playoffs after a 6-2 second half I think there will be plenty of positive things to say about the leadership of this team. I know the playoffs are not likely, but you have to give them credit for keeping focus when everyone else was talking about who they should draft in early October.

ray: Will Sanders injury help him to stay with Steelers next year. Does this lower his FA value substantially?

Ray Fittipaldo: The injury does not appear to be that serious He's questionable this week

Clint: The way the rules are in the NFL now, could you make the argument we will never see a dominating defense again league wide, let alone Pittsburgh?

Ray Fittipaldo: The rules are definitely favorable for the offense. How do you think the ratings were yesterday for a 38-31 game that had playoff implications for both sides. This is what the NFL wants. There are a few really good defenses in the NFL but you had better be able to score, too, because that's how you win now in the NFL

Edward in Texas: Love your work Ray. Earlier in the season I was calling for Haley's job. But I am willing to eat some crow and say the offense has been much better since the New England debacle and I am actually in favor of him coming back. Your opinion?

Ray Fittipaldo: The quarterback doesn't want change. The quarterback is a franchise player with two Super Bowl rings. I don't change if he's happy. But the franchise made a change when he was happy before with Bruce Arians, so who really knows?

DSF: What do you think the steelers record would be if Beachum had started the season at left tackle?

Ray Fittipaldo: That's a terrific question. I'd give them at least one more win. And these far-fetched playoff scenarios wouldn't be so far-fetched. Beachum has settled that line down big-time.

Billy From Blawnox: Do people actually believe that taking two knees and kicking a FG was, without dooubt, the one and only logical course of action? And that taking the touhdown was, without doubt, the stupidest and most indefensible course of action? There are pros and cons to either choice, but the people who are calling Tomlin an idiot, moron, etc.. are insufferable jerks.

Ray Fittipaldo: Tomlin was questioned on it a lot today. It's a valid topic. By kneeing, bleeding the clock and kicking, you give yourself a better chance to win the game. But Tomlin gave his reasons, and he's sticking to his story.

StefanfromDenmark: Its been a crazy season so fare, so how good are our odds to make the playoffs? And Can WE make some damage if WE get in?

Ray Fittipaldo: I saw one site had it at 6 percent. If they do make it, a matchup with Cincinnati could happen in the first round. The Steelers certainly could win that game.

LA Matt: Roger and the NFL should be embarrassed by the officiating at yesterday's game! In addtion to the debacle after the blocked field goal, there was the "blow to head" call against Heywood, the non-interference call against Brown, etc... What is wrong with these referees?

Ray Fittipaldo: The officials are not full-time. Perhaps it is time for the NFL and the officials to bring in full-timers who want to perform the job as an occupation, not as a side job. Might be worth a thought considering there are millions of dollars at stake every week in a multi-billion dollar business.

Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the questions this week. We'll do it again after the Cleveland game next week. Have a Merry Christmas

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