Let’s get to it:
HERSCHEL DINKINS FROM POUGHKEEPSIE, NY: With Trey Edmunds’ promotion to the 53-man roster, is James Conner going to be missing significant playing time? Also, as far as depth, is Jaylen Samuels now our No. 1 running back?
ANSWER: I don’t know anything for sure at this juncture, but my guess would be that the roster move made at running back would indicate that James Conner is expected to miss more than one game, but I don’t believe even the medical staff knows for sure at this point how many more than one it will be. And the rest of this week of practice, and even more importantly, the results during the game against the Raiders, will determine the depth chart at running back during Conner’s absence.
BRIAN DONOHUE FROM WHITE PLAINS, MD: Amid all the deserved uproar over the officiating, I’ve hardly seen mention of Chris Boswell’s missed extra point, which I would argue had an impact on the loss as well. While it was one point in a three-point loss, if the Steelers are up by 24-7, the Chargers likely don’t go for two on their two extra-point attempts. What is up with Boswell this year, and are the Steelers considering a change now, or possibly in the offseason?
ANSWER: Chris Boswell missed his fifth extra point of 2018 last Sunday night, and in the previous three seasons he had missed only three combined. Based on Boswell’s track record with the team – and especially the number of times the Steelers won games because of his last-second field goals – I don’t believe the team is looking to make a change there this season. Remember, the team signed him in 2018 to a four-year, $16,806,000 contract, including a $6 million signing bonus, $7.295 million guaranteed, according to Spotrac.com. My personal opinion is that Boswell has been too clutch in too many critical situations for the Steelers to give up on him so quickly. I wouldn’t make a change this season, and probably not next season either. Work with him, try to correct what’s wrong, bring in some competition in the offseason, but Boswell has a track record that cannot be denied. At least not yet.
JAMES GARRETT FROM PAGOSA SPRINGS, CO: Your comment that fans’ opinions on the quality of NFL officiating carry no weight with the league is interesting, but would your answer be the same if the question instead dealt with television viewership?
ANSWER: I respect your passion, but officiating has been bad for some time now, and nothing really substantive has changed, either at the NFL level or in terms of fans’ interest in the sport. I refer to this story about television ratings that was written by Michael David Smith and appeared on ProFootballTalk.com on Nov. 28:
“On Thanksgiving, all three games had more viewers this year than last year. The early game in Detroit was up 7 percent from last year, the late afternoon game in Dallas was up 16 percent from last year, and the primetime game was up 28 percent from last year.
“On Monday night, ESPN got 18 percent more viewers than Week 12 last year. On Sunday night, NBC got 8 percent more viewers than last year.
“The only one of the NFL’s eight broadcast windows that wasn’t up from Week 12 last year was the afternoon game on FOX, which was down 5 percent. FOX’s loss was CBS’s gain, with the early game on CBS increasing in viewership by 26 percent from last year, and the late afternoon game on CBS increasing in total viewership by 19 percent from last year.
“The NFL is now comfortably ahead of where it was last year, and the stories about the league’s TV ratings decline are starting to feel like a distant memory.”
DAVE EMERY FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Did Mike Tomlin make a major mistake by not having an adequate backup running back available for James Conner, by assuming he would eventually have Le’Veon Bell?
ANSWER: How do you know that Stevan Ridley and/or Jaylen Samuels aren’t adequate fill-ins for the time James Conner will need to recover from his non-season-ending injury? And did you, in your wildest dreams, believe Le’Veon Bell was going to forfeit $14.5 million by sitting out an entire season? I sure didn’t.
NATE FERRICK FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Should the Steelers pursue Kelvin Benjamin seeing that he was recently released from the Bills? Could add that big bodied receiver to our potent offense.
ANSWER: I’m going to start with a few facts relating to Kelvin Benjamin’s career, and then I’ll let the media covering his teams take it from there. Benjamin was a first-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2014 and he finished with 1,008 receiving yards as a rookie in 2014 and another 941 in 2016 after a torn ACL cost him the 2015 season. His quarterback in Carolina was Cam Newton, who once was voted NFL MVP, but he criticized Newton to The Athletic’s Tim Graham: “If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying?”
Benjamin then was traded to Buffalo for third and seventh-round draft picks, and this is what Leo Roth of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle wrote about him on Dec. 4:
“Almost from the very beginning of the season, Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott was being quizzed about wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s effort and attitude. The dropped passes, the halfhearted efforts going after less-than-perfect throws, the jogging downfield.
“’At times. Not all the time, though. At times,’’ McDermott said on Oct. 3 when asked about Benjamin’s effort. “I would say the same thing with our entire offense. At times, I see it and at times, it’s not good enough.’’ ‘Not good enough’ has finally gotten Benjamin his jogging, er, walking papers.”
If someone put a gun to my head and made me choose between adding Benjamin or Martavis Bryant, I’d take Bryant in a heartbeat.
ISRAEL CATANO FROM ARTESIA, CA: When the Steelers blocked the punt on Sunday night vs. the Chargers, I believe there was a review of some sort and during that review the broadcast crew brought in an ex-official, and he stated that there was a review because Jaylen Samuels had touched the ball and that it was live. Since it was blocked by the Steelers, is it a live ball immediately?
ANSWER: If a blocked punt crosses the line of scrimmage, it’s to be treated the same way as any other punt that crosses the line of scrimmage. That being: it cannot be advanced by the kicking team; if touched by the kicking team it’s dead at that spot; it can be returned by the return team; and if it’s touched by the return team and not possessed, it’s a live ball.
IAN DRIPPS FROM WATAUGA, TX: Do you think it would be a good thing to have an eighth official in the booth to watch for blatant missed calls? They could buzz down and let the referee know in seconds and get the call correct.
ANSWER: That sounds good in theory, but adding another guy to the crew could lead to that eighth guy wanting to justify his presence, it could lead to the eighth guy looking to have an impact on the game instead of just inserting himself when absolutely necessary. In many cases, more isn’t better, and I believe that more officials wouldn’t be better in all instances.
CALEB MOORE FROM ARLINGTON, VA: When a quarterback kneels at the end of a half, although his knee is down, he hasn’t been touched by a defender. Isn’t the play still alive at that point?
ANSWER: In the NFL, a player with the ball can “give himself up” at any location on the field, and the play is then dead at that point. There is no need for him to be touched down by a defender. A quarterback taking the snap and kneeling down is recognized as “giving himself up.”