Answer Man

The smartest football man this side of the big pond had a few minutes for and provided his bye-week view of the Steelers this season as they prepare to visit Denver with a 5-2 record.

Q: Satisfied with 5-2 at the bye? Unsatisfied?

Answer Man: I feel good about this team. I feel better about this team than I did when the season opened, in terms of its overall game. Certainly losing to the Bengals and the Bears and the way those games happened, to me was pretty typical of recent Steelers losses, meaning that it was more about the things that they did badly than the other team did well. Missed field goals, dropped passes in the end zone, miscommunication on a route resulting in an interception return for a touchdown, that's what got you beat and those are things you can control and should be able to limit, so I feel good about that. The offensive line is much better than I thought it was going to be. There has not been any instance where, even the times Ben (Roethlisberger) has been sacked, where he has no chance, like the Eagles game. At no point then did you think something could be done; nothing could be done. But there haven't been those really bad looking jailbreaks. Also, I wouldn't trade Mike Wallace for Nate Washington even up. The tight end? He's as good as you need at that position. Ben, if he's going to complete this high of a percentage and lead the NFL in yards per attempt, I mean, that's just ridiculous. And the defense, the thing about the defense is it's been finding its way a little bit. The loss of Troy Polamalu, while he's certainly a dynamic player, I think there was a little bit of an overreaction to that, in terms of conservative approaches to things. I don't know that it was necessary to play coverage on fourth-and-10 against the Bengals. I just don't. Anyway, that's past.

Q: Do you think the defensive problems are in the past? Didn't even the bad teams make mini-comebacks?

AM: Since the Chargers game, the mini-comebacks by Detroit and Cleveland to me were just fantasy football stuff. That's just yardage. When you look at this defense as opposed to last year's defense, the perception is ‘Nobody ever gained a yard. Nobody ever got a first down.' Right? Except for the Steelers intercepting passes and running for touchdowns, nothing ever happened when the other team had the ball last year. Right? But that's really not the way it was, and this year I think maybe there has been a little bit more yardage allowed, but if yardage doesn't lead to anything it's meaningless. Some of the yards that maybe the Browns accumulated later, the time of possession they accumulated later, if the offense doesn't give the ball right back after the defense took it way, I don't even know if we're having this conversation.

Q: Well, let's find some problems. LaMarr Woodley might be one. Are you worried that he's not going to be the star he seemed destined last season to become?

AM: I don't know. If LaMarr Woodley as an individual player isn't performing as well as some expected based on what he had shown last year and graphing his career on a steady incline, that's a question that has an answer. But has LaMarr Woodley's play been a detriment to the overall play of the defense? That's another answer.

Q: We just want to make sure we still have this star on the rise.

AM: Why? Maybe this is a bit of a trough for him. I mean I'm not cutting this guy or trading him for Clark Haggans or anything. Sure, you'd like him to have more sacks maybe. Again, I don't know that that kind of a concern really matters at this point. And who knows. He's a streaky sack guy anyway.

Q: You're probably right. Every time I asked him about a period of no sacks last year, he'd go off.

AM: Well, do me a favor and go ask him about it then. But I think it's a lot like takeaways. And I'll tell you what: I just don't know if our corners are takeaway corners. Ike (Taylor) is not. He's just not. But that doesn't mean he's not contributing to a solid defensive unit. Certain types of players fit certain schemes better. I don't know. Ask me another question.

Q: OK, why hasn't Ziggy Hood become Aaron Smith yet?

AM: (Laughs) I believe that this is the way of this staff, headed by Mike Tomlin, because I believe that this is his philosophy. He talks about guys ‘being humble enough to be coached.' The quickest way you teach a guy not to be humble enough to be coached anymore is if he plays early and has a lot of success. Then he knows everything. Then you've got a problem. So if they don't have to do that – and they try not to – then you can bring a guy along in a way where he's spoon-fed some things and can see the deficiencies in his game as well as the things he has going for him. He can be a more productive long-term part of your organization. It happens to the Bengals a lot of times. They're constantly putting young guys in right away, and if they're really good you can't control them anymore. And if they're not any good, you tend to get rid of them before you can see what they can do and can be taught to become good. That's his philosophy. If Ziggy Hood has to play 50 snaps in a game, he'll play 50 snaps. But if doesn't have to, he won't.

Q: So is he balancing all of Wallace's playing time by giving Keenan Lewis no time?

AM: (Laughs) You know, the Mike Wallace thing, what changed the whole lesson plan for Mike Wallace, in my opinion, was that catch he made in overtime against the Titans. Ben was under a little bit of pressure, he saw it, adjusted his route, got into position where he could get the ball, and made a 22-yard catch. Then we kicked a field goal to win the game. That's a veteran play. I don't know if Mike Wallace is the third receiver the next week if he doesn't know to do that. Maybe it's Limas (Sweed), or Shaun McDonald, or however it might've unfolded. But what Mike Wallace showed right there – and this is another Tomlin-ism – it wasn't too big for him. Hey, he played in the SEC. He's familiar with this and he has said that. He knew what to do, he knew where to go, he made the catch, he made the play that the team needed at that point. That's how you get on the field here.

Q: Any comment on Lewis not playing with those kick-coverage problems?

AM: I'd like to see him play here. As for the kick coverage, I think Andre Frazier is a factor. I think Anthony Madison is a factor. Again, there are some young guys there doing it. I think Joe Burnett will be better than Anthony Madison because he'll be able to play a position better, but he's a rookie. I don't think you really come in and dominate on special teams in that kind of area where they are out on the flanks in space. As a rookie, I don't know that you know all the tricks yet. I'm sure the gunner and wing guys need to learn by experience. If there is one good thing it's that it happened early and now there is focus. This coach is not like the other guy who closed his eyes and clicked his heels and hoped the problem went away. OK? He is on this. The bad stuff goes downhill, and so someone is going to pay for him being alerted to this now. I think that's the way you get things done, by making it such a priority that everybody pays more attention.

Q: So why not pick Madison back up and let Keiwan Ratliff go?

AM: Yeah, that has been a disappointment to me. I thought at camp he made enough plays in practices and games to be the last defensive back on the depth chart. He has not maintained that, not even close, and special teams are hurting. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to that move. Not at all. I don't know enough about the specifics of whether they've analyzed the coverage, and if it's really that, or is it something else? I don't know, but I wouldn't boo the move.

Q: Lastly, how's your general outlook? Can you put a number on it? 12-4? Anything like that?

AM: There are problems with this team. There is no doubt. But I've now seen everything else, and I am not afraid. I'm not. Tom BradyCarson Palmer said it, Rod Woodson said it, and I'm sure Jerry Olsavsky would tell you, too – when you really blow out a knee, bad, you may do 12 months rehab in terms of rehab and it's strong and all that stuff, but it's not the same up here in your head. He's not 2007 Tom Brady. I don't care what the Cybex machine says when it measures the strength of his knee. It's going to take him time. It's normal. It's just being a human being. Indianapolis looked ordinary against San Francisco. Denver? I'm not buying it. I'm just not. The NFL reconstitutes itself every month. The Jets and the Giants were going go play in the conference championship games in the same building. ‘Oh my God, how are we going to do that?' Think anybody's worried about that right now? So at Thanksgiving it's maybe going to be totally different than how we see it now. So right now it's just a guess, but like I said I like this team and what it has compared to what everybody else has.

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