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Asked and Answered: Jan. 5

Posted Jan 5, 2017

Another installment of Bob Labriola answering your questions about the Steelers and the NFL.

Let’s get to it:

MIKE DONCSECZ FROM LANGHORNE, PA:
Can Cam Heyward come off injured reserve for the playoffs?

ANSWER: No. The next time you will see Cam Heyward wearing football pads will be at Saint Vincent College next summer.

DARRELL GRANT FROM RICHMOND, VA:
What adjustments do you think Steelers will make for Miami running back Jay Ajayi?

ANSWER: Be in the proper gaps and tackle better. It’s really nothing more complex than that, because if they don’t do those two things, any other “adjustments” they attempt to make will be rendered useless.

BEN FAVIS FROM ATLANTA, GA:
I was looking over some Steelers rosters from the 1970s and noticed that Franco Harris is listed as a fullback. My question: was Franco a fullback only in name and actually was used as the team's primary running back? I understand that both fullbacks and halfbacks can be used to run the ball, but the role of the fullback is usually to block. Was the function of the fullback different in the 1970s? Just wondering, since Rocky Bleier is not the first player people think of when they recall the best Steelers running backs from that era. I can't think of any contemporary examples of a fullback being used as the primary running back.

ANSWER: You write, “Was the function of the fullback different in the 1970s?” The answer to that is yes. Much different, in fact, and it was different going back several decades as well. I’m going to give you a list of players – all of whom are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – who played the position of fullback: Jim Brown, Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, John Henry Johnson, Bronko Nagurski, Marion Motley, Ernie Nevers, Joe Perry, John Riggins, and Jim Taylor. In a true two-back offense – where the backs line up behind the quarterback in a line that’s parallel to the line of scrimmage – both the fullback and the halfback are runners and both of them are blockers, too. What eventually evolved was a distribution of labor in that one guy did most of the carrying of the ball, while the other did most of the blocking. In fact, back in the 1970s, there was no such position as running back. There was a fullback and a halfback.

DAN BRODEUR FROM SUGARLOAF, PA:
I know we haven't made it to the AFC Championship Game yet, nor have the New England Patriots. But there’s a lot of speculation that this will be the matchup. Looking back to Nov. 30, 2008, the Steelers beat the Patriots 33-10 at Gillette Stadium. I remember our defense lined up on the line of scrimmage and checked all receivers within the first 5 yards. This allowed the pass rush more time to get to and disrupt Tom Brady. I understand there are a lot of different players, but the coaches are essentially the same. Do you think this defensive approach would work again if we play the New England Patriots?

ANSWER: Hate to break this to you, Dan, but your memory of that game isn’t what you think it is, and let’s start with this: Matt Cassel was the quarterback that day for New England, because Tom Brady was on injured reserve with a knee injury.

KIM LARSEN FROM BOURBONNAIS, IL:
My brother and I had a nice friendly bet at the beginning of the 2016 season on where the Steelers defense would finish in all-around ranking. I said top 10. Can you help settle this bet?

ANSWER: Maybe, if I knew what you and your brother came to understand as “all-around ranking,” because I don’t know what that means. In takeaways, the Steelers were tied for No. 11; in red zone defense, they were No. 4; in points allowed, they were No. 10; in yards allowed, they were No. 12.

TIM DUFFY FROM RIDGWAY, PA:
Could you tell me what you know about how the schedule is decided? Since 2008 (including 2017’s scheduled opponents), the Steelers and Patriots will have played in seven of those 10 seasons, while the Steelers and Bills, who are in the AFC East just like the Patriots, will have played three times over the same 10 years. Is this just part of the NFL's effort to have successful teams play each other for schedule strength and get popular teams playing on national television? I know every game is tough in the NFL, but playing Pittsburgh or New England seven times over 10 years seems more difficult than playing Buffalo seven times over 10 years, given the history of each franchise over the last 10 seasons.

ANSWER: What you are describing is one of the ways the NFL promotes parity. For each team in the NFL, there are two games every season – one at home and one on the road – that are scheduled based on where you finished in your division the previous season. For example, in 2017, the Steelers and every other team in the AFC North play a game against a team from the AFC East at home and against a team from the AFC West on the road. Those matchups are determined by where the teams finished in 2016 – for example, as the AFC North winner, the Steelers will host the AFC East winner (New England) and visit the AFC West winner (Kansas City), and that formula is followed for the No. 2 team in the AFC North, the No. 3 team, and the No. 4 team. Because the Steelers and Patriots consistently finish at the top of their respective divisions, they have played each other a bunch more than the Steelers have played the Bills, to cite the example you used.

BRIAN COHEN FROM CONCORD, CA:
Maybe you'll finally answer this one but I'm not holding my breathe. Flipping stations and I thought I saw a Steelers game I didn't know about then realized it was Iowa getting pummeled in a bowl game. Is there some connection/infatuation between Iowa and the Steelers I don't know about? Are they allowed to copy the uniform that closely except helmet or did they need permission?

ANSWER: Let’s start with a little tip for you: If you want a question answered, don’t start off by whining about the questions that weren’t answered. It’s obnoxious, and I’m the only one allowed to be obnoxious in this space. Now to the question: Back in the 1970s, Iowa coach Hayden Fry wanted to rebuild the identity of his team. At that time, as you may know, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the sport’s dominant professional team, and so Fry sought to pattern his team’s look after the Steelers’ look. He sought and received permission for this, and Iowa’s uniforms came to be exact replicas of the Steelers’, down to the width of the stripe on the pants.

MARK STIMMELL FROM FERRY PASS, FL:
What are the Steelers looking for in the upcoming draft?

ANSWER: You may have missed it, but for the Steelers there is a little event between now and the NFL Draft. It’s called THE PLAYOFFS. In fact, there is a PLAYOFF GAME on Sunday at Heinz Field. That’s kind of the focus right now.

KEVIN HEARD FROM CHESAPEAKE, VA:
With the emergence of Eli Rogers, Demarcus Ayers, Ladarius Green, Cobi Hamilton, Jessie James, and presumably Martavis Bryant coming back next season, have Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton found themselves suddenly expendable?

ANSWER: What is it with fans wanting to make 2017 roster decisions now? Don’t you think that there could be a few things transpiring on the field over the next few weeks that might have a bearing on those 2017 roster decisions? Why not enjoy the playoffs? Why not get excited for the playoffs? And even if you’re not excited for the playoffs, how do you expect a question like that to be answered with anything except a guess? My Magic 8-Ball broke when I was in eighth grade.

HERMAN STOLL FROM HAMLIN, NY:
Landry Jones threw an interception and Jones recovered the interceptor’s fumble for a touchback. How many times has a quarterback recovered a fumble of an interception, and has it ever happened that the recovery was for a touchback?

ANSWER: Are you talking just in the 83 NFL seasons in the history of the Steelers, or in the entire history of the NFL? Either way, I give up. How many times has a quarterback recovered a fumble of an interception, and has it ever happened that the recovery was for a touchback?