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12-05-2009, 07:19 PM
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Saturday, December 5, 2009
Walker's weekend mailbag: Steeler Nation
By James Walker

We got a lot of questions and concerns from Steeler Nation this week after Pittsburgh lost its third in a row.

So let's answer some mail from our always busy AFC North inbox.

Brandon from Costa Mesa, Calif., writes: With Denis Dixon's promising showing last Sunday, any chance that the Steelers added any offensive packages for him?

James Walker: Dixon won over a lot of players in the locker room with last weekís performance on short notice, Brandon. As a result Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said itís possible Dixon will see the field again in certain packages. But I wouldnít expect much. Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said several times that he has no interest in running a Wildcat offense, which would seem natural for Dixon. But Iím sure the coaching staff is more open to trying something new in an effort to stop this recent skid.

RJ from Virginia Beach, Va.,, writes: Would you say that Stefan Logan is a bust so far?

JW: RJ, I also expected more big returns from Logan. But I wouldnít label him a bust. He was a former CFL player making the transition to the NFL. Letís put this all in perspective. I think, more than anything, this is another lesson not to overrate the preseason.

Denny from Fajardo, Puerto Rico, wants to know why the Jacksonville Jaguars (6-4) are in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) and Baltimore Ravens (6-4) for the final wild card in the AFC.

JW: Denny, the Jaguars, without playing the Steelers or Ravens head-to-head, own the first available tiebreaker, which is the conference record. Jacksonville is 5-2 against AFC opponents. The Steelers are 4-4 and the Ravens are 6-4 against conference teams this year, respectively.

Alex Weidner from Boone, N.C., wants to know why people arenít citing Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu's absence as a reason Pittsburgh is 6-5.

JW: Thatís a good point, Alex. I think most people are aware the Steelers likely wouldíve closed out several blown leads in the fourth quarter if Polamalu was in the lineup. But the Steelers are a no-excuse team, and I think itís a tremendous credit to them. I rarely, if ever, hear Pittsburgh complain about injuries, and I think the media to some degree follows suit in the way we cover the team.

Eric from Baltimore is upset that I wrote this week "Iím not sure the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens are playoff worthy."

JW: I still contend that neither club is playing playoff-caliber football, Eric. Did you see Pittsburghís game against the Kansas City Chiefs? The Ravens and Steelers both look like .500 teams to me right now, which is essentially what they are record-wise. Obviously that can change, and I think it will for at least one of these AFC North teams. But both were playing at a much higher level at this time last year when Baltimore and Pittsburgh were making runs to the conference title game. Itís not even close.

Nathan Hegedus from Lakeland, Fla., writes: Do you think the Cincinnati Bengals will fall from the playoff picture during their hard December schedule?

JW: The Bengals are safe, Nathan. I think, at worst, they will go 3-2 the rest of the way and finish with 11 victories and a home playoff game. The key for Cincinnati right now is to secure a first-round bye, which is there for the taking. But most likely that will require a road win over the Minnesota Vikings (10-1) or San Diego Chargers (8-3).

David from Miami wants to know why the Bengals arenít throwing downfield anymore.

JW: Good question, David. Cincinnati has gotten very conservative with its play-calling lately. I think part of it is the team's identity to just pound the football. Itís a successful formula thatís gotten the Bengals in first place and theyíre sticking to it. Another reason is personnel, because the Bengals don't have a true deep threat outside of receiver Chad Ochocinco. Chris Henry may have been the teamís best deep weapon. But with Henry out with a broken arm and Ochocinco seeing the most double teams, the opportunities to take shots just arenít there as much. It will be interesting to see if this hurts the Bengals in the playoffs.

Scott Wick writes: On a team as bad as the Browns, how is it that Brian Robiskie, a second rounder, doesn't even dress? How is he supposed to develop? Even if he gets schooled on Sunday, isn't that valuable experience?

JW: Scott, the company line is that Robiskie canít contribute on special teams so it makes it hard for him as a backup to be put on the 45-man roster on game days. But in reality Iím not sure he fits Clevelandís offensive system. Itís apparent the Browns overrated two of their second-round draft picks in Robiskie and linebacker David Veikune. Robiskie never had a huge year at Ohio State and Veikune was a little-known linebacker from Hawaii, which is a program more famous for its high-scoring scoring offense than defense. The Browns have a lot of picks next year, and they will have to do better in the draft if they plan on turning things around.

Joseph from Columbus writes: Do you think all of Cleveland's injuries are just bad luck?

JW: I think a majority of football injuries are just bad breaks, Joseph. You canít predict which team will have more or less year to year. This was a bad year for injuries with the Browns.

Greg Haselbarth from Independence, Mo., writes: I know we don't have to worry about this in the AFC North, but don't you think this whole "resting players" is a little played out?

JW: Not at all, Greg. Iím actually in favor of resting players. I understand the "rust factor" before the playoffs, but itís more important to prevent injuries. Last year I called for the Steelers to shut down their starters in the final game against Cleveland. They didnít and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger left the game on a stretcher with a spinal concussion. Luckily for the Steelers, Roethlisberger returned for the postseason and they won a Super Bowl. But football is a brutal game and if a team has earned the right to lick its wounds and rest before the playoffs, I think it should take advantage in most cases.

Becky from Galloway, Ohio, wants to know why the NFL is considering an 18-game season.

JW: My prediction is that there will not be an 18-game season anytime soon, Becky. Iíve talked to several players about this topic in the past year, and they do not want to play two additional games without getting two additional paychecks. Would the owners want to raise every playerís salary by two games? I doubt it. Shortening the preseason would be an option. But I think the NFLPA would be too much against two additional games in the regular season to make it work.