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Weekend mailbag: Ben Roethlisberger

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a bye this weekend. But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was on the minds of readers in our AFC North community.

Let's answer some questions.

A.J. Balbo from Savannah, Ga., wants to know if the Steelers will stick to their ball-control formula once quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returns.

James Walker: Not exactly, A.J. The Steelers did what was best to win games and executed it very well. But Pittsburgh is a much more balanced and dangerous offense with Roethlisberger, and it wouldn't be wise not to use the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback. The Steelers are 31st in passing and rarely took chances. But Roethlisberger thrives on making big plays and you will see a less conservative offense with Pittsburgh the rest of the season.


Daniel Saikali from Glendora, Calif., writes: I've heard a lot about Roethlisberger's focus since his suspension. Have you noticed that he's really changing?

Walker: It's not my responsibility to play amateur psychologist, Daniel. Roethlisberger knows his past mistakes and what he has to do better in the present and future. All I can say is he's saying the right things and his actions over time will reflect whether he's making progress.


Tracey Oliver from New York wants to know if the Steelers can win a Super Bowl without Roethlisberger.

Walker: Despite how our Power Rankings turned out a couple of weeks ago, no, the Steelers cannot win a Super Bowl this year without Roethlisberger. They proved they can still win games. But Roethlisberger is the player who gives them a legit shot at a seventh championship.


Kovacs from Santa Monica, Calif., writes: I understand that you'll continue to be a little bearish on the Browns until wins pile up. That's fair. What is your evaluation of the progression of the team from last season to this season?

Walker: Good question as usual, Kovacs. Progress is being made in Cleveland. The team is more competitive now than it was a year ago, and depending on how quickly some of the younger players develop, it will only increase. I predicted the Browns would win five or six games this year and be competitive. They are doing the latter but it's not showing up in the standings so far.


TEverette11 via Twitter writes: I think the Browns deserve more credit. In lieu of their own mistakes first three games, don't you feel they should be undefeated?

Walker: Let's not get crazy after one win, TEverette. The Browns have been competitive but they're not playing like a 4-0 team. Cleveland is getting credit this week for beating the Cincinnati Bengals. Now they need to focus on beating the tough Atlanta Falcons (3-1).


Joseph from Victoria, Texas, wants to know if rookie quarterback Colt McCoy will play this season.

Walker: Never say never, Joseph, but the plan is for McCoy to sit this year. The past three games McCoy has been one play away. But Jake Delhomme (ankle) is getting healthy, which means McCoy's chances of playing this year greatly decrease.


Austin from Alamo, Calif., writes: James, you and John Clayton have been quick to say Joe Flacco has become elite after beating the Steelers last weekend. I don't buy it.

Walker: Austin, I never called Flacco elite and rarely like to use that word in general. Clayton, on the other hand, does view Flacco as an elite NFL quarterback. I disagree and believe Flacco still has room to grow. But I think his win over Pittsburgh shows growth in his development.


Raj from Baltimore writes: Any update on Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed?

Walker: Reed is eligible to come off the physical unable to perform list after Baltimore's sixth game against the New England Patriots. I've seen Reed in the locker room after games but haven't had the chance to talk to him. He seems to be walking around fine and progressing well.


Matt from Surprise, Ariz., writes: Any idea how we can get a bit more protection for Carson Palmer?

Walker: The Bengals offensive line isn't built to be good pass blockers. It's more of a run-oriented unit. The problem is Cincinnati made all these acquisitions in the offseason to throw the ball without accounting for the offensive line. The one player who I think can help is Andre Smith. He was the No. 6 overall pick in 2009 and has some potential, but Smith still has to improve to be a starter. If the Bengals can get the best out of him in the next few weeks and months, I think that will help.

Comment and complain department

David from Cleveland writes: I saw what you wrote about T.J. Ward in your "Seven-step drop" and I couldn't agree more. The Browns NEED a player on their team that strikes fear into the opposing team so we no longer come off as the pushovers of the AFC North and hopefully this win proved we can hang with teams that have more talent than us.

Scott from Cleveland writes: I find it pretty disappointing that you would have anything positive to say about a cheap shot on a defenseless receiver. Ward's hit on Jordan Shipley was a blatant cheap shot and that is why the league discourages such play. I assume Shipley will be thrilled to know of your support of Ward becoming an enforcer. Shame on you.

Walker: There were two sides that I presented on this issue, and I found it interesting that some people only saw the one side they wanted to see. Scott, I'm not condoning Ward's late hit and wrote he deserves his fine. What I'm saying is Cleveland's defense has been soft for a long time. I covered the team and saw year after year what poor and weak tackling can do to a defense. As David understood, the Brown finally have an aggressive hitter in the secondary, and I'm not sure you want to encourage Ward to turn that off, because it's the best part of his game. The NFL is extremely fast, and if the Browns have to choose between Ward playing too aggressive at times or too passive, it's in Cleveland's best interest for Ward to remain aggressive.


Jim from Cleveland writes: James, I do not understand you. When it comes to the Browns you are the most negative person ever. You should be the first one to know that Browns fans are the most loyal and optimistic fans in the NFL. At the same time I respect you for everything you say about them, but it is annoying to hear your negative comments about them every week. The Browns may not have enough talent like you say, but they can win.

Walker: I'm confused, Jim. You agree with my assessment of the Browns, but you're upset that I point out their deficiencies? Keep in mind that this is a zero homerism blog. I wrote that when I first started covering the AFC North, because it's the best and only way to provide objective and honest reporting of all four teams. Therefore, if your team -- in this case Cleveland -- isn't playing well I'm going to point out all the reasons why. If your team is playing well I will point out all the reasons why, as well. I find that pretty simple. There are plenty of homer sports sites on the internet. But this space is not one of them.


Ariana from Hamden, Conn., writes: The Ravens are like the Steelers, the Steelers aren't like the Ravens. They're like a better version of Baltimore.

Walker: Nice riddle, Ariana. I had to read that five times, but I think I see where you're going.

AFC North Homer of the Week

Conrad Cox from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: I think we are seeing too many stories on the Bengals and Steelers. What about the Ravens? Get real. They are by far the best team in the AFC North, beating both the Jets and the Steelers. The Browns beat the Bengals and we smoked them. Get Real!

Walker: I'm starting to wonder if people make stuff up to be the Homer of the Week. Conrad, it's funny that your explanation of Baltimore losing to the Bengals is that the Browns beat Cincinnati and the Ravens "smoked" Cleveland. Did you notice Baltimore needed a fourth-quarter comeback against the Browns? I'm not sure "smoked" is the right word.

If you have future questions, comments or complaints, feel free to send them to our division inbox or AFC North Twitter.