Chat with James Walker
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN.com AFC North blogger James Walker will stop by to chat about the NFL and what to expect from your team.
Walker joined ESPN.com in 2008 after three seasons covering the Cleveland Browns for the Columbus Dispatch.
Send your questions now and join James Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET!
James Walker (4:00 PM)
How is everyone today? I'm in Pittsburgh getting ready for a big week leading into the Steelers-Jets AFC title game. Let's chat.
Clay Defayette NY [via mobile]
How should the Steelers take away Sanchez's safety targets and force him to be accurate in tough spots?
James Walker (4:02 PM)
I think the Steelers need to mix it up more and confuse Mark Sanchez. With Troy Polamalu out, the Steelers weren't able to use all of thier blitz packages, so they were more predictable. This week the Steelers will have their full playbook available on D, and they need to use as much of it as possible.
Clay Defayette NY [via mobile]
Will Cotchery be the one guy that Pittsburgh will not have a good enough corner for or will that be Edwards?
James Walker (4:03 PM)
I think JC will be a player to watch. The Steelers are concerned about him, because they don't have much depth in the secondary, especially if Bryant McFadden can't go. Edwards and Holmes are obviously dangerous as well.
what do you think of the ravens-steelers game?
James Walker (4:05 PM)
It was a great game, but a strange game for that series. For one it was high scoring, which isn't the norm. But secondly, the Ravens dominated in the first half and the Steelers dominated in the second half. Usually it's nip-and-tuck throughout. The NFL is very unpredictable.
Nathan (Coralville, IA)
Shurmur a good choice for the Browns, or is it too much of a reach?
James Walker (4:08 PM)
I'm not going to go too far and peg a coach before his first game. I think coaches are like rookies: Give him at least a year before you start to grade or label them. But as I wrote when Cleveland made the hire, it's a very risky choice. Mike Holmgren is staking his rep on an unknown, and this decision needs to work out or it looks really bad on the Big Show.
All the fans in Cincinnati want Bratkowski fired as the offensive coordinator. Why hasn't Mike Brown fired him yet? Who could replace him?
James Walker (4:10 PM)
From what I'm hearing, I would be surprised if there's major changes on the Bengals' coaching staff. Maybe one or two people may change, but I have an educated gut feeling that Bratkowski returns.
James Walker (4:11 PM)
Plus the Bengals are moving very slow to make their decision. Every other team is hiring coaches. So if Cincinnati keeps waiting to make significant changes, the pool won't be very deep with replacements.
Mike (Hemet, CA)
The Steelers obviously need another offensive lineman. Should they draft one early (Pouncey's twin hint hint), or test free agency?
James Walker (4:12 PM)
I think either could work if they choose the right player. But Pittsburgh isn't a huge free-agency team. The Steelers like to build through the draft.
Why do the steelers seem to get no respect in the playoffs? Most people were picking them to lose to the Ravens at home and now the same with the Jets? What gives.
James Walker (4:13 PM)
I don't really keep up with that stuff, to be honest with you. Are most people picking the Jets this week?
Laurent (Paris, France)
Hello from Paris, France. The Steelers have fans all around the world! I think the 3rd quarter of the Steelers against the Ravens was one of the greatest moments in the franchise history. It sounded like perfection (3 forced turnovers, 2 touchdowns). How do you rate those 15 minutes?
James Walker (4:15 PM)
Hey Laurent, thanks for checking in. That was as dominant a quarter as you'll find between two good teams in the playoffs. After getting pounded in the first half, the Steelers really showed a lot of heart to come back like that. That's what the Ravens-Steelers rivarly is about.
Josh (Baltimore, MD)
In terms of personnel/coaching moves and/or changes, what do you think the Ravens need to do to win the AFC North next season?
James Walker (4:17 PM)
The Ravens are a very good team. I think they're close. They just need to keep some of their own key players (Ngata, Cundiff, Koch) and upgrade some spots like RT and get another edge rusher.
Harry Figurski (Erie Pa)
Any updates on Aaron Smith
James Walker (4:20 PM)
Smith is making progress and will continue to practice this week. Mike Tomlin seemed fairly optimistic today. There is a chance Smith could play, but if that's the case he wouldn't start and would be on a snap count.
James, do you think that the Steelers speed at WR and Ben's strong deep ball will be enough to loosen up the tight Jets coverage we saw against NE?
James Walker (4:21 PM)
I think there is a good chance. The Steelers have to take some shots this week to losen up the Jets' blitz. I think the same is true for New York. Mike Wallace could be huge in this game.
Brian (nutley, nj)
What are the Steelers doing to address their kick coverage?
James Walker (4:22 PM)
I just wrote about that in the AFC North blog, Brian. Check it out.
David B (West Chester OH)
Bengals question - Who would you pick with the 4th overall pick in the draft? Do you go with need or the best available?
James Walker (4:23 PM)
Too early to say, David. I need to see what the Bengals do with their roster first. Right now, if the draft was today, I think their need another pass-rushing DE. But a lot can change between now and April.
Rob (San Antonio, Texas)
James thanks for taking time out to chat. The last time the Jets -Steelers played Ward was on Revis island. Do you think that will change this game and do you think the Jets can account for all of the Steelers receivers?
James Walker (4:25 PM)
I think you will see more of the same matchups. Mike Wallace is more of the WR Antonio Cromartie can run with and Ward is more of the physical type that Revis does well against. So I don't see the need to flip it. That may help the Steelers.
James, do you feel like Heckert can manage a change to the 4-3 defense?
James Walker (4:27 PM)
It's not just on Tom Heckert. I think it's on the players and the coaches to be able to switch schemes. Heckert did very well in his first draft, and it's actually easier to draft for a 4-3, because that's what most colleges play. But the question is can the Browns turnover their roster enough on defense in one offseason and teach the players a different scheme from what they've learned the past five seasons under Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini?
Suburban Rhythm (Pittsburgh)
Tomlin has said Aaron Smith will practice this week, but would only play on a strict "pitch count". Would you dress A Smith if that means you only have him for 10-12 snaps?
James Walker (4:30 PM)
That's really a question for the doctors and Steelers to decide. Pittsburgh has to treat this game like do or die, because it is. So if Smith is healthy enough to play, I think you have to get as much contributions as possible. If not, sit him.
Victor (New Jersey)
Do you think that Revis matches up well against Mike Wallace?
James Walker (4:31 PM)
Revis is one of the best and good against anyone. But I think Wallace's pure speed makes him a better matchup for Cromartie, which is what the Jets did in the first meeting.
Scott (Binghamton, NY)
What are the odds that Baltimore's NT (Ngata), gets out on the open market?
James Walker (4:32 PM)
Very, very small.
Kovacs (Santa Monica)
Better chance of coming back healthy and to their former beastly self: D'Qwell Jackson, former league leader in tacklers or Shaun Rogers, the 4-3 beast with the Lions?
James Walker (4:34 PM)
What's up, Kovacs? I would be really surprised if both of those players are back in Cleveland next year. One? Maybe. But definitely not two.
Nick (Dayton Oh)
James whats the latest on the CBA any chance they are going to get this done by March
James Walker (4:37 PM)
From everything I'm hearing it's going to be the first week of March, or months later. Both sides will try to beat the free-agency deadline and that first day of the new league year. But if that deadline isn't met, there's really no reason for both sides to rush until minicamps/training camps in the summer.
James Walker (4:38 PM)
The NFL draft will still go on in April, by the way, and I think that becomes the focus if there's no free agency. A deal may not get done until at least May if the March deadline isn't met.
Blake (Abilene, TX)
James, ive always wanted to know if theses chats help you or any other writers. Do questions from these chats ever lead to storey lines, or give you ideas as to what the fans whant to read?
James Walker (4:41 PM)
Sometimes they do, Blake. Sometimes it's ideas that are already written or in the works. But we write for the football fans, so it's good to know what topics interest them.
Steve (Findlay, OH)
james, what is more important for the browns to address in the draft? RT or WR?
James Walker (4:42 PM)
For Cleveland, I would say at WR. But I wouldn't say that for every team comparing the two positions.
Dylan (Miami, FL)
With the progress Ziggy Hood has made is even necessary for Aaaron Smith to play? Why not rest him for a potential Super Bowl game?
James Walker (4:47 PM)
Hood has played his best football lately, which is a good thing. But there is no "resting for the Super Bowl," because you don't know if the Steelers will make it. You have to treat every game like it's your last. So if Smith is healthy enough to play, I think it's the right move to play him in limited snaps.
Nathan (Coralville, IA)
T.O. and Ochocinco--both gone? That seems to be the common sentiment.
James Walker (4:48 PM)
T.O. definitely gone from Cincy. I think there's a good chance Ochocinco doesn't return, but that's not 100 percent.
is it just me or are the steelers the only afc norteteam without any real free agency concerns this offseason
James Walker (4:51 PM)
The Steelers have a couple of big free agents: LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor.
Peter (Portland (OR))
Do you think the Jets are shying away from trash talking the Steelers because the Steeler's feed off that sort of behavior?
James Walker (4:53 PM)
No, I just don't think there is a lot of animosity between these two teams. They've only played twice I think in the past five years. There's no Jets-Steelers rivalry. They don't play in the same division. I just think both teams really want to focus now on getting to the Super Bowl, because that's what it's about.
Any chance the Steelers make a play for Nnamdi Asomugha? I know it's a long shot, but if they don't bring back Ike, they definitely need to bring in some cornerbacks.
James Walker (4:55 PM)
Nnamdi is way out of Pittsburgh's price range. The Steelers will pay for their own free agents. But rarely with they pay top dollar for outside free agents.
Pittsburg's Wallace and Hines make the catch, brought in through the draft. Boldin and Houshmandzadeh miss and are from free agency. What do you think?
James Walker (4:58 PM)
It's always best to build through the draft. But I think free agency is good for football. If used the right way, you can patch holes. But you should never try to build a team through free agency (Redskins).
Hey James, Love the blog! I also love Gregg Easterbrook's "Single worst play of the year, so far" piece in his TMQ article. Maybe once the season finishes, you could point out what you believe is the single worst play of the year for our 4 AFCN teams. Anything stand out to you immediately?
James Walker (5:00 PM)
The Ravens giving up a 58-yard bomb on third-and-19 last week is one. Bengals' DL Pat Sims jumping offsides on fourth down against the Saints is another.
James Walker (5:00 PM)
Everyone, thanks for you time. Remember to check out the AFCN blog and AFCN Twitter page all week for constant updates on the division and the conference title game.