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Yes, it really works

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Steve from Ashtabula, OH:
What is the average salary of special teams players around the league, including punters, kickers, long-snappers, punt-returners and kickoff-returners? Are they paid comparable to players who play the entire game?

Vic: By and large, special teams players are minimum-wage guys. The salary cap demands it.

John from Jacksonville:
You followed the Steelers for many years prior to the Jaguars. Besides their rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, what else is contributing to the Steelers' success this season?

Vic: The Steelers team that is currently 7-1 is, with the exception of two players, the same team that was 6-10 last year. Ben Roethlisberger and Duce Staley have made the difference. Of course, there are other issues – Joey Porter didn't begin the season by getting shot, Plaxico Burress is a much more dedicated player, Troy Polamalu is more comfortable in his second season, etc. – but Roethlisberger and Staley made the Steelers better at passing and at running and that's a great combination. What we saw yesterday was a rested and healthy Jerome Bettis, and that's another example of the impact Staley has had. Staley's presence has given Bettis an important role he can perform at this stage of his career. And let's not forget the debit side, too. The Steelers lost their best defensive player, Casey Hampton, for the season, and their second-best offensive lineman, Kendall Simmons, before the season even began. Playmakers can make all of the difference and Roethlisberger and Staley are the playmakers that were missing from last year's Steelers team. With all of that having been said, don't discount the possibility the Steelers are also getting it done right now with energy. They have great chemistry and they play in what might be the league's best football environment. They are an over-achieving team and it wouldn't surprise me if their bubble bursts in Cleveland this week, but their energy sure is fun to watch.

Rafi from Jacksonville:
I was watching the Philly/Pittsburgh game and I was very impressed with what Dick LeBeau has done defensively with Pittsburgh (they seem hard-nosed, aggressive and smart). Can assistant coaches such as Mike Smith ask for a game tape of this particular game and pick up on some new plays, or is that not possible?

Vic: Coaches can get their hands on game tape of any game played, pro or college, faster than you can take out the garbage. Come on, Rafi, think about this for a second. The Steelers are a team committed to the 3-4 defense. They don't think in the same terms as 4-3 teams. Their whole concept of defense is built on four run-and-hit linebackers and they have assembled that defense over several drafts. Chad Scott was drafted in 1997, Deshea Townsend in '98, Joey Porter and Aaron Smith in '99, Clark Haggans in 2000, Kendrell Bell in '01, Chris Hope and Larry Foote in '02 and Polamalu in '03. You don't pick up a tape and transform your 4-3 defense into the Steelers' 3-4 overnight by drawing a lot of X's and O's. The Jaguars are a 4-3 team that doesn't have a true nose tackle or the number of linebackers on the roster a team needs to play the 3-4. What we're seeing is the development of a hard-nosed and aggressive 4-3 defense, but it's going to take at least one more offseason to get the players necessary to make this defense sing.

Daniel from Arcola, IL:
Just thought I'd point something out. In Pittsburgh's game against the Patriots, they out-rushed them 221-5. In Pittsburgh's game against the Eagles, they outran them 252-23. The Steelers won both games when everyone believed they were underdogs. Looks like running the ball and stopping the run works, doesn't it?

Vic: It's not just those two games. Mark Brunell threw for 58 yards but the Redskins beat the Lions because Clinton Portis rushed for 147. The Broncos stuck the ball down the Texans' throats. The Bills beat the Jets because Willis McGahee doubled up Curtis Martin. But it can't be just run the ball OR stop the run. It has to be run the ball AND stop the run. They go hand in hand. If you're going to play the physical game, it has to be on both sides of the ball.

Tim from Lake Butler, FL:
In light of Denver's thrashing of Houston, what is the difference between the 3-0 Jaguars defense and the 2-3 Jaguars defense? Did Paul Spicer make that much of a difference?

Vic: This team hasn't been the same since it lost Paul Spicer. That doesn't mean he was playing at a star-caliber level, it just means that the situation at defensive end was so desperate that it could not afford to lose him. He was solid against the run and he was high energy in the pass-rush. He wasn't going to produce a lot of sacks but he was going to "affect the quarterback," to use Jack Del Rio's words. Del Rio and Mike Smith are starting to do some things with Greg Favors, Rob Meier and what's available to them among the remaining defensive end candidates. The situation appears to be improving but the loss of Spicer was major.

Rob from Jacksonville:
I saw an article the other day about Michael Vick being sacked 25 times this year. What quarterback has been sacked the most so far? The least? And where is Byron?

Vic: I can't break it down into quarterbacks, but I can tell you Miami leads the league with having allowed 33 sacks and Indianapolis has allowed the fewest, four. The Jaguars have allowed 18.

Colin from Jacksonville:
Do you think Jacksonville has a chance to win its division or even a wild-card spot?

Vic: They're 5-3 and in first place. Of course they have a chance to make the playoffs.

Woody from Jacksonville:
It seems the special teams of the Jags are much better than previous years. Where do they rank in punt and kickoff returns, offensive and defensive?

Vic: The Jaguars are sixth in punt returns and 31st in kickoff returns. They are 14th in punt coverage and second in kickoff coverage.

Yury from Jacksonville:
I have been a faithful fan of the Jaguars, but it kills me to watch them play like they did against San Diego and Houston. Why can we play like a Super Bowl contender one week and then play like a high school team the next? Are we under-estimating the so-called easy teams? I did not see any effort from the Jaguars against Houston. It looked like to me that they thought they were going to breeze through this team. What can the Jaguars do to become a more consistent team?

Vic: I think it's more of a case of you having under-estimated the competition in this league. Who are the easy teams? The 6-3 Chargers and the 4-4 Texans? Ask Denver if Cincinnati is an easy team. Ask the Jets if Buffalo is an easy team. Ask the Giants if the Bears are an easy team.

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