Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Merry Christmas Eve and Happy Holidays, Steelers’ Nation.

Provided I’m not the only one still around right now, send in your Steelers’ questions and I’ll answer as many as I can for the next hour or so.

Before we start with the questions, you should know there is a correct answer for the best Christmas movie ever. It’s Die Hard and there’s no debate over it. We should all watch it tonight and revel in its Christmas magic.

Now, to your questions.

@TheCanvasGuru:  Alex, do you think Grant sees any playing time or will it take an injury to press him into service. Tackling is not a problem.

Alex: It wouldn’t take just one injury. It would take at least two. For this year, anyway. Grant has to make his mark on special teams first and he’s moving at a snail’s pace. Over the last two or three weeks, he’s getting put on the kick coverage unit in the second half to spell Brandon Boykin. That’s all he’ll do the rest of the season. Then he has the whole offseason to go through OTAs, minicamp, training camp, and the preseason. And we’ll go from there depending on his progress and what the depth chart looks like. CB is an uncertain area right now for 2016.

@anton_yoo: will the steelers at least try to sign a good CB in free agency?

Alex: Don’t hold your breath. The Steelers focus is always on re-signing their own and this season is no exception. If anything, it might even be more of the focus. I expect them to re-sign William Gay, Ross Cockrell, and yes, Antwon Blake. Add in Senquez Golson and Cortez Allen (possibly) returning and likely another draft pick in the mix – plus Doran Grant – and you have seven cornerbacks already. At best, you get a low-key signing.

frednash: #62. Your take on his use

Alex: There isn’t much use for me to have a take on. 19 snaps since the bye week. 11 personnel isn’t conducive to a 350 pounder. Going to be in nickel and need pass rushers. His size and tape makes him a very situational player. Occasionally to spell Steve McLendon and some short-yardage work. Hard to find a home for him.

chris ward: When it’s all set and done do you think Antonio Brown will be the greatest Steelers’ wide receiver ever?

Alex: Yes. And I rarely say such things with this much confidence. We’re looking at a Hall of Famer here.

JNick: If you were a red durning the game Sunday, would you have ejected Beckham, Norman or both? And why do you think the NFL refs are so hesitant to eject a player. Only 2 this whole year. It seems the league is having more, chronic post whistle problems.

Alex: I struggle with these questions because I don’t think about them very often. The only hit I took real exception with was Beckham’s sprinting blow to Norman’s head. That’s the only one that crossed into “ejection” territory for me because like you said, the NFL has a very high threshold. They don’t want to toss guys. But that hit was enough for me. He should have been ejected. I’m glad he was suspended. It was the right decision.

James Cowan: How would you rate Keith Butler’s first season as DC?

Alex: There’s still two games left so I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into a grade. If the Steelers somehow give up big games to the Ravens and Browns, I imagine any grade we have now goes out the window.

I think he’s done reasonably well. I like the creativity. Very vintage LeBeau but Butler has his own looks and twists. I like the extra defensive back pressure. The wrinkles in sub-package football, especially on 3rd and long. There’s complexity in the sense every player can be asked to do almost everything, but it doesn’t seem like a defense that has a bizarre amount of verbiage (like Rex Ryan’s) that handcuff players and don’t allow them to play fast.

There are still some clear deficiencies on these defense and they really are struggling to defend multiple vertical concepts and that does annoy me. You can’t solve everything as a DC, I get that, but that seems like a glaring issue.

Ahmad: Alex. Do you think running more man coverage schemes would help alleviate some of the coverage woes? Personally I like zone defense but I feel as if this team relies on it too much.

Alex: Yes but every reaction you have as a coach creates unintended consequences. Solve one problem, create another. Being a coach is like a never-ending game of Whack-a-mole. As soon as you defeat one issue, another one appears.

Do you want Antwon Blake playing a lot of man? Can you run as many fire zones as you’d like? Do you have to declare your blitzes more often, have less disguise, because you’re manning up and not playing zone. Are you ok with playing less trap coverage and confusing the QB?

It’s all up for discussion, you’re always weighing these things, but it is a glimpse into how un-black and white these decisions are. It’s why I dig pattern reading. Best of both worlds.

Phil Brenneman II: Alex do you think it will take a Superbowl or deep playoff run to keep Boykin on this team next year? With the way he has been treated my guess is that he will want to leave but great success from the team might give him second thoughts.

Alex: I think the dude is gone, regardless of what happens. If the guy wins a ring this year, why stay? You have your ring. Go get your money. He’s not going to want to stick around and hope the team is kind enough to make him the #3. He wants to be a starter and at worst, a guaranteed nickel player. He’s been a good solider but I bet he wants to go ten rounds with Tomlin. He was frustrated at Chip Kelly for being “just” a slot guy. Can’t imagine how he feels now. He’ll get paid somewhere. Not Pittsburgh.

58Steel: Alex, it’s been written (I believe on this site) the Steelers used a bit mir Cover 2 instead of Cover 3 the second half last week. Any guess that is a trend going forward, or more specific to the Broncos?

Alex: Yes, I made mention of that on my Game Notes. But I don’t have any hard data to that. Just going off the eye test. I don’t think it’s a trend going forward. The Steelers have used it throughout the season so it isn’t something new or untested by Pittsburgh. Butler talked about using coverages the defense felt really comfortable with and that might have been it. It was more about hitting the reset button on the defense and playing a little simpler to play cleaner and faster. You’ll still get a lot of Cover 2 on third and long, as Pittsburgh has done all year.

Grizza73: what are your thoughts on whats going to happen at the left tackle position? Any thoughts on moving KB to left guard and keeping AV at left tackle?

Alex: No, I don’t think that’s where the debate will lie. I don’t know why so many want to push Ramon Foster out the door. The debate comes down to if they consider Villanueva a starting LT. If they do, Beachum probably doesn’t come back. If they don’t, I think they try to bring Beachum back. The Steelers would probably like him on a three year deal at a reduced rate coming off the injury but I bet Beach wants a one-year, prove it deal to rebuild his market value for 2017.

SkoolHouseRoxx: Merry Christmas, Alex! Do you think Boykin could play outside corner? I know he’s best suited for the slot position, but just wondering.

Alex: I think he could but hey, what do I know. Two teams – the Eagles and Steelers – have basically come out and said they don’t think he can. Would love to know the reason.

JohnB: If they drafted a shut down corner do you think they’d use him in man more or still use zone?

Alex: Sure, personnel dictates some of that. You might have that guy play sides, or play the isolated WR in 3×1. Put him in man coverage and have the others play zone. Stuff like that to get the best of both worlds.

Dom: When do you think it’s beneficial to keep trying to run the ball and when do you think you have to give up on it like the Steelers did against the Broncos?

Alex: I subscribe to the idea of use it when it works. I don’t care about keeping defenses honest (most of the time), time of possession, balance, whatever. I want to score and win games. If that means running 50 times, so be it. If that means throwing it 50, go for it. Balance and clock killing don’t mean much if you’re going three and out each drive.

A mix is ideal but isn’t always available. Have to be willing to adjust, adapt.

Steeler-Drew: Since you don’t think they will go out and get a CB in free agency do you see the Steelers taking the BPA between CB & S in the first round of the draft next year?

Alex: No. The educated guess they won’t make a splash in free agency works the same for the draft. I’d be surprised to see them target a cornerback high. Maybe a safety though, depending on how they view Robert Golden’s future prospects with the team.

taztroy43: Alex, do you think the steelers draft a rb next year?

Alex: Wouldn’t shock me. But not until late. Still have Bell and D-Will for 2016. Anyone you bring in will be to develop to become Bell’s backup down the line.

LucasY59: What is the thing about this Steelers season that is the most frustrating or disappointing to you? (and to give it a postive Christmas side) What is the thing that has made you the happiest or been the most surprising?

Alex: The Steelers’ inability to stop these four vertical concepts frustrates me. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s been chewing this team up over the last several weeks. Even when it wasn’t, you could see these guys get open on tape.

The happiest? Rosey Nix. Love that guy.

That will be all for this week. Thanks for keeping me company each week. You guys are the best. Enjoy your Christmas!

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