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Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Here’s a polar bear petting a dog. I hope it makes your day.

To your questions!

Jeff Papiernik: Steelers are an 8 point favorite for Sunday. If you were a betting man, on which side of the line would you put your money?

Alex: I’m not a betting man, though I have played free online poker way back in the day (fancy!) but take the under. Bad weather, AFC North, Steelers on the road, recipe for a closer game than it should be.

Steelers12: What are the chances the Steelers let Brown or Bell walk next year and do you see a major defense overhaul next season?

Alex: I consider both to be slim unless they are truly fed up with their attitude, which I find hard to believe.

A major defensive overhaul? I guess it depends on what you consider major. A change at DC? Not out of the question. A big free agency splash? They could dip their toe in the water with a Ladarius Green-like contract.

I think you’re going to see an overhaul at the OLB position. Everywhere else should be relatively the same though. Not a ton of new faces. Lot of young guys who have to grow and develop.

T3xassteelers: Seems like a silly question, but Green will overtake James for starting TE right soon, right?

Alex: I dunno, I don’t think Green will ever end up playing in that 95-100% snap range this season. Especially if he’s going to slog through practice weeks, being limited, missing a day in early in the week, etc. Continues the trend of a lack of reps and ability to get full comfort in the offense, and vice versa. I think there will be a split, though Green’s share will obviously increase over time.

James Cowan: Would you keep Bell or do you agree with Dave that we should spend the money on D?

Alex: I disagree. I think it’s a false choice. It’s not mutually exclusive. You don’t have to say that by keeping Bell, you can’t upgrade the defense. Or to upgrade the defense, you must get rid of Bell.

The Steelers should be in a really good place salary cap wise after this year and the cap will go up again by probably $5 million or so. That $5 million alone is probably enough to get a Green-type contract for this season. There’s ways to do both. It isn’t either-or.

Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt: Alex who would you consider the weakest link on defense

Alex: Individually? I mean, you can basically throw any of the outside linebackers out there, sans James Harrison, and it’s hard to disagree with you.

Elsewhere, probably Artie Burns. He’s playing like a senior in college without much experience. And the Steelers are having to try to tailor the scheme to him and it still doesn’t always work. Like playing press coverage on fire zones (Wallace TD, Dez TD). Something they don’t do. But Artie is more comfortable there than playing with a cushion so that’s probably why they do it.

Again though, as a group, it’s the outside linebackers. And it ain’t close.

Simon Cuts: what is your view on Mitchell?

Alex: Well I get killed if I say anything remotely positive about him. He’s obviously having a rough stretch, there’s no defense of that. And I think I said this last week, the guy has to create some splash plays. The Steelers’ safeties have zero interceptions or forced fumbles this year. Probably the only team in the league.

But I’ll say it again, there is a lot of hidden value with him. His communication, leadership, working with younger players. I assume during the week but even in-game. There was a play last week where right after the whistle, Mitchell was talking to Davis and pointing something out to him. Mitchell has a history of working with a bunch of different players, stability has never been on his side opposite of him.

Whether it was Quinten Mikell (a vet) or Robert Lester (a rookie UDFA) in his year at Carolina, or Troy Polamalu, then Shamarko Thomas, then Will Allen, then Robert Golden, then Jordan Dangerfield, then God knows who else, I think he’s been that steadying, unifying presence.

He is a big hitter and I think that does create a psychological impact on quarterbacks/receivers trying to go over the middle. Again, I know that’s impossible to actually quantify but you hear Keith Butler talk about it all the time.

Bottom line: a currently struggling player. He might not be as good as you think I think but he’s definitely not as bad as you (general public) thinks. As always, there’s a middle ground.

Ike Evans: At this point alex…outside of olb i dont care what position they draft in the draft as long as its a playmaker….but aftet olb…how would u rank the needs on defense?

Alex: 

1. Outside linebacker – No debate there
2. Cornerback – William Gay could be going into his last year for 2017. With Senquez Golson never playing a down, you can’t assume anything from him. So long-term, 2018+ you have Burns and Cockrell. Need a third wheel, at minimum.
3. Defensive End – Probably time to make another investment there to really give yourself some good backing at the position. Obviously, the attempts at doing so in free agency haven’t gone as well as the team anticipated. Cam Thomas a failure, Ricardo Mathews not seeing the field (though I think he deserves some more snaps and now, will obviously get them).
4. Safety – You have your starters with Mitchell and Sean Davis and/or Golden. So I think the team believes they are pretty set there.
5. Inside Linebacker – Because the team may move to a more dime-centric defense and having Vince Williams, it’s low on my list.

Kevin Gobleck: Since Lebeu left what has the steelers record been against rookie QB’s

Alex: 1-2.

Win against AJ McCarron (who replaced Andy Dalton early in the game). Losses this year to Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott.

Sdale: Alex,
What has happened to Golden?

Alex: I don’t think he’s playing terrible. If Josh Carney’s missed tackles report is our guide, I believe he has the best snap to missed tackle ratio of anyone on this team (one missed tackle for every 85 snaps).

On the Zeke TD, he was getting boxed out by Terrance Williams. So when he got off the block, he was working flat against Elliott, coming downhill, which is a tough place to be. I don’t really characterize that as a missed tackle or bad angle. It’s not egregious, at the least.

But like I wrote last year, and just wrote above, they need to get some splash plays. And he isn’t providing them. Never really done it in his career, wasn’t even that kind of guy in college at Arizona. So now I wonder if he’ll ever do it. Maybe not.

Spencer Krick: I like Artie Burns, I think he’s going to be a fine player BUT. . . are you wishing the Steelers picked Noah Spence?

Alex: Hey Spencer. Yeah I mean, I had Spence way above Burns, so I still would’ve wanted Spence. But I don’t spend a lot of times thinking or sulking about those things. The “X was on the board”game people often play on Twitter is fruitless and just silly.

Matt Manzo:
Hey Alex!
Why do you think Cockrell wasn’t on Bryant vs the Cowboys?

Alex: That is a good question, Matt. Remember, when they did that with Cockrell in Week Two on AJ Green and Week 5 on Brandon Marshall, Artie Burns wasn’t playing very much. 43 snaps in those two games combined.

When you shadow one corner, and move him around like you would with Cockrell, you move the other outside guy too. So you have to feel confident in both guys being able to move, or at least, comfortable with the tradeoff that the other guy might not be as successful as he would if he was playing just a side. When it’s William Gay on the outside, it’s an easy decision. Gay can play wherever with a high degree of confidence.

So I think that may have had a lot to do with it. Want to keep things simple for Burns, let him play fast, physical, to his strengths, without overthinking things. And maybe they liked the idea of having a bigger, lengthier (Burns has great length, Cockrell is a T-Rex), guy to match up on a body type like Dez.

Not saying I agree with it or love it but that’s the best I can come up with.

stan: I have a hard time separating the inclusion of Hargrave in the defense and the sudden inability to stop power runners. Is he the weak link?

Alex: I’m not totally sure what you’re looking to base this off of, stan. I guess the success of Ajayi and Zeke? The Steelers did control Zeke for a large chunk of the game, to their credit. And the issues they’ve had in run defense go far deeper than just Hargrave.

So there is probably some correlation not implying causation going on, though of course, Hargrave has a lot he can get better at. Generally, I think he’s done a nice job at the POA and holding his own against double-teams. Better than I expected, to be frank.

Zach6432: Will Dupree make an impact this year? Is Golson a bust?

Alex: Man, I hope so Zach. They need it.

A bust? It’s not looking good, obviously. We’ll see what happens in 2017 though you can’t count on much. No fault of his own though. Just crap luck.

Michael James: Let’s be honest, do you see any chance of victory if the Steelers were to play the Patriots in a playoff game at Foxboro (with that defense and their road issues)?

Alex: Nope, slim to none. If that’s the path – and that’s the way things are shaping up – no Super Bowl this year for Pittsburgh.


That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by everybody.

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