Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Hey all, happy to be back for this week’s chat.

Question for you all and I really don’t have an opinion on it. But I had no idea it was a thing that existed until a couple days ago. One topic, and maybe controversy, in the medical field is surgeons playing their favorite music during operations. Which yeah, is totally a real and common practice.

But there is a lot of debate of if it’s helpful or not. Some say it’s relaxing for the surgeon and some studies have shown that it is beneficial to the success of the operation. But others think it only adds to the chaos of an OR and makes it harder for assistants and nurses to hear and communicate with the vital instructions.

So, what’s your take? Any surgeon’s in here who can weigh in? Or nurses who have been in that environment?

Anyway, to your questions!

The Tony: Since I can only go off the eye test and what some of the stats tell me, how would you rate Villanueva’s progression from the beginning of the season to now,

Alex: Ha, well Tony, I’m only doing the same thing. Eye test and stats – we’re both in the same boat. I have no insider knowledge.

I think the progression from last season to this point of this season is night an day. Sure he’d be the first one to tell you that.

2016 got off to a rocky start for him which was frankly, a bit disappointing. But he evened the ship and has played really well over about the last six weeks. Not completely sure what changed. I think he’s gone back to being aggressive, jump setting, and making contact early, using his length and the violence he has in his hands to take control.

His IQ is in a much better place, as you’d expect, and he’s much more apt at stunt pickup and handling some more exotic looks. Compare what he did this past Sunday versus last year against the Bengals. They killed him with T/E stunts. Last week, I think he was close to flawless.

Steeler12: I know Sharmarko Thomas get a lot of flack but in my opinion he is a supreme special teams player so could you see the Steelers resigning him based on that alone?

Alex: Sure, I think he’ll be at least in camp. He has a lot of value there and he’ll be super cheap to re-sign. Don’t see any compelling reason to let him go. Will he make the team? I don’t know for sure if his spot will be locked on. But there’s all the reason to explore it. He’ll come back.

CP72: Hey Alex,
Is Sammie Coates a necessary evil for this offense?

Alex: I think he is. Still believe what I wrote about a month ago. Especially if Ladarius Green can’t come back which is totally possible at this point. Need that big play threat on a day where the offense is bogged down. And he’s the best source for it still, as depressing as that statement might feel.

dwsteelers: Alex I’ll be in Pittsburgh for the game Sunday. Where should I eat? I haven’t been there for awhile. Go STEELERS!!!!

Alex: It’s funny, I am rarely in the city. For one, I hate city driving. It’s just the worst thing. Tried to merge over the Fort Pitt Bridge once…nearly killed everyone.

But obviously, there’s Primanti’s. Jerome Bettis’ Grille if you want the Steelers’ factor. Here’s a good list with lots of appetizing looking photos. And feel free for the rest of Steelers’ Nation to offer their thoughts in the comments below.

McBringleberry: For the upcoming Ravens game only, who’s availability do you think is more important to a Steelers victory, Green or Tuitt? Ravens defense makes me nervous so I would rather have Green playing this week

Alex: Whew, that’s a tough one. I think I’d lean Green though. He isn’t the better player but that Ravens’ defense is so tough. I expect running the football to be difficult, even if the Eagles had a surprising amount of success last week, so the offense is going to have to do something through the air.

Tuitt or not, the Ravens’ offense should be pretty subdued. And you can scheme to stop the run better than you can scheme to find ways to get splash plays in replacing Green.

WB Tarleton: In our losing streak to the Ravens over the last couple of years, is it mainly Tomlin being outcoached by Harbaugh, injuries, luck, or just getting beat by better players?

Alex: I haven’t really thought about it that much in that big-picture sense to be honest but when you’re talking about something happening over several years, it’s usually a combination of all those factors. I don’t think it comes down to one thing.

Obviously, the Steelers have had chances to break that streak. Last year, it was some shoddy luck (Scobee) and some poor gameplans (Butler vs Mallet). So it’s a mix of everything.

Jeff Papiernik: In regards to other games this weekend, I’m conflicted on who to root for in the Dolphins vs. Bills game.

Alex: The fun thing about “rooting” in other games is you can flip flop. Why not be both? If the Steelers are winning, root for the Dolphins. If they’re losing, root for the Bills. You can have your cake and eat it too. It’s a rare moment.

EDIT: I’m stupid, the Bills/Dolphins play the day before. So disregard this answer. Man, I liked it too.

Steeler-Drew: Alex, I think it’s getting to be beyond a joke Toussiant is still returning kicks. What’s your take on why he has not used Gilbert and why isn’t he used as an up back if in Tomlin’s words he is used primarily as a blocker.

Alex: I don’t think you’ll like my answer but, as Tomlin outlined, they are two different positions. Gilbert probably couldn’t function in that off-return, blocking role. I know, I know, Toussaint has more returns, but the intent of the position is more blocking-focused. That’s not in Gilbert’s wheelhouse. So I have little issue with Toussaint being there.

I would like to see Gilbert replace Coates though. But Tomlin is a staunch supporter of offensive players returning kicks. Since 2008, no defensive player has had a full, or really even part-time, in the return game.

Let me leave you with two other thoughts.

1. The most important aspect of the return game is not average or big plays. It is ball security. And Coates/Toussaint have done a good job. It was ball security that got Jacoby Jones booted, not poor returns themselves.

2. As I wrote about in the offseason, kickoff field position seems to be less important to the offense than you think. At least, based on 2015 data.

Robbie: Got a good one for u Alex. Who would u rather have back the rest of the year: Cam Heyward or Martavis Bryant? I have been squandering in pity at the thought of this offense with Martavis.

Alex: Wow, yeah, that is a good question. I love Heyward as a leader and he is the better player but give me Bryant. I want splashy touchdowns. The defense is playing well without Cam.

SkoolHouseRoxx: What up, Alex! I know this is Steelers talk, but what would you do about the Brock Oswiller (sp) situation?

Alex: Hey man! In the short-term, the Texans made the right decision. Division on the line, gotta roll with the better QB. Savage is the guy.

Long-term? I dunno. It’s like being in $70,000 of school debt. You’re not going to solve the situation quickly. I guess they try to give him another shot next year. But there isn’t a good answer. Can’t cut him right away, the dead money would be too great.

All I know is after seeing that, I never want to see Ben Roethlisberger leave. I want an 80 year old Ben fending off Ravens’ edge rushers with his walker.

Sam Clonch: Will Ty Montgomerry have to change his number if he remains a RB?

Alex: Hmm…not too sure on the rules for that. Probably for next season, yeah, I imagine.

Jefferson_St_Joe: Were you surprised that the Bengals didn’t run more heavy sets and allowed the Steelers to stay in nickel? How much have the Ravens used their 2 and 3 TE packages or unbalanced line packages this year? They scare me with our gimpy D-line.

Alex: That’s a really good point. I was. Should’ve realized that with Tuitt out and a gimpy Mathews, to go tight and force the Steelers in base. But to be fair, the Bengals just didn’t possess the ball that much by that point and in the second half.

Not really seeing much of unbalanced from them but definitely will go a lot of 12 personnel. Have Nick Boyle back and Darren Waller is a hybrid guy. But they can go 12 (or 21) and spread you out, looking to create matchup problems with Pitta’s athleticism and Waller’s height (former Georgia Tech receiver). So they look to stress you.

The run game is flat out better too. Different makeup than the first meeting.

PaeperCup: Michael Floyd. Good pickup by the Patriots, or big mistake? Should the Steelers have taken that chance?

Alex: Eh, it’s a very Patriots move but I don’t have a problem with the Steelers passing. I don’t need a guy with a BAC of .217 hanging around with Martavis Bryant in the offseason.

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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