Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Hey everyone!

Big week coming up. Happy that you’re all here to enjoy it with us. As always, fire away your Steelers’ questions and I’ll be around for the next hour to answer them.

To your questions!

@bocote311: mailbag: what’s the most efficient defensive gameplan vs. Brady & co.?

Alex: Man, I don’t know if there is one. They can handle everything. But I would expect an emphasis on Cover 2. What Burns is most comfortable with and we’ve seen their three deep stuff chewed up time and time again, like the opening drive in 2015. Think that’s the way to go. Reroute the receivers, have the linebackers wall off the interior guys, throw off the timing and squeeze every window. It sounds good in theory, anyway.

Jeff Papiernik: Rank the following options for backup QB next year from most to least desirable. 1. Landry Jones resigned, 2. Brian Hoyer or equivalent in FA, 3. Zach Mettenberger, 4. draft pick in rounds 1-4.

Alex: Well for starters, “equivalent” FA is hard for me to wrap my head around. Hoyer did have a really strong season before getting hurt but you’re not going to pluck everyone off the scrap heap and replicate that production. So let’s just say “veteran backup.”

1. Jones. I think Jones has done enough here. He is their veteran backup. And he knows the offense backwards and forwards.

2. Veteran backup.

3. Mettenberger. Only because I don’t like the other option. Some people have fallen in love with Mettenberger already despite never taking a snap in Pittsburgh.

4. Draft pick. Don’t need it. It’s a Super Bowl team. Focus on the guys who can help you right now. Maybe in 2018…


Safe travels whenever you go to alabama, did you delay your flight yet?

Do you think the steelers will continue to get sacks this week? All signs point to yes like the Pats oline being weak up the middle, and the Steelers really peaking at the right time.

Alex: Thanks man! I wasn’t able to delay my flight, unfortunately. And it’s super expensive to push the flight back if I wanted to pay for it. So I won’t be around as much as usual, which is a total bummer, but I’ll still be watching the game. Getting WiFi for the flight and then I have a layover in Charlotte that should let me watch the second half.

Still…kinda suck. I feel like that guy who decided to skip Christmas with the folks and go to his girlfriend’s place. A little twinge of betrayal.

Can they get sacks? Yeah, it’s possible. Pressure has to be quick though because Brady will get the ball out so fast. It isn’t easy to do. Need to get interior pressure, like any QB really, but you also have to be able to contain the rush as well. Something the Steelers didn’t do a good job of the first time around.

Mrs. Bighead: Is Cobi Hamilton as good a blocker as I think I’ve noticed on film?

Alex: Absolutely! He is right up there with DHB in my book. Has the size, obviously, but really the desire. Willing to come down and dig out a safety, like he did last week on Bell’s 38 yard run. He’s a detail guy and that’s what has allowed him to stick.

pittfan: Alex, is the key to beating Brady at the front end (pressure) or backend (coverage) of the D?

Alex: Anytime you can pressure a QB, your chances of winning goes way way up. So I don’t think it’s exclusive to Brady. I think it’s just a lot tougher.

It comes down to being able to do both. If your pressure sucks, you lose. If your coverage sucks, you lose. Gotta be well rounded.

Wes Lee: Watching NFL Network, I’m seeing a growing list of Steelers coming down with flu-like symptoms. Do you have an inside track on this? Just how bad are these players feeling health wise? We need these guys to be 100% come game day.

Alex: Ha, I have no idea. Bad timing though, for sure. I will consult the Geneva Convention over Bill Belichick’s biological warfare.

Serious note though, the flu bug is no joke. The Raiders attributed their ugly loss to the Denver Broncos on a team-wide epidemic.

Here’s what Jack Del Rio said.

“A little bit of what looked like a flat effort was more due to 30 guys having some kind of illness going into that game,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said in his end-of-season news conference Sunday. “It was a rough weekend, players and coaches going down. I think that was probably more involved in that type of feel that there just wasn’t that normal zest and energy.”

dwsteelers: What impact could L Green have if he’s able to go. I’m thinking it may be limited. Thanks.

Alex: It would be huge. Again, just having that seam stretcher that can get the Patriots out of some two high looks. I don’t know how much his snap count would be limited. It’s not like he was a 100% guy when he got back into shape. But for third downs? He’s in good enough shape to do that, I’m sure. It’s not like he hasn’t played football in months like what happened when he first came back. He could play enough to have a noticeable impact for this team.

Bob Francis: Of course I want a win on Sunday, but in your eyes, has it been a successful season if the Steelers lose Sunday? Does your answer change depending on the nature of the loss?

Alex: Yes, I will consider it a success, even when I’m curled up and crying in the corner. The team went through a lot this season. Stuff most groups couldn’t overcome. Remember that feeling after the Dallas loss? Anyone think this team would make it to the AFC Title game? I didn’t. So it’s been a success. We’ve seen how good this group is, how hard they work, and the culture created to overcome all the crap that teams have to deal with.

The offense was still fairly productive despite missing key pieces and the defense has made everyone a million times more hopeful than where we thought they’d be. It’s still early but it looks like Kevin Colbert has killed it on his top three draft picks. There aren’t a lot of holes on this team going forward.

All that? Yeah, that’s a success.

Jesse Hernandez: Hey Alex the Houston texans showed us last weekend the patriota guards and centers dont handle those quick powerful moves very well. Everybody including Mr. Bellichek knows Tuitt is a beast. I feel really strongly that Hargrave is going to cause havoc and im calling it now. 2 drive ending sacks! What do you think?

Alex: Well, I think any time you can get interior pressure, your defense has a good chance to be successful. So I think some of these storylines are a bit overblown. But sure, Shaq Mason, their right guard, is a great athlete, but a small guy. Tuitt clearly has the side advantage. On the other side is a rookie left guard. So the Patriots’ line isn’t perfect.

CP72: Alex,
Over the last year what is the biggest difference in your scouting of players from your first year in Mobile?

Alex: Well this year, I feel a little more rushed, to be honest. Because last year, I had this whole week to put more focus on the Senior Bowl with the Steelers’ season over. So I am trying to cram the best I can.

I think the best advice I’ve heard down there is to focus on just one or two groups. You can’t see everyone and if you try to, you’ll see nothing. So of course, much of my attention down there will be devoted to the edge guys. Also studying at corners (slot candidates, ideally), running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers. So just in general, having a narrow focus.

That doesn’t mean I won’t have blurbs here and there on other guys, sometimes starting with a clean slate is beneficial too, but those areas are my targets. The guys I know the most about heading down there.

And of course, just knowing what to expect, how things operate, is all important. Feel much more at ease.

HardPunkKore: Who is the most improved player on this squad from training camp and why?

Alex: Steelers have a lot of great candidates for that. The five you could include, in no order.

Ross Cockrell
Alejandro Villanueva
L.T. Walton
Jesse James
Jordan Berry

Really no wrong answers here. Walton is the biggest surprise because I didn’t see him having the impact he is and playing at a high level against the run. Cockrell has taken the biggest leap from being the #2 CB to the clear-cut best cover corner on this team. And Berry has maybe been the most consistent all year long.

Personally, my pick is Cockrell.

The Tony: Tuitt really has taken a big jump to be a bigger leader and impact on the field. Can you shed any light on what he has really improved on from last year to this year

Alex: Well, I don’t know if his play has shifted dramatically from 2015 to now. Pretty much the same guy. I think you hit on it, Tony. The leadership and stepping into that role Heyward left when he went down. That was a big thing. Hargrave rallied, Walton performed well, they all sorta followed Tuitt’s lead. Impossible to quantify but that definitely feels like a game-changer.

Steelers12: just a random question if Dalvin Cook was to fall to the Steelers in the first round would you be shocked if the Steelers passed on him?

Alex: I’d be more shocked if they took him. All for grabbing a RB but not in round one. You can’t justify that investment assuming Bell is back. You’re not going to get him on the field. The class is so deep anyway, you can wait until the third or fourth round and get a really good talent. Don’t have to jump on one early.

Brian Tollini: Have the Steelers used the Fire X blitz recently? Seemed to be a staple for awhile, but I don’t recall seeing it recently.

Alex: It gets mixed in. Probably not used as often this year as last year or under LeBeau. Butler has other favorites. His Thunder FZ is becoming one of his go-tos. But it’s there. Used it effectively against Baltimore in Week 16.

James Cowan: What’s the SuperBowl match up this year?

Alex: Who is playing in two weeks? Well…you’ll have to wait for my AFC prediction. In the NFC, man, I love Green Bay, but they are hurting so bad. Give me Atlanta.

That’s all for this week! Hopefully we’re talking about the Super Bowl next Thursday.

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