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Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Double-dipping this week on the Mailbag and back at our regularly scheduled mailbag for the week. You know the drill. Ask whatever is on your mind and I’ll answer it the best I can for the next hour, and a little extra if the chat is busy.

Hope you all have a fantastic Super Bowl Sunday and stuff yourself full of the greasiest food. What are your plans? Going to or hosting a party with friends/family? Will you even watch, or  is the sting of the Steelers’ loss still too raw?

I’ll be heading over to a Super Bowl party…assuming the McLumina can get me there. Turn signal broke last week. I didn’t know that was a thing that could truly, actually break. Supposed to be fixed Sunday morning. Or if you spot someone making hand signals out of their window in 30 degree weather, that’s probably me.

To your questions!

JohnB: Top 3 Steelers games of 2016 (win or lose) and if you feel like it, why?

Alex: Hmm, my best crack at it.

1. Win over Baltimore. The AB game-winner. One of the best, but most nerve-wracking games, I have seen in a regular season. Took ten years off my life.

2. Loss to Dallas. As much as it sucked, man, that was a fun game. One of the best in the NFL, in all honesty.

3. Win over Buffalo. Just because it was a lot of fun to take a team’s soul. Their will to fight. By the end of that game, the Bills’ front seven were a bunch of paper weights. Wanted nothing to do with Le’Veon Bell.

Lambert58: 

Hey Alex – do you think the discontent with AB is overblown or do you think there is a serious problem between him and Tomlin/the team?

2nd part: How early and aggressive do you think they should target WR in the draft? (How important do you see it compared with other needs?)

Alex: I think they’re frustrated, like anyone would be. The headache is small but it’s nagging and too long-lasting. But I don’t think it’s this giant riff everyone wants to make it out to be. AB will be back to catching touchdowns next year and as long as the Steelers are winning, all will be fine.

Hopefully Roger Goodell gives an answer on Martavis Bryant’s status before the draft. I expect, I hope, that he does, but you can’t guarantee it. That obviously doesn’t mean all of Bryant’s problems are solved, or the Steelers can have complete trust in him again, but it helps figure out the landscape a whole lot better. Because not having Bryant for another year would totally change the priority.

Assuming Bryant is let back in, I’m all for drafting a WR  in the late-ish rounds. Keep investing in the position because it’s a critical one and one they’re really good at evaluating. Name of the game in the draft is to collect talent so don’t ignore what you’re good at, even if a path for playtime isn’t immediately clear.

Edward Hunt: Do you think it is possible to be able to keep Timmons while extending Bell, Brown and Tuitt?

Alex: I definitely haven’t run the numbers but yeah, it’s possible. Tuitt won’t get done this year anyway. If you re-sign Timmons, you’re likely to have him around for one more year (even if it’s a two year deal) so the focus would be on the 2017 base salary and the signing bonus. If the year two salary is higher, you are probably ok because you can cut him if you need/want to.

But as I have said before, sometimes you have to make tough decisions. If the money isn’t really in your favor, and you know all you have to deal with this year (Bell/Brown, FA, draft picks, rainy day fund), it’s better to let a guy go a year early than a year late when you deal with poorer play and a contract that doesn’t match that production. That’s why it’s such a tough situation to figure out.

Kevin Reich: Is there any newd for a big run stopping DT with better leverage than McCullers?

Alex: Sure, you could take a late round flier, as McCullers was. But in today’s NFL, the traditional nose tackle isn’t very valuable. I am more interested in a 3 tech type who can come in on passing downs. Walton hasn’t shown to be that guy and Mathews, while better (he played in nickel, Walton in base), isn’t great and obviously doesn’t have much of a future here.

pittsburghjoe: Big Ben, one, two or three years left?

Alex: Whew, if I knew that, I’d be in a different line of work. My guess is two. But that’s a total guess. It’s just hard to see this guy playing until he’s 38+. Not many do that in general and Ben doesn’t have the Brees/Brady/Manning body type.

Kyle Chrise: How much does “class depth” really apply to a draft? Don’t teams target individuals, and aren’t their evaluations based on team needs, not on what they think is available?

Alex: I think it helps just get a feel for your overall strategy. If you want a WR, and you know the WR class is deep, you won’t be as urgent to go find one in free agency. And vice versa. It’s not going to help you make specific moves but create an overall offseason mindset.

Nicholas Arnhold: Hey Alex, can you explain the differences between pass rush terminology (i.e. dip, rip, swim, bend, flatten, etc.)? I’ve got a decent understanding, but I could use a little more knowledge.

Alex: Sure, I’ll do the best I can.

The rip move is what you see from James Harrison. Think the holding call he got against Eric Fisher on the two point conversion play. Rip under and through the outside arm of the offensive line. Dip is sorta similar. It can be a combo with a rip move. Dipping the inside shoulder underneath the tackle so he can’t get your hands on you.

Swim move is just that. An arm-over pass rush against the linemen. Bringing the farside arm over the OL’s body.

Bend/flatten is just the ability to dip and corner the edge. Getting skinny, under the OL without getting pushed upfield. Think the opposite of Jarvis Jones.

Kevin Reich: Every year during the playoffs the referees allow defenses backs to grab and hold. Wouldn’t it make sense to shift to a defense that takes advantage?

Alex: I wouldn’t construct my roster on the whims of the ref, which aren’t always consistent and could change in a moment.

CP72: Alex,
Did AR2’s comments change your draft board at all for the Steelers?

Alex: Yeah, probably going to make me add a QB to my next mock. As much as I dislike the idea (unless they know this is Ben’s final season).

Zach6432: Does Golson play in 2017? What do you expect his production to look like?

Alex: I hope so. But you can’t count on him. I don’t have an expectation for production. I barely have the expectation he can stay healthy. I just want to see him in a preseason game, man. I’ll worry about production later. Let’s see who the heck this guy even is and if he can play in the league. We have no idea.

Trevor: The whole “home Ben vs. road Ben” situation has been talked about a lot, and for good reason. That said, I wonder if the split has more to do with Ben’s supporting cast recently? It came up suddenly the past couple years, and that goes right in line with Ben having to depend more and more on unproven guys. Less confidence in receivers leads to a split second of hesitation here and there, and football is the game of inches… maybe he just doesn’t trust his guys the be where he needs them, and that’s why his numbers have been worse?

Alex: It’s not like his supporting cast is different at home. Maybe you can apply that to the whole season and why he had a bit of a down year. But that wouldn’t explain home/road splits.

I don’t think anyone has the answer to that. If they did, it’d be fixed. Maybe part of it is being unable to run the no huddle offense on the road, something Ben obviously loves. Restricts him a bit, harder to win with tempo. That’s Ben’s style.

Matt Manzo: Are we still looking for, or wanting, an elephant type OLB? Or is it shifting to a more athletic role? ie Riddick. Or does it not really matter?

Alex: You can call it whatever you want. I just want guys who can get to the QB. They messed around with that elephant idea of putting an OLB’s hand in the ground but that went away by the stretch run. The focus is on athleticism. Always has been really but probably heightened lately. This last draft class really supports it. Burns, Davis, Hargrave, Feeney, all tremendous to elite athletes.

Haole: Is there any area of need that you think the Steelers might try to pursue through free agency rather than the draft during this offseason?

Alex: Maybe another rotational DL. Or an outside linebacker, double-dipping in FA and a draft pick. That way, they can get a more immediate contribution than a rookie who has to learn everything about the NFL.

Spencer Krick: If Deshaun Watson fell to the 3rd round, would you take him?

Alex: He’s not, for the record, but if he did, yeah I’d snag him. Make the exception to my QB rule. He’s worth it. Then I’d mock Hue Jackson. Fun times.

PaeperCup: Rank the following traits when looking at draft prospects: Body type/size, Physical or Athletic ability, Football smarts, Character. Any other things you might want to add to that list?

Alex: 

1. Physical/athletic ability. If you’re not physical or athletic, you probably aren’t going to succeed. A couple exceptions maybe but far and few between. There is a threshold you gotta meet.

2. Football IQ. But those skills aren’t worth anything if you aren’t confident in your assignment and can play fast and physical.

3. Body type/size. As long as you are meeting thresholds, I’m generally ok. Sometimes though it can be a factor. If you’re a short CB, you better show a vertical. That’s why I was so sour on Goslon. Short and couldn’t jump. How can he ever play big?

4. Character. Important, of course, but really hard for me to judge as an outsider. Especially guys with a history. These are case by case basis and hard to quantify.

Then you have things like injury history, production, testing, all that fun stuff.

falconsaftey43: Since Tomlin got here, they have drafted someone who was a top-10 performer in the broad jump in 8/10 years. Only 2008 and 2012 were missed. Think they target this drill specifically?

Alex: Well, you know how I like relativity, so I wonder how that stacks up with other teams. Maybe you just gave me offseason homework.

But they like athletes, there’s no doubt. I fall back on the studies I did last year for a more position-specific look. We’ll add to and bring those back this season.


That’s all for this week. We’ll talk to you next Thursday!

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