Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag: bye week edition.

To your questions!

Alex Roarty: Are you worried about Bud? To my (un-trained) eye, he all too often looks like he did when he was a rookie, i.e., harmlessly running up the field on most of his pass rushes. He was so good to end last year! What happened?

Alex: A little. Partially from a health standpoint, I think that shoulder injury has plagued him throughout (and the one week he didn’t need treatment, had his best game).I do want to see him develop a better pass rush plan and work on having a clear counter move. So he’s still got to improve to be that top-tier pass rusher. Hopefully it comes with more reps.

@wagonmastergene: Ravens D or Jags D in 2017. Which do you prefer?

Alex: Wait, do we get to pretend both defenses didn’t suffer any injuries? If we’re considering injury, it’d probably be Jacksonville. But if the Ravens were healthy, I’d lean them. And I really like both defenses. Probably biased but I like the Ravens’ odd front. You can do more with it. And the Jags’ run defense has actually been kinda bad which is one reason why they went out and got Dareus.

pittfan: Hey Alex, What type of routes/concepts do you see Martay being best utilized in?

Alex: I”m in favor of any sort of level concept that can get him vertical. Divide and pin routes that send a horizontal and vertical concept. Something that stresses the safety. That’ll either get Bryant solo on the corner or get the safety to freeze for a second, just enough time for Bryant to get behind the defense.

Like I broke down last week, one reason why Bryant hasn’t gotten the ball is because he’s been used so often as the backside “X” receiver. So if defenses want to take him away, they can. I’d like to see his split reduced, used in the strength more often, stack looks that help Bryant’s release and lets him run the full route tree. It’s going to be hard for him to haul in six balls a game how he’s being used now.

Beaver Falls Hosiery: Hi Alex; have heard a lot of discussion about secondary playing man to man vs zone. To some, its as if the Steelers never play man to man. Is this this true? If not do you have an estimate of the ratio?

Alex: I don’t have the numbers but I am guessing the guys (PFF) who chart this stuff is probably pretty accurate. Not a lot of man. But it’s watered down. It’s not just about how often you play man but when you play man. And the Steelers have used it on critical downs. See it the most on 3rd and medium. And it’s been successful.

But they’re still built around zone defenses so they’re going to use it a lot on early downs. And in 3rd and long, they play a lot of Cover 2. But they’re using it when they need it the most. And it’s been effective.

Kyle Chrise: Do you think 12-4 gets us a bye?

Alex: It should as long as one of those wins is over New England. Go 12-4 and beat the Pats and I don’t see how the Steelers end up as the #3 seed.

Michael James: When will Dupree learn to beat an actual NFL OT 1-vs-1 (not just TEs/RBs), let alone dominate one in a game?

Alex: Don’t have a lot to add here from what I said in the first answer. Probably a good idea for me to go through all his film during the bye week.

Robbie: Hypothetically, would you rather the Steelers go to Arrowhead or play at home vs Patriots for AFCCG? Chiefs seem better team but Steelers recent history suggests theyre better matchup.

Alex: KC, for sure. Home, away, doesn’t matter. Stay the heck away from New England. I don’t care how bad that defense looks. Let’s go to Arrowhead.

Sam Clonch: You told me it was too soon to worry about before, but it seems the time is about here. What’s the roster move if they want to activate Sutton? Or do they let him ride the IR? Doesn’t seem like he really has a role. Coty more reliable/known quantity at DB, same with AB at PR.

Alex: The Steelers have more than two weeks to figure that out. And injuries could end up playing a factor. At this point of the year, a lot of moves are centered around roster construction and what you have to do from a numbers/health standpoint. So it’s difficult to say.

Does Brian Allen go? Sensabaugh? LJ Fort? I’m pretty confident they won’t let Sutton sit on IR, they want to get him on the field, but yes, I only see his role (when active) on special teams. Best case scenario, he works his way to replace Gay in dime packages by the end of the year.

Dr. Bacon: Hey Alex. Long time reader, first time caller. If Bell “saves the season” do you think they will give him a contract or stick with the tag next year? Also, if Ben retires does that give Bell any leverage in that situation? Thanks in advance!

Alex: Hi, Dr. Bacon! Thanks for writing in. I still think it’s the tag for Bell. Especially if he saves the day. That’ll only up his asking price. The only way for a long-term deal to get done is if Bell somehow had a worse season that in theory, dropped his value.

Nah, think Ben’s situation is independent of Bell. The Steelers know their top dollar on Bell. They’re not going to play those games and set that precedent for every guy looking for top-dollar to ask for. Still see the tag being the most likely option for Bell.

Grant Humphrey: Hey, Alex
If you had to grade the Steelers 1st half of the season on a A,B,C,D,F scale what’d you grade them?

Alex: Hmmm…a B maybe? B-? Gotten better, clearly, but it’s still underwhelming. This team can be sooooo much better than the product they’ve put on the field. And I think you gotta grade them on their own curve. 6-2 for most teams is great. You call it a day. In Pittsburgh, it works a little different.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
Do you have your eyes on any college QBs yet? For Ben’s replacement. Either this year or next?

Alex: I honestly haven’t. Don’t pay attention to much of that until after the year (which hopefully isn’t until February).

JohnB: Halfway through the season, where would you grade this years pass rush to last years? Other than Hilton and Watt have they changed anything to get those results schematically or is it based on the talent we have?

Alex: No, I think it’s a lot of winning matchups, playing disciplined, and finishing plays. The Steelers’ defense had a chance for a ton of sacks last year. But they didn’t do a good job of rush lane integrity and didn’t wrap up when they had chances. Been better at that and that’s a huge reason for why they’ve racked up probably 10 of their sacks.

Oh yeah, subbing Watt for Jarvis is pretty big, too.

SkoolHouseRoxx: Sup, Young Alex! Who has been the best player on offense and on defense? Also who has been the best overall?

Alex: Offense is easy. AB. Dude is bulletproof. I don’t think there’s even a debate about it if we’re looking at just the first eight weeks. And he’s best overall, too. Again, no debate.

Defense could go in a couple different directions. He’s had less snaps but Hargrave hasn’t really had a bad game. Consistently excellent. And Shazier has been his usual impactful self. I could go either way. Forced to pick, give me Shazier because he’s being asked to do it every single down.

PghDSF: After 8 weeks, AB is 1st in yds, Bell is 2nd in yds and Ben is 4th in yds. Why can’t they score more points?

Alex: Million dollar question, my friend. But yards =/= points and the red zone is a whole new world compared to the rest of the field. Just ask what happened to the Lions Sunday night.

The Tony: If you had to chose a QB if Ben retires, who would you rather have Alex Smith or Kirk Cousins

Alex: In talent alone, Cousins. But are we factoring contract into this? Cousins is going to be a top 3 paid, maybe the highest paid, QB in the league whenever he hits the market.

That’s all for this week. Great chat, talk to you guys next Thursday!

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