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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

I want to believe. I really do. The UFO craze has picked up in a fury over video released showing fighter pilots watching an unidentified object and the acknowledgement of a Pentagon program that ran from 2008 to 2012 (and some say, still informally exists) to look into UFOs and alien threats.

We are one Bill Pullman speech away from all-out war, basically.

But man, I gotta say, that video did not have me convinced. It was the same, grainy-looking video we always see. My one hangup on “aliens are real and have been here” is that despite the technology getting better, everyone has an HD camera in our pocket, the videos still suuuuuck. And this one wasn’t much better. Yeah it rotates and that looks interesting. But conclusive? Better than what we’ve seen before? Hardly.

Step your game up, the Pentagon.

To your questions!

Zach6432: Is it just me or do the Steelers have a much better chance of beating the Pats in the playoffs since they lost a close game. As much as the loss sucked, it may be the best thing that could have happened to them. The mind is a powerful thing and a little motivation goes a long way. Go Steelers!

Alex: I dunno, it didn’t work last year.

But I also don’t want to go the other way and say in a rematch, even one in Foxboro, means there’s no way the Steelers can win. Heck yes they can. Getting Haden, Gilbert back, AB for a full-game. Why can’t the Steelers win? It won’t be easy, it’ll be harder (and the Pats will get several guys back too) but the notion the season is over if they gotta travel to New England is just dumb.

Motivation won’t play a role. If playing in the AFC Championship game isn’t enough motivation for you, you’ve got bigger problems.

StolenUpVotes: Will we see more 3-3-5 to close the regular season or does it go back into the bag till a possible Pats rematch?

Alex: I guess I can’t rule it out now that it’s on paper but I wouldn’t expect it. I think much of what Butler did Sunday was a New England-specific gameplan. Expect their regular 3-4, 2-4-5, 2-3-6 the next two weeks.

John Franks: It seems like the talent on the front 7 is looked at as very good, especially the DL, but they struggle to handle the run like the teams from a decade ago. It seemed like the Hampton/Keisel/von Oelhoeffen DL would immediately reestablish the LOS back a full yard on each run snap, and there was nowhere to run. Is that more a matter of the scheme looking to be more aggressive and opening up holes sometimes when trying to get penetration or a talent issue?

Alex: There’s always pros and cons when the scheme changes. Steelers one-gap a lot more than they used too. They probably get more TFL than they used to but yeah, can give up more against the run too. Those guys previously were big space eaters.

If a run scheme gets through that first level, the LBs are more likely to be covered up, and you’re going to have a better chance for success. Safety play also helps, too. Clark/Troy – great tacklers. Those good runs wouldn’t be great runs so the average was kept down. Mitchell (and I know many will disagree) does well in the alley but he isn’t as good as someone like Troy (duh) and the SS spot has been in-flux for years. Corners aren’t as good tacklers either. Ike couldn’t catch but the dude would support the run.

Lukesaenz: Let’s take game time/play time out of the equation. For the rooks who have made it onto the field during the regular season, can you give a letter grade to assess the play of each on average and what are your takeaways on who they’ve revealed themselves to be as players thus far?

Alex: 

T.J. Watt: B

Watt’s conditioning can’t be overlooked. It’s what allowed him to get through camp healthy, not get too dinged up by injuries throughout the year (a groin issue, that’s been it) and play at the super high volume of snaps he’s been playing at. Pretty rare for a rookie. His IQ and football-readiness from college has let him to drop into coverage *almost* as much as he’s rushed the QB. So you’re seeing a well-rounded, pretty steady player in Year One, which again, is rare for any rookie, especially one who doesn’t have a lot of experience at the position.

It’s hard to find any one knock on him. But I think he’s still trying to figure out a go-to move as a pass rusher vs OTs. A lot of his sacks are effort/blitz/stunt stuff which is fine but definitely an area to work on. What’s his go-to move? What’s his go-to counter? I don’t think he has that answer yet. But he’s got a lot of moves he can use so it’s just about refining them.

JuJu Smith-Schuster: B+

Hard to find many faults. Blocking, route running, catching, YAC, availability, he’s checking every box. Maybe not great as a return man but it was a bad process the Steelers had that got him into that role in the first place. Crazy maturity for a 20-21 year old. Adjusted well. And receiver is probably the second toughest position to learn besides QB. Can’t say enough good things, but I have time and time again, so I’ll keep it short.

The others are tougher because there haven’t been a high volume of plays to look at. I am waiting for the end of year on Sutton.

James Conner: C

Conner was…ok. He ran with burst and vision. Couple nice runs against New England. My gripe about him coming out, and something I still saw this year, was his leverage. He can be a powerful back. But he’s also 6’1. It’s tough for him to get behind his pads and really use that power. I think that cost him. Too tall, too easy to go down. That’s the biggest thing he’s gotta work on, in addition to catching and pass protection, both a long ways away from where they can be/need to be.

srdan: 

Alex, are you invited to the Watt family dinner in Houston this week?

I’m really pumped for the Artie-Hopkins match-up this weekend. I think he is the best WR in the league besides AB. Do you think we can keep him to 100 or less?

Alex: 

*comes over to the Watt’s house*

*takes first bite of Christmas ham*

*Both Watt brothers inhale the entire ham, are on their fourth plate*

That’s how I envision it.

I am too. I love seeing these corners battled-tested. Artie’s not seeing AB this week…he better remember what an all-star corner looks like. Good question, we’ll see what success he has. Hopkins is going to be peppered with targets, he’s going to create space. Burns has to recover and play catch points well. If he does, then yeah, he can slow him down. But easier said than done.

CP72: Alex,
I’ve said for years it’s hard to evaluate Carnell Lake as a coach because the Steelers didn’t spend premium draft picks on DBs. Are you disappointed in the growth of Burns and Davis with Lake?

Alex: Hmm, that’s tough. I think the easy answer is to say yes because there’s no doubt both guys have to play better. But it is year two and if you think about where they started, both guys pretty green (for Davis, mostly because the Steelers tried to play him at NCB and SS), there has been improvement.

I think next year gives us our answer. It is a pretty new secondary. New guys, young guys, and we’ve seen a lot of the defensive breakdowns fall on miscommunication, not on an utter lack of ability. Hopefully the group grows together and plays with more continuity, which will fix some of that. That’s my glass-half-full look, at least.

Phil Brenneman II/Grant Humphrey: Alex who WILL be the Steelers first opponent in the playoffs? And if you could choose 1 team from the potential candidates who do you WANT them to play first?

Alex: You guys are basically asking the same question so I’ll lump it together. I really don’t know who they’re going to see. Honestly have spent very little time thinking about it and there’s still a lot up in the air. We don’t even know if the Steelers are playing in the Wild Card or Divisional round yet.

Who do I want to see? I’m still not opposed to seeing someone like the Chargers. Kansas City, I think they can handle. I’m not freaking over about most of these potential matchups.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, can you remember a tougher regular season loss than the one the Steelers suffered to the Pats last week?

Alex: I still think Dallas from last year is right up there. Because the season sorta felt lost at that point. 4-5, fourth in a row. The Ben fake spike, everything just seemed magical. And then Zeke ran through a truck-sized lane. That one hit me in the gut more than this one, to be honest.

Darth Blount 47: 

Hey, Alex! What does your gut tell you? Are we actually about to witness, the last 2 regular season games, in the career of future Hall of Famer, Ben Roethlisberger? A topic and notion that has certainly quieted down in the last few months.

And if we tragically are, would you rather us sign a QB, draft a QB, or trade for a QB? There are definite pro’s and con’s to each. I know you’re a draftnik, but for the sake of the team, would it be better to keep taking advantage of the elite unit we’ve built, and sign or trade for a vet? Signing would cost the most money, and trading the most capital and finding the right partner, but both options likely keep us in the immediate hunt for a title. Drafting may very well not. And I’m not sure if Steeler Nation is ready for that probability.

Alex: Hi Darth! I’ve always maintained I think Ben is done after next year. When Bell might be gone, he’s another year older, the window might feel like it’s closing up for good. But who knows. Ben talking about retiring and him doing it are two different things. He’s the biggest competitor in that locker room. It’s like Favre – he’ll hem and haw and ride around on his John Deere with Ed Werder reporting his every move but he’ll ultimately decide to return.

It just depends on the options. I tweeted out awhile back that if Ben does retire, I think the team goes after Tyrod Taylor. If you can make it happen, a vet stop-gap option is better than a rookie right away (you can draft the rookie and have him sit for a year, that’s the best-case scenario).

Beaver Falls Hosiery: Merry Xmas Alex; There are about 22 players who were on 2016 roster last year that are not on it now (not including IR like Shazier). Which if any would would want on the 2017 edition of the Steelers?

Alex: Merry Christmas! Sorry – I know you tweeted it at me earlier. Appreciate the reminder. So I can choose someone for today? I can use hindsight? Give me Timmons. I don’t want Spence/Dirty Red at ILB. I need someone who can run a 40 in under 12 seconds. I want my Law Dawg back.

Charles Mullins: Who has the bigger game 10 or 19. Who do you role the coverage to? I think 19 is going to have a field day because they are going to double MB.

Alex: I think JuJu is the safe bet, as has been the case all year long. You can do more with him. Get him on the outside, the inside, run more of the route tree. Kinda crazy to say that stuff about a rookie. But he’s shown more nuance in pretty much all phases of his game.

Maybe part of Bryant’s issues are distractions at home? If you saw what happened on social media this week, you know what I’m talking about. Football players are supposed to compartmentalize but that’s easier to say than actually doing it. I honestly think that could be one explanation.


Great chat everyone. Appreciate you stopping by. Talk in a week.

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