Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome to playoff football. Lot to talk about – let’s dive on in.

To your questions!

Brian Tollini: If Todd Haley is replaced with Randy Fichtner next year at OC, any idea
on the broad type of offense he would run? Also, why has the true gadget play died under Todd Haley/Mike Tomlin?

Alex: I haven’t studied Fichtner’s offense too closely. Would probably go back and look at some of the stuff he did at Memphis. I imagine it would be generally the same to the casual viewer. Not going to make radical changes in Ben’s final year or two. It’s not like Haley runs some sort of specialized West Coast either. You get a mix of everything from him.

As for gadget plays, they don’t have great gadget players anymore. There is no Randle El on the roster. So that limits you. But I”m fine with it. Not crazy about gadget plays anyway. Especially with this offense. When you have Ben, Bell, AB, who needs to get cute? I want #7 throwing the ball, not Martavis Bryant. That’s why Ben gets the big bucks.

Alex Roarty: 

Any theories why Bell has struggled to run in the interior this year? Was such a weapon during last year’s winning streak, and I can’t figure out what’s happened in 2017 with the same personnel.

as a follow-up to that: Do you think they will be able to run on the inside against the Jags?

Alex: I haven’t taken a deep dive into it. Obviously, there’s been some good run defenses he’s faced and particularly, some really good run-stuffing nose tackles. The AFC North has a couple of the top guys in the league; Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, and Danny Shelton. Ogunjobi in Cleveland is under the radar too and Pat Sims still holds his own versus the run in Cincinnati too.

For the broader idea of his YPC going down, some of that has to do with volume. And some of that has to do when he is getting the ball. To close out games? Defenses are stacking the box so it’s hard to find room. In the red zone? No one had more carries there than Le’Veon Bell (60) and only one other back (Todd Gurley) had at least 50.

Not that it matters much but if you took out all of Bell’s red zone carries, he’s averaging 4.3 YPC. Much more respectable. And of course, Bell just doesn’t have that home run speed to get that 60 yard run that will jump his average.

Anyway, rant over. Can they run inside? I think they can. They better hope they can. I think it’ll be tough to get to the edge against the Jags. Fast flowing linebackers with Jack and Smith. I’m keeping this ground game between the tackles.

JNick: What Jags offensive player, outside Fournette would you be most concerned about this week?

Alex: I’m honestly not super concerned with Fournette even, to be honest. He hasn’t done much and you can tell he’s wearing down. Beyond him though, I think there’s two guys.

Keelan Cole: wide receiver most haven’t heard of. But he’s a big play threat and for Jacksonville to win, they’re going to need some big plays. Averaged nearly 18 yards per catch this year.

Cam Robinson: their left tackle. He’s big, physical, and embodies what the Jags line is all about. Fournette has success when the line gets a strong push up front, their guards/center doubling the nose and climbing to the second level. Robinson sealing the edge. And give Bortles time in the pocket, he’s going to at least have a chance to run. T.J. Watt is going to have his hands full as a pass rusher. I might flip him and Dupree more than usual.


Hypothetical question Alex.

The Steelers Win the SB, Ben commits to returning next season, and the Steelers franchise Bell.

Give me 5 players that could be that 32nd overall draft pick.

Alex: Oh man, I really would love to give you a good answer, HPK. I have just been getting into draft season with the sole focus on Senior Bowl prospects. I’ll throw out a couple interesting names, though who knows who winds up in first round contention.

Troy Fumagalli/TE Wisconsin – True Wisconsin kid. Tough. Physical. Experience with his hand in the dirt. Makes combative catches in traffic. Production the last two years in a run-oriented offense. Only has nine fingers but that hasn’t slowed him down.

Cedrick WIlson Jr./WR Boise State – Yup, that’s Cedrick Wilson’s kid. Yup, we’re all really old. He’ll be at the Senior Bowl and popped on tap. On the field, reminds me of Martavis Bryant. Lanky (6’3, 188) but an explosive, vertical threat with great run after catch ability.

Isaac Yiadom/CB Boston College: I truly have no idea where he’s being projected to go, not that it matters a ton this early. But I watched his tape and it was really good. Physical, long corner. 6’1 190. Fluid turn, high points the ball, does a great job supporting the run. I’m a fan.

Lambert58: Hey Alex, if Artie isn’t fit to start, how confident are you that Sutton can come in and hold down the fort on the right side?

Alex: I am. I think he’s looked good in the limited action we’ve seen him play. Not too up and down. And this is a guy who missed so much time, he looked comfortable getting thrown into the fire pretty quickly. He can hold his own. It’s not like Jacksonville has Joe Montana back there.

Canadiana: Hey Alex, if tuitt and burns are both out for Sunday, who do you think has the better game, alualu or Sutton?

Alex: I guess it depends on how you define better. I’m just looking for each guy to come in and do their job. Sutton, to be a great communicator, avoid any mental breakdowns that blows a coverage. Alualu, stuff the run, keep contain as a pass rusher.

I think not having Tuitt hurts the Steelers more than not having Burns so I guess in that sense of trying to answer your question, Sutton. But Alualu is in a more important role.

Danny Porter: Do you think Bud and TJ should flip sides? I have noticed Bud flash more when he does?

Alex: Eh, I’m generally fine with whatever the team decides. They’ve flipped a little more recently. Left tackle/right tackle, it doesn’t matter much these days. Everyone has to rush the passer, everyone has to protect. The idea of a left tackle being the slim, agile, pass protector and the right tackle being the 340 pound mauler who can’t move laterally enough to do the Electric Slide is sorta dead. Look at the Steelers. Marcus Gilbert is probably the most svelte looking tackle in the league and plays on the right side. Kansas City has Mitchell Schwartz there.

Plus, in this scheme, the ROLB drops more than the left. So I like having Watt on that right side.

Flipping is just a nice change-up. Force the tackles to work someone new. Especially if they’re studying the typical guy all week and not paying much attention to the other. Or if they see you flip on film, now they gotta study the other guy, just in case. Give them more homework.

srdan: Who has more interceptions this weekend? Ben or Bortles?

Alex: Easy answer might be Bortles but I don’t think he’s going to throw the ball. Or do everything he can not to. So I’ll say Ben. Bortles hasn’t thrown a pick in three of his last four games.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex! When looking at the current teams back half of the defense and seeing where they need to improve next year, rank the positions that you would like to see the Steelers draft/sign in FA:
a. a true rangy FS
b. an interchangeable SS/FS
c. a SS/LB hybrid
d. a CB, outside or slot
e. a true ILB
Thanks man! Appreciate all you do!

Alex: Hey man!

ILB is probably going to be at the top of the list at least, until there’s some information that could signal Shazier returning to the game (though that’s far away and a secondary priority). So you need a replacement there. From there.

1. Rangy FS
2. Hybrid
3. CB (outside)
4. SS/FS

Definitely time to add a FS for depth and an eventual replacement for Mitchell. Hybrid guy is someone I’ve always wanted, a final answer to the big TEs and a better answer in dime than William Gay. CB depth is always important and this position moves up if Haden is gone. I don’t think you need the interchangeable safety, especially if you’re drafting one and still have a guy like Golden who can play SS if you needed him to.

Sam Clonch: Coming into this offseason, I had Ryan and Leveon as guys who are in need of long term deals. Even if he is able to play next year, it wouldn’t shock me if they waited a year before trying to sign Ryan, all things considered. Any other guys they are going to need to work on? Boswell perhaps?

Alex: Well, we’re not anywhere near contract talks with Shazier. So that’s a discussion that’s not worth entertaining right now. For Bell, I still stand by what I said from the beginning. Tag in 2018, probably walk the year after. 2019 could be a rough year – no Bell, good chance of no Ben.

Yeah, Boswell could get a deal. That’s probably high on their list. A lot of their best guys are locked up, which is certainly nice

Bryant Eng: Speaking of Jaguars, would it be worth signing Paul Posluzny to a 1 year veteran minimum ring-chaser depth deal to shore up the LB depth next season, or is he too one dimensional?

Alex: I’m not opposed to it though ideally, you pair that with drafting someone too. I don’t know how comfortable he is taking a backseat role.

Michael James: Hi Alex!
Two defensive and offensive keys for winning on Sunday?

Alex: Hi Michael! Just in time.


– Use combination routes to get open. Even with the firepower Pittsburgh has, it’s tough to beat these corners. Haley’s gotta have a scheme to get these guys open. Not just three verts and hope for the best.

– Strong interior run game. Like I wrote above, it’ll be tough getting the ball out on the perimeter vs the speed of this defense. Establish the ground game in the B gap.


– Rush lane integrity. Something I’ve preached all week long.

– Read keys for playaction. Jacksonville most effective off of it. Linebackers and safeties can’t be suckered up, even though I know their mission is to stop the run.

That’s all for this week. Appreciate you all stopping on by.

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