Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag as we hit the true dead zone of the offseason until camp starts up in a month. It’s the season for speculation so let me know what’s on your mind in the comments below. We’ll be here for the next hour.

To your questions!

Bryant Eng: The two hottest offensive minds in the NFL are McVay and Shanahan (deja vu). Has your deep dive into Fichtner’s history as an O-Coordinator revealed any tendencies or preferences that would lead you to believe Fichtner my attempt to replicate SF and LA? I do recall hearing about the Steelers using more TEs in OTAs and Minicamp. Is this a sign we might adopt some of the popular 12 and 22 personnel groupings we see in SF and LA? If Gurley can rack up recieving yards, imagine what Bell could do.

Alex: I don’t have much intel. I wrote about some general stuff I learned about Fichtner when he was OC at Arkansas State and Memphis but it’s hard to lean on what happened 10 years ago too much for the present day. I think we will see a little more playaction, better use of the TE (McDonald out in space more often), and I’ve speculated about mixing in some pistol that Haley seemed reluctant to use. I want to see better route distribution and the big elephant in the room, a change to the red zone offense, which has been underwhelming for about a decade.

There’s nothing telling me that he will copy McVay or Shanahan. But who knows – I guess we’ll find out in a couple of months.

Spencer Krick: Who is most likely to step up as a play maker on the defense?

Alex: That’s a good question and unfortunately, there isn’t a great answer. It might have to be Sean Davis again though he’s far from a true “playmaker.” I would see Haden but it’s easier to scheme him out of games. You’ll just have to hope Heyward can repeat what he did last year and hope for a better, now that he’s healthy, season from Tuitt. Let the pressure create the chaos. Losing Shazier is a big hindrance to the LB/DBs being able to make splash plays.

Talyn Scarbrough: 

If you had to guess, based off of the news so far and how you personally evaluate mason Rudolph.

How likely that at midseason Rudolph will supplant Jones as the #2? % wise

Personally I think he will take the job in preseason but it is unlikely and if he doesn’t do it then it won’t happen this season due to lack of reps.


Alex: I’m not sure what would compel the team to make the switch midseason. Either it happens out of the preseason or it doesn’t happen at all. It’s not like much would change in the evaluation process. Ideally, neither guy is playing. And if Rudolph is the #3, he’s not getting many reps so it’s going to be hard to evaluate his progress – at that point, his growth is sorta stunted. So I see him either getting it right away, a legit possibility I think most people now accept, or not until 2019. I don’t think there’s an inbetween.

Sam Clonch: Alex, saw an article yesterday listing a vet on every team that may be cut before the season starts. Would you be interested in any of the follow? : John Simon, Shaq Lawson, Manti Te’o

Alex: I don’t pay too much attention to the “who could be cut” list because so much will change over the next two months. But I have floated Simon’s name before and I will probably write about him early next week. New scheme, Colts going to a 4-3, and it sounds like he’s on the bubble.

Given the Steelers interest in him coming out of Ohio State (I usually write about guys who have a legit connection/reason why Pittsburgh would be interested) and the current lack of depth, it definitely makes sense for an OLB-starved team.

CP72: Alex,
I’m all for the push of playing more man. I think it helps Artie Burns especially. What’s the biggest downside of playing man versus zone? I always thought zone was a safer defense, but seems like most of the chunk plays against zone last year.

Alex: That could be a whole, long discussion. Pros and cons to each. Zone is nice because it gets more eyes on the ball. You’re reading the QB, the entire route concept, a better chance to create splash plays on a bad/hurried throw because you’re reacting as the ball is coming out. Helps with guys being able to rally to the ball on QB scrambles or checkdowns. Man coverage, everyone is late knowing when the ball is out, who has it, where he’s at.

In man, there are going to be certain route concepts that can hurt you. Picks and rubs at the line of scrimmage, you have to be careful with how your corners align. Can’t have them on the same level. And then you’re going to need to have enough talent to cover across the board. If one guy can do it but the others can’t…you’re going to lose out overall (not saying that’s the case with the Steelers, just overall).

The important thing is really just not doing too much of any one thing. Being able to self-scout, know your own tendencies, and mix them up, that’s how defenses are going to win in today’s NFL with everything tilted towards the offense.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex! If you had to choose one thing that both the offense and defense needed to improve on from last year, what would each of those be? And do you think the Steelers have done enough this offseason to address those needs? Thanks man!

Alex: That’s pretty easy. For the offense, it’s their red zone offense. Defensively, communication. Both are pretty hard to determine right now. So I can’t give you much of an answer. But for their sake, I hope it has. If not, this team won’t make it to the Super Bowl, much less win one.

Jeremy: Hi Alex. How did the Depot ff league turn out last year? Any plans on doing it again this year? If there is an opening, I would love to get in, btw!

Alex: I honestly can’t even remember right now. And if I want to look, I have to go through all the steps of reactivating the league this year and I don’t want to deal with that right now. It was fun though, as always. Yeah, we will definitely give you guys a shout when we restart the league. Haven’t paid attention to how many spots will be open or how all that is going to work this year.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex! How’d the McLumina do during inspections?!
And from a scale of 1-10, how confident in our LBs are you? OLB and ILB included. (10 being most confident)
I’m very worried that outside of Watt and VW, we won’t have too much consistency. Bostic, Dupree and Matakevich have a lot of question marks.

Alex: She did ok. New brake line, new backup light, all things considered, a pretty good day.

It’s hard to put a number on it, especially as a group. I have confidence in Williams and Watt. The rest…ehh, I’m not there. There’s still optimism about Dupree but I’m not confident like last year. I liked the Bostic signing, I get Matakevich being given the chance, but we gotta see those guys in action more before I talk about confidence. It’s very fair to have questions, like you say. I do too.

Keith Evans: If Ben went down injured in, let’s say week 4, and Mason had won the back-up job and came in and led us to a playoff spot with some steller play…how far would we have to go in the playoffs for the Steelers to ask Ben to politely retire…or would you not even see that happening even if we won the SB?

Alex: Wouldn’t matter. Ben’s not being asked to step aside. He will play until he decides he doesn’t want to play anymore. I would consider “win a Super Bowl with Mason Rudolph” a very good problem to have.

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That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by the mailbag.

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