Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. Whew, what a week. Lot to talk about, lot on your mind, I’m sure. We’ll be here the next hour, like usual.

To your questions!

Michael James: Hey Alex!
How much patience with our coaches do you still have at this point?
I can only speak for myself, but I’m fed up with Butler & Smith and starting to slowly get fed up with Tomlin, too.

Alex: Understandable question. But it’s still important to keep perspective. It is only two games in. Let’s see how players and coaches adjust.

But to answer your question, I’m least patient with Butler. It’s legitimately painful to watch.

Bryant Eng: Mathew Thomas’ mental errors son ST don’t bide well for those of us who thought he might be able to contribute at some point this season. This was an issue (mental errors) at FSU too, yes? In any event, Thomas included, are there any rookies on the defensive side of the ball that might be able to turn this defense around/contribute substantively?

Alex: Yup, he had some processing/IQ issues at Florida State. That’s a good way to keep you on the sidelines. But I’d like to think they increase his use as the year goes on. Get some situational gameplans in for him.

Don’t have a ton of rookies to choose from. I mean, you know the names. Terrell Edmunds, obviously. Thomas can make an impact at some point soon. But that’s about it defensively. Marcus Allen isn’t going to impact this defense in 2018.


Hey Alex,

From an average fan’s perspective, kind of hard to figure out but seeing that you watch the tape, it looked like Antonio got a lot of bubble screens and go routes. Was this the case? I feel like that could definitely contribute to the frustration. Without Bell they need to center this offense around him IMO.


Alex: Sure, that’s fair to say. They tried to feed him the ball vertically but Ben’s throws were routinely off. And then they used the quick game to try to get the ball in hands because he’s a playmaker and it’s also a way to make him happy.

The passing game is still centered around him. Brown leads the entire NFL with 33 targets, three more than the next guy. Teams are just doing a nice job of taking him away. That’s at least a little in part to not having the Martavis Bryant type threat until James Washington starts making some plays.

Spencer Krick: What do you think the key to this upcoming game is going to be?

Alex: I still need to watch through the Bucs’ defense. I don’t think the keys need to be too mystical here: perform much better on 3rd down, cut the penalties in half, don’t turn the ball over, and create a splash play defensively.

Handling the Bucs’ receivers vertically and the different alignments will be a challenge. Guys don’t stay static in one spot. They’ll get Mike Evans lined up in the slot. Ditto Desean Jackson. O.J. Howard will line up there and they’ll run slot fades on linebackers. Dealing with the slot is one specific key I can give you.

@Why_Cliff: this weeks mailbag. An analyst on ESPN said this could be Bill Belichick last year in New England. If that were to happen and Steelers struggle the rest of the season and there is an opportunity for the Steelers to nab Belichick do they make the move?

Alex: Ha, no, I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t see Belichick coaching anywhere new. When he leaves, it’s for good, or at least, in a non-head coach sense. He’s not going into job interviews after this. What’s gonna top his success, and control, he had in New England? He’s gonna be on a yacht somewhere after his time as a Patriot.

CP72: Alex,
Two years in a row Artie Burns has a good training camp and two years in a row he’s disappointed when the real bullets start flying. What gives?

Alex: That’s a good question. Wish I had a good answer. That’s why I cautioned about his good camp this year translating because of what happened in 2017. He didn’t get to cover Antonio Brown as much this year as last but I don’t see that as a great excuse. Sometimes it just doesn’t translate when you get out of the comfort zone camp provides.

D. j. Reynolds: Hey Alex, if you were Mike Tomlin what would you have done about A.B. (what punishment if any)?

Alex: Tweeted out my thoughts yesterday.

If it was unexcused, if he didn’t alert the team and it wasn’t a family emergency or something like that, I’m sitting him for the first series. Actions have consequences and not showing up when you’re supposed to, even if you’re AB, is entirely unprofessional.

Obviously, suggesting he should sit the entire game, be cut, anything like that, is dumb. Yes, it hurts the team he’s not out there, but I think letting it slide could hurt the team more. Look big picture and show the locker room, “even the stars get held accountable.”

And it’s a reality check AB probably needs. Let him know he’s gotta maintain a professional. It’s not about the tweets or the dust up with Fichtner, those things don’t deserve any sort of on-field punishment, but missing practice and meetings is a different level.

Kyle Chrise: loved your breakdown on Butler this morning. Are defensive schemes the bigger problem right now, or is it player execution?

Alex: Thanks Kyle! I’m not very interested in trying to rank it. Both are issues, clearly. Usually is when you allow 6 TDs and 42 points. Tweeted after Sunday’s game there isn’t enough talent to overcome coaching mistakes and not enough coaching to overcome talent deficiencies. That’s not to say there isn’t talent on this defense; it is, in pockets, and Butler has his moments as DC. There’s things he’s done well. And to his credit, has normally had a good gameplan, in an outcome based analysis, versus Kansas City. Limiting Hill and Kelce. But Sunday was terrible for players and coaches.

RangerBrigade: Alex:
I am still trying to figure out what the Steelers have been trying to do on defense the last five years. What is their identity? What seems to be the strengths of the defense and what should Butler and Tomlin be doing to build something that complements their skill set?

Alex: After I wrote my article on saying I’d keep Keith Butler another year last year someone asked me what his identity is. And I was like, dang, that’s a really good question. Struggled with the answer then and definitely struggle with the answer now.

I guess he is a DC who tries to generate “safe pressure” from a variety of different looks. Someone whose main goal is to stop the run. A DC who wants to be aggressive with his run stunts and blitzes. A mix of man and zone behind.

Obviously, it hasn’t been very effective but that’s what I got off the top of my head.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, last year’s Steelers won 13 games, but many of those were only achieved by a small margin (4th quarter comebacks and all). Were our expectations for this year’s team too great because we simply looked at a 13 win team from last year and ignored some of their warts?

Alex: Not at all. Expectations were appropriately high. You have a Hall of Fame QB, Hall of Fame WR, and at some point, a borderline Hall of Fame RB. When you have those three things, your expectation should be Super Bowl or bust.

Jeremy: Regarding the piece you posted today highlighting the Chiefs motioning to 3×2 and almost 3×2 with the Steelers responding with a cover 2. What are some different options the D could have switched to with the personnel that were on the field?

Alex: I guess I don’t have a lot of answers to that. Didn’t think about it because it’s not my job, lol. I can’t buy and sell the milk, you know? I don’t really care what the answer is. It can be a variety of things. Cover 1, 2 Man (LeBeau called this “55”), whatever. Pick something, anything else. Have more empty checks you can use than just that.

The issue wasn’t 100% even the coverage they ran, though there’s some problems with it too. It’s the fact the Chiefs KNEW what coverage they were getting and had the playcall to beat it. You can call the best coverage in the world but if the offense knows what’s coming, they’re always going to successfully counter it.

Keith Evans: hey Alex, If these defensive mishaps and general poor play continue over the next two three weeks could you see Butler getting the shove and MT taking over the calls – i feel MT would benefit generally form having more input – i don’t think we’ve seen the best of Tomlin in a way?

Alex: Well if Butler were to ever get the heave-ho during the season, Tomlin is definitely the guy taking over. Would he be more successful? Maybe. Would that hurt the team in other areas? Possibly. Hard to say until if/when it happens.

Efren Rodriguez Mora: 

Hey Alex, greetings from mexico!

What do u think about the Tuitt´s performance?
Could this be a long term concern already?

Thank u

Alex: Greetings, Efren! I think only PA has more Steelers fans than Mexico.

You’re right, Tuitt has had a quiet start to the season. Last year’s injury is no longer an excuse. Give it more time, just like I’d say about a lot of these guys, but you’re looking for him to make a bigger impact, no doubt. Not sure what’s going on there.

The Tony: Alex,
Would you trade AB for two first round picks and a second round pick?

Alex: Going to take only a small liberty with this quote from Simon Gruber in Die Hard 3.

“I would not give up Antonio Brown for all the gold in your Fort Knox.”

Nick Sabatella: Alex, does SteelersDepot actively avoid bringing up the conversations/debates brought up by other sports networks/shows? Seems like the folks over at GMFB always have some hot takes on the Steelers (Kyle Brandt has some great talking points) and Colin Cowherd as well. Just wondering. Thanks!

Alex: I think most times, we stay away from the commentary side of things. We provide our own commentary. And if it’s super hot-takish, we’re not very interested in it. If there’s a good point to be made, we may write about it, or maybe we won’t, but we generally write our opinions, not others.

RMSteeler: Have you started a study on Ben’s footwork for the first two games? Ball sailing and to the right screams not stepping into his throws. Also, not squaring up, and throwing across his body. Also, don’t know if he’s changed his arm mechanics. Maybe dropping his arm and not coming over the top? You’d think he and Fichtner would have this figured out by now.

Alex: I’m not a QB mechanics expert so I’m not best qualified to answer that. Let’s just hope for a better game. It may have just been an off day.

Chris: Hi Alex. With the talent that you see on this team, what style of defense that best suit their skills. And do you think it’s more the DC or the talent.

Alex: I think they can win with the scheme they have. I’m not for switching to a 4-3 or anything like that. It isn’t the philosophy. It’s the playcalls and the execution. I put the blame on both. Don’t pay much attention to who should be blamed more.

That’s all for this week. Great chat everyone. Appreciate you stopping by.

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