Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your regularly scheduled Thursday mailbag. Steelers finally coming off their first victory of the season. Much needed one at that. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

srdan: Are you as surprised as I am that Thomas hasn’t sniffed teh field? How much worse could they be with him on the field-actually what I’m saying, do you think he could improve the defense?

Alex: I am a little surprised. But Jon Bostic has played well enough and Thomas has to show he can play mistake free. Can’t do dumb things like the penalty he had against Kansas City. But still something you could see down the road, gameplan and matchup specific.

falconsaftey43: Not really a question, but the number of media members, national and other team’s local guys, that don’t understand the parameters of trading for Bell is ridiculous and annoying. Listening to local Philly radio right now and they’re all clamoring to trade for Bell.

Alex: Oh yeah, it’s really annoying. Of course, not surprising. But it’s obviously damaging for how fans, even some of the local ones, react to it. That’s how it goes though. National media rarely does well with nuance, details, and complexity. Just hot takes. You know how it goes.

Ravens Team Gynecologist: Alex, What do you think the chances are the Le’veon sits the whole season instead of returning on week 10? I am starting to get this gut feeling that he sits the whole year. What do you think?

Alex: Sure, I think it’s at least a possibility that has to be entertained and mentioned. I wrote about it as soon as we realized he wasn’t showing up for Week One.

Let’s assume he’s not traded. And that deadline will happen before the deadline of him needing to report to play at all this year. The ONLY risk he takes in sitting out the entire season is the Steelers tagging him for $14.55 million again. And I don’t think they’re going to do that. The relationship is over, there’s no chance of a deal happening, and the team is ready to move on (they were planning on it anyway).

That risk doesn’t outweigh reporting and risking injury plus the chance he just doesn’t play very well. I can see him struggling, statistically, after missing all this time, averaging only like, 3.7 YPC and not playing like himself. That could do more harm to his market value at least in terms of leverage.

Do I think the odds are high? Still don’t. But it’s certainly possible. And like falcon said, I don’t rule out anything when it comes to Bell. The only thing we can predict about this situation is that it’s unpredictable.

falconsaftey43: Thus far I’ve been slightly more impressed by Dupree’s pass rush than Watt’s. Both had good games vs. Browns. Dupree runs the arch still, but seems to have found a bull rush. Watt’s been a bit disappointing last two games, really getting stuck at times. How do you think they’ve done?

Alex: I’d have to go look at each super closely again. They’ve had their ups and downs. Watt still feels like much more the technical rusher than Dupree, who feels more chaotic and sorta “lucks” into some of the pressures/sacks he’s had. But I need to try to reset for next week and pay special attention to both. The short week this week has made it tough.

Kyle Chrise: How has Chickillo been rotated in so far? Is he simply spelling one of the starters, or is he part of a specific scheme or look?

Alex: Yup, same as before. He’s the #3, capable of playing either spot. Not part of any scheme or package. Just whenever someone needs a break. Tampa might have been the best game he’s ever played.

Michael James: Do you think there is a specific reason why the AFC seems to get worse and worse each year, while the NFC looks stacked?

Alex: I dunno, probably comes down to QB play. Probably been weaker in the AFC, as a whole, than in the NFC. That makes a huge difference, obviously.

Before this year’s draft, the NFC had.

Mitch T.
Keenum (now Cousins)
Jimmy G.

How many of those QBs are bad? Not all of them are great but very few are truly mediocre. AFC doesn’t have that same level of talent across the board.



I have no week 4 questions so I’ll hit you with a hypothetical. Say Big Ben goes down (praying this doesn’t happen every Sunday FYI), Does Rudolph have the chance to be the starter if Dobbs doesn’t perform? Or is locked in to be the 2 (and starter if needed) if healthy all season?

Alex: Dobbs will get his shot. He’s next man up, no question about it. If Dobbs struggles for 2-3 games, could that change? Sure, though by that point, Ben has missed a ton of time and the season is probably over no matter what. But Dobbs is the #2 and if Ben goes down, that’s the guy who is starting.

I don’t see Rudolph leaping Dobbs anytime during the season like some have speculated. It’s too hard to do as the #3. Not enough reps to jump him and the backup probably can’t do enough “wrong” to get demoted like that.

Bob Francis: Since you watch the film, how do you feel about the defense after 3 weeks? I’m not as down as some. I feel like we should grade on a curve since two of the three teams (KC, TB) have been among the top offenses in the league so far. Both lit up other teams with good defenses.

Alex: I still stand by what I’ve said the last two weeks. Their blueprint for success is situational football and creating a splash play or two. They will give up yards, in chunks, points, they’re not talented enough to just shut teams down.

And I’m still worried if they have the talent to overcome the DC and if the DC is good enough to maximize the talent. Imagine if they lose a key player for some length of time. They don’t have the depth, nearly anywhere, to handle that. Defense is barely hanging on as it is.



I imagine you review the All-22 and if you do have you been looking at Sean Davis and his progression or lack there of? Thanks

Alex: I think he’s handled it well. Hasn’t been as rough a transition as I thought it could be. The KC game was bad but it was bad for everyone. So overall, it’s been good enough, though not great.

Sam Clonch: What’s the timeline for Ola to get brought off the IR? I know the minimum is 6 weeks, so could he dress game 7 (hypothetically, I know it’s not realistic)? Who’s the cut if he’s activated, or if Hilton misses time and they decide to bring Allen up? I’m assuming Bannon.

Alex: It’s eight weeks, not six.

No idea who would be the odd man out. That’s a long ways away. Injuries and performance, that conversation will be much different than it is today. So I honestly spend zero time thinking about it because I know it won’t matter by the time it actually becomes a discussion point.

Anthony Palmerston: Ravens/Steelers prediction?

Alex: Ah, you’re going to have to wait until Sunday for that.

renoir: Are we at all close to seeing Brian Allen get a call up and put on the field or are we going to
keep shuffling between 2 mediocre CB’s???

Alex: I dunno. If they make the call up, it usually happens Saturday afternoon. But remember, Allen didn’t play well this preseason. He got cut for a reason. So let’s not delude ourselves and think he’s the answer. If you’re struggling in the preseason, the regular season is going to eat you up.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Is T.J. Watt best suited being used to cover tight ends down the field? Why do you think we’re not seeing Edmunds handling tight ends more in man coverage situations? And do you think things will change if and when Burnett gets back on the field?

Alex: It’s a variety of reasons. Where the TE gets lined up, what the coverage is, what the defensive call is. So you get a variety of guys over tight end. Edmunds also hasn’t been the dime linebacker, like Burnett or Berhe, so when they go dime on 3rd down, those guys are matched over the TE most often, not Edmunds. They want to keep him in his SS spot. Simplify his workload so he can focus on the basic things and play fast. That’s why literally everyone else on this roster will play FS before Edmunds does, even Mike Hilton.

And more evidence that SS and FS aren’t as interchangeable as Tomlin claims.

CP72: Alex,
I’m pulling for more snaps for Rosie Nix. When he’s on the field he’s noticable in a good way. Think we could very effective out of the heavier package especially with McDonald to provide a legit receiving threat along with AB.

Alex: Hey, you’ll get no argument from me on anything pro-Rosie. But he’s a FB and it’s 2018. Those things don’t go together. The Steelers are still going to be a base 11 personnel team so inherently, there’s a cap on the number of snaps a FB is going to get. You want your playmakers and high draft picks on the field as much as possible.

It’s mostly situational. Sometimes the gameplan has the FB more involved, we’ve seen this team open up in 12/22 personnel to start games, sometimes they’re uninvolved. Game flow has a lot to do with it. Obviously, when you’re down 21-0 against KC, Rosie ain’t playing. Nor should he be.

Week 1 and 3 combined, he played 30 snaps. That’s not too shabby.

Only two FBs in the league have played more than 50 snaps this season. Just how it goes.

Doogie: In hockey teams “rent” players for playoff runs.. Do you think the NFL could ever imitate the NHL?

Alex: Not really. Draft picks are simply more valuable in football than any other sport. So it’s harder to pull off a trade. Those draft picks are guys who can help you win now. Even in hockey, beyond 1st round picks – and not even all of them – those guys aren’t playing for you right away. So they don’t mean as much and GMs can feel more comfortable trading that pick away. So it’s not going to work the same in the NFL and why you see far fewer player deals than other leagues.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
How do you feel about Fichtners offense so far?

Alex: That it’s very similar to Haley’s. But with Vance McDonald getting heavy snaps again, I’m really exciting to see how he continues to be involved in this offense. That was one of the few real differences I saw from what Haley did. You saw that on McDonald’s TD. 3×1, McDonald isolated backside and gets one-on-one with the safety.

MattHat121: Alex – John Simon to Pats. Thoughts? I know he was your white whale for PIT.

Alex; He was. So naturally, he ends up in New England. Can’t wait for the sack/forced fumble on Ben, you know that’s happening.

It was kinda crazy how much steam Simon to the Steelers got though. It made a ton of sense and that’s why I wrote about it during the summer but there was no true, direct connection to Pittsburgh. I wonder if that neck injury he suffered had a lot to do with it and why it took him a couple weeks to sign.

stan: Landry Jones is still on the open market. Does this change your attitude about whether it was wise to keep Dobbs as the backup?

Alex: I didn’t really say they were wrong to keep Dobbs. It’s their call and I accepted it, understood it, and moved on. Even if it was surprising. I thought they were going to keep Jones, not entirely that I thought they should. But really, we’ll have to see how well Dobbs performs if/when he plays this year. I guess that’ll be the true answer of how good of a choice the Steelers made.

Efren Rodriguez Mora: 

Hi Alex, kind regards from mexico!

Will Boswell bounce back? Are you seriously concerned about it?

Bonus question.
The Chiefs and Rams will play here in Mexico City in a couple weeks.. do you think this match is gonna be the next super bowl? Thank u

Alex: Good to hear from you, Efren!

Sure, some natural concern with Boswell. Concern anytime a kicker misses five of them in three weeks. But I’m with Tomlin. Standing behind him, letting him kick through it. Not even close to being ready to dump him for someone else. I think he will bounce back. He’s had some awful field conditions to kick in. Tampa was a mess Monday night.

And I know, Pittsburgh can get ugly too come November/December but hopefully by then, he’s ironed some of the problems out and regained some confidence.

Yup, KC and LA sounds like it could be a Super Bowl matchup. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

Thanks everyone. Appreciate you stopping by. We’ll talk to you next Thursday.

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