Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Good afternoon Steelers’ Nation and welcome back to the mailbag. Like always, we’ll be hanging out here for the next hour to talk about whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

PghDSF: Do you think that Haley got fired because Williams was made HC? Those two butted heads during training camp.

Alex: It was more independent than that. Clearly, Haley had his own issues and they didn’t trust him to stop making waves regardless of who was going to be HC. So they decided to clear out all the problems since hey, they’ll have a new HC next year who will probably want his own OC anyway. So that’s what it came down too.

Pretty unbelievable that Williams is a HC, even on an interim basis. You too can lead men just years after telling them to concuss players and go after their ACLs. The system works!

Billy Stalz: Alex, Honestly how does the FO just sit back and not shore up the defense via trades. Do they really think they can stop the pats/chiefs in a big spot?

Alex: I’m sure the Steelers wanted to try to make some moves. We don’t know how close they came. But it’s not that easy. How many teams added to their defense via trades? I think Washington was the only one with Clinton-Dix. Wanting to get better and making smart moves to get better aren’t always mutually exclusive. If there isn’t anyone worth getting, and there really rarely is this time of year in the NFL (only a couple of significant trades in what’s considered a very active deadline), then you don’t make the move. Making a move to say you made one doesn’t make you better. It makes you…Washington, spending $100 million on Albert Haynesworth because it looked good for the optics. Didn’t make them any better.

Now, let’s be clear. Does that mean you shouldn’t be concerned about this defense? No. You should be. But you understand your best course is to try to fix it internally than chase someone who probably won’t change things very much.

Jedi Master Fred Biletnikoff: Alex,
How would you attack the Ravens D this week? It seems that every week we start out conservative and go 3 and out, the opposing D’s know the Steelers love to establish the run. I would love to see them start this week spitting out wide and letting BB gunsling his way to 6. Thoughts?
Secondary question: Is Matthew Slater a HOF’er after he retires as a ST player?
Thanks for your weeklu mailbag, I enjoy your answers.

Alex: I haven’t started watching the Ravens’ defense this week so I don’t know what’s changed since the last meeting. Probably not much.

Definitely need to stay out of third and long, when the Ravens go sub and dial up every blitz scheme. Quick, efficient pass game on first down will be key. Just gotta get receivers opened up on concepts rather than just hoping guys win their matchup. Ravens have a talented secondary and choosing the latter can take time, letting the pass rush get home.

While a run game would be nice, I don’t want to run against a brick wall all afternoon. Ravens’ defense is always strong and their run defense is 7th in 2018. Running to run puts you into 3rd and 8. So that’s how you lose. If it’s not working, then I’m fine with Conner only carrying it 10-15 times.

I think you gotta spread things out this week anyway. Fichtner has gone heavy to open things up the last two weeks. Not going to work against the Ravens. Too many space eaters that exist upfront.

Also. Hard no to Slater for the HOF. No chance.

Lambert58: Hey Alex, it appears that the light is going on for Bud Dupree. Seems much more physical than we’ve seen in the past. What’s your opinion of his progression so far this season?

Alex: Eh, those words are a little too strong for my liking. I think he’s played better and more physical. He’s healthy this year. Hasn’t missed much practice time. Remember, he suffered an arm injury early last year that dogged him throughout and I think bothered him way more than what was led on. So that’s big, obviously.

He’s had some nice matchups to win against. Some lesser talent like seeing Harrison twice this season. He timed the snap count really well last week. Maybe getting a better feel for cadences, doing some more film study on that. Let him win with his best asset, his burst and first step. But I’ll have to take a long look into his game at some point. Pressures are there but he still only has three sacks. Need to see him finish.


I peeked at the ravens equivalent of SD, and they are making this game out to be a three headed monster…flaccos legacy hinges on the next two games…Harbough is on the hot seat….If stillers win the ravens are out of the playoffs.

That worries me. We start slow, especially on the road. How do we match their intensity? One thing I would offer is that they struggle with the misdirection stuff that KC and the Rams do. Can we put lipstick on our pig a little?

Alex: It generally doesn’t take much to match the intensity of Steelers/Ravens. That exists as soon as the schedule comes out. And the young guys, like Terrell Edmunds, now have first-hand experience of what to expect. So they’ll be better adjusted.

But I hear what you’re saying. Mentioned it on Monday’s podcast. Everything is on the line for Baltimore. They drop this, they fall to 4-5. Looked it up last night and only 13% of teams who started 4-5 make the playoffs. The Steelers will get their best. 100% confident in that. Ravens will play much better than they have been.



I’m thinking that if and when Bell returns they make him a 3rd
receiver and line him up in the slot, and keep Conner
as the featured back and not diminish his touches.
What say you?

Alex: Eh, depends on what you mean. All for flexing Bell out. But he’s not a true slot WR. He’s not JuJu. He’s not going against nickel corners. He’ll give LBs fits but he’s not a “true” WR in that sense. Ben even said as much.

So yes, look for ways to get both of them on the field. Especially with this team not really having a #3 wide receiver right now. But don’t think of him like a slot guy. He’s just a really talented RB with lots of space to work with.

58Steel: Who do you see as being on the roster bubble when (if?) Bell returns and if they choose to activate Ola from IR? Ridley seems an obvious candidate?

Alex: When Bell comes back, it’s likely to be a RB. Ridley or Samuels, I’m pretty indifferent to either. No use in keeping four RBs. Samuels could stay just because he has a little more ST value. Gotten work on punt return team last few weeks and has been on starting KR team all year long.

I’m not convinced Ola or Eli get activated this year. And if Rogers does, he could just be released.

Keith Evans: Hi Alex, the first quarter offensive ineptness is quite baffling, we seem to be running out of excuses for it. What do you think is the key to it?

Alex: Lots of penalties. Don’t have the data but several drives early in the game stalled out by penalties. Against the Browns, you convert 3rd and short with Conner. Grimble called for block in the back, now it’s 3rd and 11 against a top six third down defense. Throw a bubble to JuJu and you gotta punt. So in some ways, Steelers are beating themselves before they can get the rhythm of a drive going.

Maybe Fichtner is still figuring out how to best plan and scheme an opening script. But of course, slow starts aren’t new to the Steelers so that can’t be the entire reason either.

CP72: Alex,
I agree with your and Dave’s assessment of Justin Hunter on the podcast. He’s just a go deep guy. If Washington isn’t going to get a hat why not just use DHB in that role? He’s probably still the fastest guy on the team. He’s also probably the best blocking receiver we have. I know he has shaky hands, but what are we talking about 3 or 4 targets a game? You can save a spot game day because DHB is going to be active to play special teams.

Alex: I dunno man, you know my thoughts on the situation. They see something in Hunter he hasn’t shown really ever but definitely not in Pittsburgh. They like the potential, his size, in theory, his ability to high point and win downfield. It just hasn’t happened. It’s not so much about speed as it is the matchup problem height/weight/vertical.

Jesse Hernandez: Do you think anybody may have called about Janes Conner and what do you think his value would be?

Alex: No and he’s not on the trading block. So I haven’t spent anytime thinking about trade value. I’m just glad he’s a Pittsburgh Steeler and will be for hopefully many years to come.

Kyle Chrise: Did Justin Hunter do enough to earn more snaps? Although his output is still meager, he is trending in a positive direction, right?

Alex: Two catches, 15 yards, couple of bad blocks. I don’t think I have to add anymore.

Positive direction is a real big stretch unless you’re looking at it strictly from a snap count point of reference.

Nolrog: Hi Alex. No stats of the weird this week or did I miss them? That’s one of my favorite articles of the week.

Alex: Mine too! We had them.

Guy: Alex, Ben’s long throws are still inaccurate this time of the season. Are you concerned with that?

Alex: They’ve improved, I think. So less worried than I was.

PaeperCup: If you traded your entire roster with another team, would you still be just as happy if the Steelers won the Super Bowl, or would you hope that the other team would win the championship?

Alex: Ok, that’s enough college philosophy classes for you, PC.

I want the Steelers to win. Not Ben Roethlisberger playing for the Titans. So to your question, yes I would.

Ken: I know its not this week, but please tell me the Steelers will have a better plan for Gronk than man to man with Davis. Will that be Edmunds job this year? It still have shivers about him running free in the playoffs and Davis lost as he could be.

Alex: The best thing is that Gronk has looked…sorta human this year. He’s been hurt and outside of Week One, relatively quiet.

The Steelers, with everyone healthy, arguably have their best dime defense in a long time. With Burnett, Fort, Sutton who can work in dollar. So if there’s a time they could slow him down, it’s now.

But a lot of it is communication. The issues last year, to hear Butler tell it, weren’t just individual. They were breakdowns in coverage. Times where he should’ve been doubled but wasn’t.

stan: I’m thinking LeVeon Bell is a 3rd down back when he comes back and nothing else. What do you think?

Alex: Nah, his role won’t be reduced that much. It could be a 50/50 split.

renoir: Do you think that other teams pay more attention to details then us or try to improve rather then stay put…I am looking at our decision to stay put at the trade deadline,our refusal to address our challenge problems or our clock management problems or our slow starts to every year…They seem to be here every year and please do not say every team has them because if it was the Pats then the problems would be addressed and dealt with…

Alex: No, largely, they don’t. And not making a trade has nothing to do with the details. Details aren’t things like trade deadline moves. Those are big things.

The Patriots did get Josh Gordon but they were also heavily rumored to be in the market for another WR before Tuesday. And were rumored to be going after LB Jamie Collins. They didn’t make a move. So ended up in a similar boat.

Only two AFC teams added at the deadline: Houston and Baltimore (and that was Ty Montgomery, which Green Bay gave away). Let’s not act like everyone else got better.

Thanks for the chat this week everyone! See ya next Thursday.

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