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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your usual Thursday mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

AB: 

Alex,

Who would you rather have opposite of Joe Haden: Artie Burns or Cortez Allen?

Alex: Ehhhh, don’t make me choose. Cortez, I guess? At least there were stretches of positive play. Enough to warrant, from the team’s perspective, a long-term contract. I don’t think Burns will get the same reward.

Cavallonator: Alex – Assuming the Steelers don’t tag Bell again, what do you think they do with that cap space? Also, do you think they should try to get another corner in the draft or in free agency?

Alex: A little bit of everything. It’d be nice to bring back Ramon Foster, since the reports are he wants to get paid with this likely being the final contract of his career. Keep the band together.

But sure, gives you more room to make a move in FA, even if we know the Steelers are generally pretty quiet, they don’t often have the kind of money they will in the offseason.

What to do specifically? I haven’t thought about it a whole lot. Depends on who is kept, who walks. How the rest of the season goes. But the areas that could be addressed in the draft are the same ones you can make a case about in FA: cornerback is priority #1. ILB not far behind. And outside linebacker depth/starter, depending on what happens with Bud, is also high on the list.

IndianaCarson: Alex
What kind of year is Mike Mitchell having so far this year?

Alex: Haven’t watched him. Seems to be doing well based on stats/awards/Colts’ fans I follow. Hurt right now, missed last week, think status is uncertain for this weekend. I’m happy for the dude.

treeher: Tough schedule the rest of the way. If we go 4-3, will that be good enough to make the playoffs?

Alex: I’d expect it to. Means they finish 10-5-1. 10-6 most seasons is enough to get you in. Given the struggles of the rest of the North, the Bengals beat up, the Ravens QB mess, 10-5-1 should still win the North. Especially if you give the Steelers the victory over Cincy in Week 17 as part of that four win finish.

PghDSF: Should Forte be starting instead of Bostic? If he’s the better LB on 3rd down sub-package, then IMO he should be the starter.

Alex: I’m comfortable with the current division of labor. Bostic has played well and his run defense has been excellent. Looking back at the Panthers game, I actually think he played pretty well. Tackling was excellent, made some plays on the perimeter that you might not expect him to make. So those two on early downs, in base, in nickel, with Fort in dime. I think it’s the right mix.

John Gutilla: What’s your take on the whole “the Steelers ransacked Le’veon’s locker” story? Seems like it was all in good fun to me, just guys messing around, but the national media seems to be having a great time using it as another “Steelers lack discipline and are disfunctional” story.

Alex: I’m with you. Totally overblown. Every analyst out there clutching their pearls. It was a joke, it was all in good fun. It’s not like they were truly Bell’s cleats. Team issued, sent by Nike, I’m not sure, but it’s not like they’re his shoes he’s ever worn. As if they sat in the locker room since January.

Dupree isn’t literally stealing shoes as he’s being filmed by Jeremy Fowler. Anyone who thinks that is dumb.

For the locker room, it was their closure. I think they deserve that fun after getting peppered with Bell questions for the last three months. Anyone who doesn’t understand what happened doesn’t understand the way the Steelers’ locker room works. They clown everyone.

Lambert58: Alex – Congrats again on the promotion! Who would be your dream interview on the podcast?

Alex: Hmm, I assume my answer should be sports/Steelers related. Can it be someone who is dead? Anyone heavily involved in the Steelers scouting would be a lot of fun to interview. Jack Butler, Bill Nunn, can’t imagine the stories those guys have when scouting wasn’t this precise system where everyone knows who every prospect is. When back then, you could truly find a gem.

Big Daddy Lipscomb is one of my favorite Steelers of all-time. Fascinating story. Sports Illustrated had a great feature piece on him in the late 90s. He died of an apparent heroin overdose in the 60s but even that’s shrouded in controversy – Big Daddy HATED needles.

I actually tried to do my own feature article on him a couple years back. But it’s really hard to find teammates who played with him and the guys I did talk to didn’t have a lot of stories. A story worth reading about though if you’re into Steelers’ history. Not a lot of buffs who care about what happened before Chuck Noll but I’m definitely one of them.

And thank you for the podcast wishes. David Todd was a great asset for the show. Big shoes for me to fill, that’s for sure.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!!!
Has anything stood out for you regarding Jaylen Samuels? Does it seem like he’s got enough to be a compliment to Conner?
And do you think the coaches will start splitting carries in order to not over run Conner?

Alex: His pass protection has been impressive, relatively speaking. Did a breakdown on that earlier in the week. For a rookie back, who did virtually none of it his junior/senior seasons because he was a big part of the passing game, I like where he’s at. Like his technique, his IQ, his willingness.

Compliment him? Split carries? That’s too strong for me. Conner is still clearly the guy. He’s going to play 80-85% of the time. There are times to be smart with him because he’s never had this kind of workload over this long period of time but there’s a big dropoff from him to Samuels and Ridley. So you’re going to ride the best guy, no question about it. Combined, Samuels and Ridley may see 5-8 snaps per game. The Steelers also have, and can, use 4 WR sets to spell Conner, functionally replacing him with Switzer, who can run the RB route tree too.

TheOnlyRealLandryJonesFan: 

Hey Alex.

It might be a little early to ask this but have you had a look at the 2019 free agents who might be candidates for the Steelers now that they have 14,5m extra cap space? From what i’ve seen there are not a lot of good corners to be found but what do you think? (I really like some of the LBs though) Thanks in advance!

ALex: I haven’t looked at all to be completely honest. Just not anywhere close on my radar right now. But we’ll definitely check that out when the season is over and when we move close to free agency. Just not something worth looking at today. Focus is on the season and Jacksonville.

FATCAT716: Alex- Tuitt seem like just started getting back play good ball again and now he has an elbow very similar to last year how do you think it will affect him going forward

Alex: I dunno, I guess we’ll see. He finished out the Panthers game so that’s a good sign. His injury last year was a torn bicep, not a hyperextended elbow, so it’s a less serious injury. But we’ll get our answer when he plays. I’d like to think it won’t bother him too much. His range of motion won’t be as hindered as the bicep injury was.

falconsaftey43: What do you think the offensive game plan vs JAX will be and should be? Last year both games they came out throwing it around. Worked pretty well the second time, not so much the first.

Alex: I’m not watching the Jaguars’ defense until this evening so my answer is going to be incomplete. But it’s similar to the approach from last year. There aren’t a whole lot of changes to that Jags’ defense. Top talent is still there.

With the run game, the big issue the Steelers had last year was trying to get the ball on the perimeter. That’s not going to work against a fast flow defense with LBs like Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. Gotta keep it between the tackles with a power/gap/man blocking scheme. They should have success doing that.

When throwing, just have route combinations that put defenders in conflict. It’s hard to run all verts or have all the routes spread out and independent of each other. I know that Jags’ defense isn’t playing at the level of last year but there’s still a ton of talent in that secondary. They can blanket you one v one. Randy Fichtner has done a nice job of that this season.

Grant Humphrey: 

Hey Alex,
Give me one player that really needs to step up in the 2nd half of the season, and why you chose that player.

Thanks again, Alex!

Alex: Well, the Steelers are on a five game win streak so it’s a small pool of players really struggling. James Washington is an easy answer. Would truly complete this offense and you always want to see return on investment as soon as possible for first and second round picks. Doesn’t need to catch five passes a game. But a key third down, a big play over the top, I’m a happy camper.

CountryClub: Hopefully, you’re picking against the Steelers this week? (i kid, I kid).

Alex: Haha, history says that’s a good thing.

Greg Payne: What would you most attribute to our increased red zone production this year? A. talent got better B. Coaching got better C. Everybody on the Steelers got better or D. Well, here’s something else to think about…

Alex: Can I take all of the above? Execution is still everything. But Fichtner has probably done a better job of using the field horizontally, scheming guys open more than Haley did.

Like I wrote yesterday, the run game has been more effective and Roethlisberger hasn’t been sacked in the red zone. Those are pretty solid indicators of red zone success.

And while I don’t want to take anything away from this offense, because scoring in the red zone is hard and I don’t care who you face, they haven’t had the most difficult schedule. Went 4/4 against Carolina, who came into that game with the 31st ranked red zone defense.

They’ve faced five of the seven worst red zone defenses this year (CIN, KC, ATL, CAR, TB). Granted, the Steelers have helped make those numbers look worse, but they aren’t playing the 2000 Ravens over here.

The Tony: 

Alex,

Congrats on getting called up to the big leagues. Are you still going to be doing your initial analysis? I look forward to those every week!

Alex: Yup, I plan to. As long as you guys want to listen to it, I won’t change that.

stan: Do you think the Steelers’ free agency decisions will depend on ensuring they get the third round pick for Bell’s loss? They have a ton of salary cap space so it’ll surely be tempting to use it on outside free agents rather than internal extensions.

Alex: Nah. They’re not going to avoid signing a guy just to try to keep a comp pick in a formula that’s impossible to figure out anyway. The moves will be based off how this team can win and how it can win now, without totally sacrificing the future. Always has, always will be.

St. BlackenGold: Alex: Tough question to answer. How can a LB, S or even a CB improve in coverage? Is it instinct, repetition, can you even improve on it? Maybe I should ask, “what do you think is required to be a good coverage player?”

Alex: Yeah, that’s a doozy of a question my man. It’s a lot of what you said. Getting reps, especially if you’re a young, raw player. You gotta take your lumps, make mistakes, learn from them.

But so much of it is technique. Look at Artie Burns. He’s made plays before. The physical talent is totally there. It’s a technique/confidence issue. Everyone in this league has talent. You’re in the NFL, you’re in the 1%. Put Artie Burns in any other football environment and he’ll look like a shutdown corner. So what separates each player at that point is the technique. The football IQ. Who can process information while still playing to their elite physical capabilities. That’s what matters.

I don’t think there’s ever been a Hall of Fame player who has lacked incredible technique. But there sure a lot of busts who had all the talent in the world but no tools in the toolbox to match it.


That’s all for this week’s chat. Appreciate you all stopping by to ask a question.

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