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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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

To your questions!

(Ed Note: Disqus might be having some technical difficulties right now. If you can’t comment, you can tweet me questions @Alex_Kozora).

AB: 

Hey Alex,

Serious question. Do we want this team to have a first round playoff bye? They always seem slow after a bye. I like the way they play when they’re fighting continuously. I know rest is good, but history shows otherwise.

What do you think?

Alex: I know what you’re saying but you always take the bye. It’s so hard to win in this league. The fewer games you have, the better. This team has been too up and down for me to want to trust them playing more games. You always aim for the bye, the rest, letting guys rest up and others get healthy.

Plus, that means you had a really good end to the season. If you get a first round bye, it almost guarantees you beat New England and probably New Orleans too. Which makes you feel a lot better about this team if they can pull off those W’s. So give me the bye always, but especially with the rest of the schedule and the way it looks. You’re not getting the bye by steamrolling through the Jets and Cardinals.

Brian Tollini: Are there any defenses in the NFL today that you consider to be legitimately good?

Alex: Sure. Harder to find and don’t expect to see the 2000 Ravens anytime soon, but there are defenses with tons of talent. Baltimore is still very good though it shocks me how little they turn the football over. Minnesota is excellent. Their ability to win in the red zone and on third down is unparalleled, at least to the degree that they do it.

I’m probably not the best person to answer because I don’t study teams as in-depth as I do the Steelers but yeah, still a couple of them out there.

CP72: Alex,
You and I are confessed admirers of John Mitchell. Was wondering your thoughts on how Javon Hargrave and even to some extent McCullers have seemed to “break out” a bit under Karl Dunbar. Is there something schematically that’s different or just two run guys finally hitting their stride?

Alex: I’m not sure if Dunbar has a lot to do with Hargrave. I’m not seeing anything different in Hargrave’s game now from last year. His usage changed, getting more time in nickel, in part due to the Tuitt injury. If Dunbar has an influence there, then maybe that’d be the change, but I’m not so sure. The opportunity has just been the real change, not the coach.

McCullers is having his best year, though that is a low bar. The progress he has made I think is because of Dunbar’s approach. Mitchell was an elite coach. But he was a drill sergeant. McCullers is a teddy bear. So they didn’t mesh, Mitchell being notorious for really getting on rookies and young guys.

Dunbar has his demands and is unwavering in those but he brings a softer touch. His personality works better for McCullers and that’s why we’ve seen some improvement. We’ve seen McCullers show more fire, be a more physical player, even if he’s still a barely-rosterable player overall (and the Steelers, ostensibly, tried to replace him by claiming Jordan Phillips earlier in the year). So I can absolutely see the difference there.

DRED1224 (Steelers 12): Hey Alex with the AAFL inaugural season around the corner do you see it becoming a minor league officially for the NFL in the next 5 to 10 years?

Alex: It’d sure be nice. I was talking with a buddy last night about the difference between baseball and football. Why baseball players can get drafted out of high school and why that doesn’t work in the NFL. It all comes down to the feeder system. MLB has this labyrinth of a minor league system where you’re playing in like, Fort Wayne Indiana for two years with a bunch of kids your own age. NFL doesn’t have that. A kid out of high school is going up against JJ Watt and would die on the field. Just not going to work.

So maybe some sort of feeder system, or at least a league for fringe players to go to if they don’t make a team, there’s over 800 players who don’t make it after cutdowns, would work. But I’m not getting my hopes up. We’ve seen so many leagues before with the same idea that collapse within years. Even the AFL is barely staying afloat. Just found this article researching it but apparently this year, the AFL champ (there’s only four teams left) went 2-10, lost a playoff game, and still won it all…somehow.

We’ve seen the XFL (and its return, XFL 2: Electric Boogaloo), the UFL, the old USFL. Remember the UFL? Ex-Steelers QB Shane Boyd scored its first ever TD. That feels like 50 years ago but it happened in 2009.

I think the AAFL has a good plan, I watched the whole draft, with a ton of great talent in coaches and evaluators. Phil Savage left a great job at the Senior Bowl to go be a GM. But it all comes down to funding and viewership/sponsorship. And we’ve seen this song and dance before.

stan: Given the choice of Watt, JuJu, Conner, Davis, Hargrave and Burns (hee hee), who do you think should be the team’s priority for an extension this offseason?

Alex: I think the priority should be Ramon Foster. The guys who could be somewhere else in 2019. But I know what you mean. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s easy to answer those questions by ranking them in terms of who is the best/most valuable players but there are so many financial variables that go over my head. What is the player asking for? Are they high balling you because they know their eventual worth or will they settle to get out of their bad rookie contract? How are you, as a team, allocating your salary cap to each position and how does a new deal change that, short and long-term (and how does that effect the other positions)? Where do you see the market for “X” position going in 2-3 years? And ten other factors I’m too much of a noob to even realize.

So yeah, you’d love to get JuJu and/or Watt done. You can make cases for most of those guys, except for probably not doing anything with Davis yet and definitely, obviously, nothing with Burns. You guys focus on that stuff a lot, and that’s 100% cool, but I spend literally zero seconds of my time thinking about those kinds of things. Especially now, smack dab in the middle of the season. So I don’t have a very helpful answer other than if they get something done, terrific. If not, I’m fine too. I look at pending FAs much more than guys in those situations.

Efren Rodriguez Mora: 

Hi Alex, Regards from mexico!

What was the real issue with Haden covering Sanders??
Why he is so good traveled with the Julio Jones, AJ Greens etc, but struggles with shortest guys?

Do you like the match between him and Allen this week?

Alex: Hi Efren! Hope all is well.

That’s a very good question. I don’t know. Sanders is fast and Haden doesn’t have the speed he probably used to but yeah…that was his worst game as a Steeler. Burnt what, two or three times by him? I wish I knew. Wasn’t a double-move, didn’t look like Haden slipped and fell. Maybe the Denver air got to him? He played in Denver only one other time in his career and that was six years ago. Could that have played a factor?

Allen isn’t a speed guy so yeah, maybe that’ll help. But Allen is one of the league’s most technical and polished route runner, right up there with AB and Adam Thielen. So Haden is going to have to show his quickness and change of direction ability. Being a vet and knowing all the tricks will help. I think he’ll bounce back.

nick harris: 

Hey Alex,

So if Harbaugh is canned from the ravens, where do you see him going?. Say he ends up with the jets, Do you think he can make them a contender again?. I think it’d be nice to have someone in that division that can stick it to the pats.

Alex: He’ll have plenty of suitors, I imagine. Denver has been connected with him if they can Vance Joseph. Really, any HC vacancy that opens up after Black Monday will probably have Harbaugh’s name thrown in there. And probably some college jobs, too.

I think he’ll make most teams better. He’s a good coach. But he also benefited from a great GM in Ozzie Newsome who helped develop talent. They built through the draft, not as much in FA (a little more the last couple years, Crabtree and Weddle, etc). So that’ll be a component too. Short answer, yes, if the Jets hired Harbaugh, they’ll be better.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, would you consider waiving Artie Burns to make room on the roster for Eli Rogers or Ola Adeniyi?

Alex: No, I wouldn’t do that. Wouldn’t throw in the towel yet. He’s been a mess, I know, but he’s cheap and has talent. I’m at least bringing him to camp next year. Maybe something clicks. Probably not but who knows. There’s other options you can waive and who knows what the injury situation looks like in a week or two from now when those guys could be activated.

Reader783: 

Kind of piggy backing off of Marcel, let’s say that we ultimately do bring back Ola and Eli, who gets knocked off?

Justin Hunter and…? Brian Allen? Marcus Allen? I would have said Dangerfield a few weeks ago, but he’s actually been playing a lot. B Allen cleared waivers once if my memory serves me correctly, so he seems like the next man up for release, no? And then we’d cut that CB on the PS we signed from the Packers.

Maybe you don’t believe it’d be Justin Hunter either.

Alex: Good question. Allen could go back down. Or Marcus Allen, though I’d be more careful risking dumping a rookie like that. Teams out of the playoff race might be more inclined to put in a waiver as a trial run, work that into a futures deal. Maybe they dump Zach Banner. Dangerfield is 100% staying, I can tell you that for sure. Injuries can and will always change this dynamic so I generally just wait and see.

McBringleberry: Hey Alex – I heard your comment about AB seemingly not making people miss as much in the open field. I was thinking the exact same thing on these short and intermediate routes where in previous years he would make a cut or 2 and pick up 10 yards. But not this year. Are teams almost spying him and then corral him? Are defenses playing him differently this year?

Alex: I don’t think teams are really playing him differently. It’s not like 2018 is the year where DCs woke up and went, “Hey, this AB guy is actually pretty good!” They’ve been doing this for 4-5 years now. Even without a true #3, AB isn’t played differently. Defenses would much rather take their chances with Martavis Bryant than they would Brown.

But you’re right. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t have the data for his missed tackle %,but it doesn’t feel like he’s making guys miss in the open field quite as often. He still is capable of it, his TD vs Tampa comes to mind, but doesn’t feel as frequent. Going down easier than I feel like he has in the past.

Jeremy: Hey Alex. I missed this earlier, if you are keeping it open I will take advantage. I haven’t noticed DHB as much this year forcing fair catches and kicking a$$ as a gunner – or really anywhere on Teams. It is not like I look for it every time though, and it feels like we haven’t punted much at all this year. What have you seen?

Alex: He’s still looking like the same DHB to me. Great special teams player, forcing double-teams and fair catches. I don’t think he looks any different. Like beating a triple team vs Tampa Bay.


I think Disqus is back up and running. I’ll stick around for the rest of the day to answer questions. Also will rerun the Mailbag tomorrow at 2:30 PM/ET if you weren’t able to ask a question today.

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