Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. As always, we’re sticking around for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind. Lay it on us.

To your questions!

Matt Manzo: 

Hey Alex! Happy Mailbag! I’ve been waiting all week for this one!

During coaches film session this week, what is Tomlin saying to Butler?!
What you think he’ll say and what would you say?

Alex: Oh to be a fly on the wall…

I really don’t know. He can’t be happy with what he got. Someone mentioned in my article yesterday that Tomlin’s weird injury excuse may have been trying to provide some cover to Butler. That’s possible.

But I really don’t think there’s a lot that has to be said. If Butler can’t recognize the problems and is unable to adjust, that’s as damning as everything.

Alex Kuhn: Best guess as the split between Samuels and Ridley? It just seems the coaches have lost trust in Ridley since that fumble.

Alex: Samuels 70% of the snaps, Ridley 30%. Samuels will start. Ridley gets every other series but Samuels enters for passing downs/situations. My made up projected stat line.

Samuels: 11 carries, 45 yards. 5 receptions 31 yards, 1 TD.

Ridley: 6 carries, 33 yards. 1 reception, 3 yards.

Brian Tollini: In my mind, Keith Butler needs the chance to finish out the year (we all know he isn’t going anywhere midseason anyway) to see if he can turn things around, Next year however, I am all for moving on from him if things don’t improve. If you agree, who are the names you feel could be in the mix to replace him?

Alex: Sure, I’m with you. I’m not expecting Butler to be fired now nor am I calling for it to happen today. I’ll figure out where I’m at – though you guys probably know which way I’m leaning – after the season when all is said and done. Who knows, maybe this team really turns it around. Maybe not but they could go all Colts on their Super Bowl run and do a 180 for the playoffs.

I haven’t thought about any names yet. Too much to focus on week to week. All stuff I can worry about when the season ends.

Elyas Correa Nogueira: Hey, Alex. If you had to point the coaches who NEED to be replaced this coming offseason, who would you choose? Personally, I would go with Butler and Porter but that’s me.

And btw, what do you make of Marcus Allen’s first game? I don’t remember hearing his name so that’s a good thing, right?

Alex: Positional coaches/assistants are always hard to determine if they should stay or go. So much of their work can’t be easily seen on tape. Are the problems talent or coaching related? That can be tough to figure out.

With Butler, like I said, I’ll wait for the end of the season to make a final determination. But you guys know how I feel about him right now.

Allen seemed ok. Wasn’t involved a lot but a willing tackle, sticking his nose in against the run. Only nine special teams snaps though. I was a little surprised by that. Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds played more than that.

Side note: another thing I don’t really like. Edmunds and Davis are on the starting punt coverage team. Steelers gotta be the only team in football to play both their starting safeties on there. They gotta sprint downfield and then go play defense. And Pittsburgh has the league’s worst punt return average so it’s not like they’re shutting teams down by having those two out there. I’d replace Edmunds, at least. Watt started on that unit last year too before they smartly took him off.

GrumpyHighlander: I have a two questions related to next season:
1. Do you think Dupree has played well enough to earn a new contract? I think they’ll either give him a new contract or cut him. I don’t think they’ll let him ride on the option. I’m torn. Your opinion on him?
2. We’ll most likely lose Foster next season. What are your opinions on Gilbert? He’s great when he plays but he’s barely playing. I’m not an OL expert. Could they go another way and cut him? I don’t like the idea of having to replace to players on the OL myself.


1. I would not keep Dupree on his 5th year option. Far too high of a price tag. He’s improved, he’s a tough guy, but I can definitely get his production for half that cost.

Would I have interest in bringing Dupree back? Yeah, I would. That means releasing him first but I would do something like: either a 1 year, $4 million deal or 2 years at $10 million with a couple million (2-3) signing bonus. And basically say that we’re looking to add a pass rusher so there’s no guarantee you’ll start. But if it doesn’t happen, you’ll be back in the mix, sorta what happened to Jon Bostic this year.

And if they want to move on for good, that’s fine too. I’m not going to be heartbroken over it. But you’re right. Definitely shouldn’t play on the option.

2. I don’t want to be so quick on Foster leaving. I know what he said about wanting to get paid but who knows what’ll happen. Could be some posturing and it all depends on the market he gets. Gilbert could go either way. Let’s see if he’s able to come back at all and how he looks. But again, if they do move on, I’ll understand it. Great player but when you’re missing half your games, that’s tough to justify. Ditto with Burnett, who I will say with more confidence. They should cut him in the offseason.

58Steel: With a dozen games in the books, how would you compare Fichtner’s offense to Haley’s? Basically the same with some minor tweaks or has Randy introduced some completely new concepts? What about in the red zone specifically?

ALex: Yeah, it’s basically what you said. Not drastically different. Some more picks and rubs I think, better route distribution of getting guys open. It’s hard to point to why the red zone offense has been so much better. Execution plays a huge part, for sure. A lack of sacks down there has helped. Of the 21 QBs with 45+ red zone pass attempts (Ben has 58), Roethlisberger is the only QB not to be sacked. So staying out of those obvious negative situations sure helps.

I’ll have to do a deep dive in the offseason to maybe find some of those differences and write a big article on it.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex! I think that the O-Line comes in with a chip on their shoulders about the run game this week without Conner. Who are you more confident in going into the game? 1. Stevan Ridley and Jaylen Samuels vs. the Raiders this week or 2. Todman and Toussaint in the playoffs a few years ago? Thanks!

Alex: I guess it’s easier to say with the benefit of hindsight, remember that Toussaint actually put together a couple good games in the playoff (before his infamous fumble) but Ridley and Samuels. Samuels offers more in the passing game than Todman/Toussaint did and I like Ridley as a downhill runner. He has a definite run style and I thought he’s gotten a bit of a raw deal not playing since his fumble. Like you said, the line is going to have to open up some holes for them though.

CP72: Alex,
I’ve been a card carrying LJ Fort fan for some time now. When playing these high flying offenses wouldn’t it mak sense to have him play in base? Vince and LJ seems like a nice combo to me. Might up the splash play potential.

Alex: Yup, I’m right there with you CP. Just tweeted about that this morning, funny enough.

He did play three snaps in the base defense last week though it was hilarious to see the split. He was in the play before that 3rd down conversion to Allen, taken out on that play, then put back in for the next two snaps before the Chargers set up a field goal.

Fort should be the full-time guy. Bench Bostic. He hasn’t been terrible and he plays the run well but there’s not a huge dropoff from him to Fort. In terms of coverage, there is a huge dropoff.

The more interesting question – to me, at least – is what do you do next year. Do you consider Fort to be one of your guys? Where does that leave Vince? But if I’m Pittsburgh, I’m still aggressively looking for a long-term solution at ILB, a 1st round pick potentially, just as they wanted to do this past year.

St. BlackenGold: Alex: Speaking of inside linebackers. It’s Spring 2019, what would you do at that position next year?

Alex: Like I said at the end of my previous answer, the same approach as you had in spring of ’18. Looking to update with a high draft pick and with more FA money this year, maybe you look there too. If Baltimore somehow lets C.J. Mosley go…but more realistically, a guy like Denzel Perryman could be in the mix.

Stephen: Hey Alex, what is the estimate of week(s) that Connor is going to miss. Thanks.

Alex: To be clear, there is no official timetable. So I don’t know. But he’s obviously out this weekend and I don’t expect him to play against the Patriots. If Tomlin rules you out on a Tuesday, you’re unlikely to play the following week. So Week 16 against the Saints might be the return date and even then, it could linger into another week. Ankle sprains are tricky.

Generic Steeler Fan: If you could ask Tomlin, Butler, and Fichtner, one question and they have to answer honestly, what would it be?

Alex: “Why do you continue to hurt me?”

piftfan: Alex, 1.
in the podcast prior to the Bolts game you spoke highly of the rookie safety and he rocked it, making you look like a genuis. Look ahead to the raiders and tell us who, if anyone we should look to make an impact. Their TE is VERY good.
2. Would you be surprised AT ALL if the bolts went all the way?? I wouldn’t be.
THX, great work on breaking out the problems you have with how the dime is being used.

Alex: Thanks. Though to be honest, it’s pretty easy to see how special Derwin James is. I promise if you were taking a long look at that defense prior to the game, you would’ve walked away with the same conclusion.

I haven’t gotten to the Raiders defense yet, that’s for today/tonight, so I’ve only watched their offense. You’re right, Cook is a beast and their top receiver since trading Amari Cooper. Another name I’ll mention though – WR Marcell Ateman. Big bodied rookie out of Oklahoma State. They’ll line him up as the iso “X” receiver and throw a ton of backshoulder fades to him. Get him on Coty Sensabaugh…he’ll have his hands full because his ball skills are very poor. So that’s a name to watch.

Would I be surprised if they went all the way? I wouldn’t. Not many obvious weaknesses on this team. OL is a little weak, run defense isn’t great, but things you can survive. Chargers are a great team.

That’ll be it for this week. Appreciate you all stopping by.

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