Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly Thursday mailbag. We’re here for the next hour to talk about whatever is on your mind. Just let us know in the comment section below. Wishing Steelers Nation a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

To your questions!

Jester Master Fred Biletnikoff: Alex do you think the Steeler should use the five wide approach like they did last week or come out more traditional

Alex: I’m happy with the idea of using some five wide. Obviously, that won’t be the entire offense, just like last week. But spread defenses out, force linebackers to cover WRs, defend the entire width of the field. You saw the matchup wins it created last week. No good reason to completely go away from it.

I will say the one concern is communication. It’s easier to do some of that stuff at home than on the road, especially in a dome. Getting guys lined up, any audibles or checks, Roethlisberger stressed how important it is for everyone be on the same page in these situations. So you may see a little less of it this week and the personnel a little more “scripted.” Two or three designed plays out of that grouping so going into the game, everyone knows what they’re doing.

WeWantDaTruth: For the few teams that have had success this year against the Saints, did they do anything “special”? What were their keys to victory? The Browns played them tough in week 2 in the dome.

Alex: I don’t think there’s any big secret. I still have to watch New Orleans’ defense tonight but it’s pretty much the same script for any team teeming with talent. Win situational football, the turnover battle, play penalty and mistake free. New Orleans is 40% in the red zone the last three games. That’s why they aren’t scoring points.

In that Cleveland game, the Browns were +1 in turnovers, committed only four penalties, and held the Saints to 25% on third down. When Dallas beat them, they held the Saints to 3/11 on third down and possessed the ball for nearly 37 minutes.

Especially now they are back home. Know that offense has struggled the last three weeks but they were all road games. At home, they’re averaging 38 points per game. So I expect these guys to bounce back finally playing in their environment for the first time in literally a month.

Ilamarca: Should the Ravens/Chargers game be looked at as the Steelers ticket into the postseason? If Ravens win it becomes very murky unless you see the Steelers upsetting the Saints at home.

Alex: Nah, the focus should be on the Steelers game. They’re still in control of things. Even being dogs this week, it’s harder to be pessimistic seeing what happened against the Patriots. Have some faith!

Ichabod: Any thoughts on why they run Switzer out of the backfield?
Any thoughts on why Vanimal gets so few targets?
Will Bud’s bone bruise affect his being run up the arc?


1. It’s a nice little change up. Different blend of runner in the backfield. James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley, bigger and/or downhill guys. Now you bring in Switzer with more speed and lateral mobility. Plus, he’s a threat out of the backfield. Now, a linebacker has to run with him. Make that defense a little uncomfortable.

2. I hear you on Vance. The problem is the target share of Brown and JuJu. They’re going to almost always be the #1 progression on a given play. They have 48.8% of the Steelers targets this season. So off the top, the rest of the team is getting targeted every other passing play. That alone makes it tough. And McDonald isn’t an every snap kind of guy either. He’s played only half the snaps this season.

So now he has 50% of the snaps in an offense where he could be targeted 50% of the time (at best). From there, it’s math.

I am happy to see he’s been used more in the red zone the latter half of the season. That’s been important. From Week 2 to Week 9, he was targeted just twice inside the 20. From Week 10 to Week 15, he’s been targeted six times with three touchdowns and four first downs.

Jesse Hernandez: Hey Alex do you think personally think Tj Watt should have made pro bowl?

Alex: Nah. Having a strong season but I’m not putting him in over Miller, Ford, or Clowney. I don’t consider Watt to be in that tier of pass rushers. Yet. The only guy I would’ve put in who didn’t get in was JuJu.

ImMikeD: Hey Alex. What defensive adjustments did you see against the Patriots that you feel may carry over and work well against the Saints? Obviously, Artie Burns isn’t one of them.

Alex: Just being able to vary coverages. Have the “volume” of schemes to choose from, as Mike Tomlin talked about leading up to the week. Like Brady, you can’t give Brees the same or predictable looks all game or he’ll pick you apart. Dude’s too good. So that’s the big thing. I’m expecting Vince Williams to be the every down guy again, like he was Sunday.

And yes, no Artie Burns. Please keep running to the sideline.

srdan: What is the drawback of doing the disguising of the defense like they did last week? I wonder why they don’t do it more.

Alex: Guys not getting to their landmark in time. Forcing them to move to their spot and read/process the play. Maybe a guy is looking back or has his eyes to the receiver to read his release and misses his run/pass keys. Maybe the rotation is too late and you get guys running into each other (Burnett did on Sutton last week). And you’re putting trust in some of the young guys, like Edmunds, to execute properly. That’s why you’ve seen it slowly come along as this group has gotten more reps and rookies like Edmunds have snaps under his belt (he has the 6th most total snaps of any player this year, not just rookies).

Grant Humphrey: Hey Alex,
What were your thoughts on L.J Fort only seeing 3 snaps if my memory serves me correctly on Sunday? Is that something that will continue going forward?

Alex: Two reasons.

1. They wanted Vince Williams to be the three-down guy. They liked his communication skills to handle all the different stuff they needed to do to beat the Patriots. And I don’t blame them for that. So he played every snap, minus the three he missed after getting a stinger (that’s when Fort came in).

2. They didn’t play nickel. Not once Sunday. They were either in their base 3-4, where they like Bostic as a run defender, or dime, where only one ILB is on the field. So there just wasn’t a spot for Fort.

I’m not sure if they will be in just base and dime this week but I expect Williams to be the every down guy. So look for Fort to play only in nickel and get just 10-20 snaps.

Bob Francis: 

Hey, Alex! I’ll pose the same questions I did in my email to you guys earlier this week.

What’s your assessment of the defense two-thirds of the way through the critical 3-game gauntlet of LA-NE-NO? They had a good half against the Chargers and a good game (minus one play) against NE.

Also, what’s your take on Bud Dupree’s play? PFF has just been ripping him. He did not register a stat on Sunday, and PFF has him for only 38 pressures this season, 10 of which were unblocked. Would the team be better served with Ola in there? Should they pick up the fifth year option?

Alex: I’ll let you know after this one, ha. We’ve seen one good, one bad, so let’s see what happens in New Orleans. But it’s obvious the difference coaching makes. Put players in position to win, you get the Patriots game. Don’t? You blow the lead and the win versus the Chargers. You’re really seeing the impact of coaching, good and bad, to finish out the year. And that’s kinda cool to get to pin down because we don’t always get that look so quickly.

Dupree has been…just ok. Not as good as some of the sacks and pressure numbers might initially indicate. The option has been picked up but I wouldn’t keep him on that number. I would cut him and maybe bring him back on a one year, $5 million deal or 2/10.

Should Ola play? Right now, probably not. Look for Adeniyi to make a push for regular playing time, hopefully can be the #3, in 2019.


Hi Alex,

Continuing the Joe Haden talk this week. Do you think he receives an extension in the off season? I think he deserves it.

Alex: Probably not. You’re extending him into his age 30-31 years and it’s probably not going to be cheap. Dude’s making $10 million next year. You can’t offer him just five or six million long-term. He’s not going to accept that. Unless you can pull off a one year deal without much guaranteed, make it a “prove it” situation, which I don’t think is likely, it’s going to be tough to do.

So not only does this team have to find a starter at RCB next year, that’s a given, they need to be forward thinking and get ready for a Haden replacement. Because that could happen in 2020. Maybe they draft two CBs this year?

St. BlackenGold: Hi Alex! Could I ask you to briefly evaluate two players? Matt Feiler and Terrell Edmunds. Talented Enough/Upside/Starters Going into 2019? Thanks!

Alex: Feiler has played well for a dude who hadn’t played RT since his days at Bloomsburg against West Chester. Had a brief down stretch where I think pass rushers started to get some tape on him and figure out how to attack him. But he’s bounced back. Crazy strong, his teammates call him the strongest OL on the team. Great punch, desire to finish. But he has good hand use and a solid base.

I’m not sure he’s a long-term answer at right tackle, feels kinda borderline, but he’ll continue to improve the more reps he gets too.

Edmunds was obviously in a tough spot this year. Like I said above, he’s playing the 6th most total snaps of anyone in football this year. Not just rookies, not just DBs. He’s doing his full compliment of STs snaps while being the every-down guy. Lot on his plate. His progression has been slow but it’s getting there. Playing faster, more confident in his reads, and it’s let him be a more physical presence.

Of course, you need to see more splash from him. He and Davis have combined for one turnover this year. I have the stat and I’ll post it if it remains true but that is a bad number for a safety combination.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex, did you see enough of Marcus Allen in the preseason and the Charger’s game to think that he can overtake the dime backer role that Morgan Burnett has held down this year when healthy? Not for the playoffs, but maybe for next year? Thanks!

Alex: Eh, probably haven’t seen enough. You kinda throw preseason out the window at this point so we’re going off 17 defensive snaps. I think it’s possible, he’ll be in the mix, but I’m not ready to anoint him yet. Let’s see what jump he makes from Year One to Year Two.


I’ve seen a few mentions of Samuels being on par with Conner based on last week’s performance. However, I’m not so sure. I still think he’s more of a quality third down back than an every down guy. What do you think?

Also, who do you think loses their helmet when Conner comes back? Ridley or Trey Edmonds?

Alex: Yikes. I’m glad I haven’t seen those comparisons yet. Definitely not true. Samuels played a great game. But it was just one game. And his pass protection was bad.

Edmunds will get the ax. They’ll hang onto Ridley.

Brian Tollini: How freaking good is Patrick Mahomes? Not really a question I guess, but I had to comment. Some of throws he has made this year are ridiculous.

Alex: So freaking good.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by everyone!

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