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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Happy Thursday and welcome back to the mailbag. Hopefully not the last one during the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 season but obviously, that is looking likely right now. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and will have a happy (and safe) New Year.

We’ll be here for the next hour to discuss whatever is on your mind. To your questions!

Spencer Krick: 

On a scale of 1-10, how hard will you be rooting for the Browns this Sunday?

More importantly, what are the odds the Browns pull it off?

Alex: Oh a ten for sure. How could the number be any lower? The Steelers playoff lives literally depend on them.

I give Cleveland a 30% chance to pull it off. That may seem a little low and yes, they already beat the Ravens and that was with Hue/Haley/Hyde running things. But Cleveland is still learning how to win, especially on the road. Just one road win this entire season, only two since 2015. Going into Baltimore’s den sure won’t be easy. So 30% is fair.

Dan: 

Just how bad do we suck?

Ok, serious question: what are the odds of Ramon Foster being retained?

Alex: Ha, more than this team should. That’s for sure.

I think Foster will be back. Like Dave and I talked about on yesterday’s podcast, he doesn’t want to go anywhere. His life is rooted in Pittsburgh. No player wants to pack up and leave, knowing he doesn’t have that long of a career left. Three years is probably the max. So unless he’s getting a chance to go back home near Tennessee, the transition is going to suck.

He’s played so well this year. I bet the team assumed, and it was fair, that he would start to look his age. Those minor injuries in his past would become bigger issues. But none of that has happened. He’s looked as good as ever and stayed 100% healthy, minus that training camp scare that didn’t cost him a regular season snap.

If his price tag is through the roof, then yeah I get it, you gotta let him walk. But would I pay a 2 year, $10 million type deal? In a heartbeat.

Sven_Hunkstrom: How long until we see some team, probably in a preseason game, try playing the odds by going for most/all fourth downs?

Alex: I’ve thought about that a lot. Maybe some interim coach who is just doing the football version of shooting his shot. On some bad Lions (it’s always the Lions) team that’s 1-10 and finally makes a change. The roster sucks, the coaches know the front office is going to clean house, so he just goes for it in a blaze of glory. It’ll at least get him remembered, not just an asterisk in a media guide no one will ever read.

We know that much of the NFL’s innovation comes from the high school/college levels. And there is at least one high school coach who has that philosophy. Here’s a short article and video on Kevin Kelley, whose teams have actually been really successful. Went 12-2 this year and according to MaxPreps, the #7 team in Arkansas.

I hope we see it someday. Just to see what happens and how/if it changes the game. We already know coaches are far too conservative as it is.

George Hareras: 

Hey Alex!
Both seem a little underwhelming to me, but who do you prefer as a starter, Bostic or Fort?

Also, who I know it’s way too early, but is there any potential free agent name out there that would be number one on your hypothetical wish list?

Bonus question: do you ever get tired of hearing Dave speculate about other mens’ groins?

Alex: Both are but the answer is Fort easily. You can kind of get away with being a below average run defender. You can’t get away with being below average against the pass. That’s what Bostic is and the reason why the Steelers only trust him to play in their base defense. And I mean that almost literally. Nearly has as many sub-package snaps from the first four weeks as he has the rest of the season. He’s been removed from nickel for awhile now.

But the team is clearly looking for a more solid solution. So there’s less rotation. They’re going to pursue the position aggressively again and if there is someone worth taking in the first round, they’ll pull the trigger. Just as they would’ve done with Rashaan Evans.

I haven’t looked up a free agency list yet. Sorry. It’ll come not too long after the season ends.

Ha, the groin speculation is my favorite part.

Dshoff: Alex, what are the odds of cutting Dupree and signing him at a lower price? How much will some other team be willing to pay him??

Alex: I can’t see there being any scenario where they keep Dupree on his 5th year option worth $9 million. No way, no how. It would be one of the dumbest decisions of the entire Kevin Colbert era. Dupree has improved this year, and I would be interested in bringing him back, but not for that price on just one year.

One question is if Dupree would want to come back if that scenario plays out. Because he knows that means the team will at least look to upgrade. And it is sort of low-balling him, the “I like you as a friend” price. We like you…but not that much. Tough for a player to feel like someone is pulling the rug out from underneath him.

What will he get on the open market? I’m not sure. I think $4-5 million per season seems reasonable, just looking at the contract big-picture.

The Tony: Alex, Does it seem like the Steelers were more aggressive last season in going for two? I would have thought with Boswell’s struggles the Steelers would opt for going for two more often.

Alex: Yes and no. Technically, the Steelers are at a higher rate this year, according to the great resource that is Team Rankings. .3 per game this year, .2 last year, though in 2016, they did it .5 times per game. But I didn’t get into how much of that was because of game circumstance (you need to go for two) and how much of it was elective. They do feel less aggressive this year than in the past.

But that’s the whole Tomlin “gut” thing. Sometimes he’ll turn up the heat. Sometimes he won’t. It’s not based on real analytics but just his gut. Whatever he’s feeling that week. That’s why it can be unpredictable.

Efren Rodriguez Mora: 

Hi Alex regards from Mexico!

What pisses you off the most?

a) The late INT against denver in the redzone
b) The Tomlin´s decision on Ben to get him back on the field too late
c) The awful gamplan on Kenan Allen
d) The 3&20 last sunday

Alex: Is it wrong to just say yes to all of it?

Make me choose though, it’s gotta be C. The INT was a fluky, bad luck (ish) situation. Bad snap, great play by the NT, ugly play but those ugly plays happen over the course of the year. The Tomlin decision was bad but I guess a little more digestable once I thought it through more. Still the wrong decision but I got it. The 3rd and 20 was frustrating as all heck but a great playcall from the Saints. Of things I’m mad at about this defense, it’s lower on the list.

But the Allen gameplan? Totally controllable. That’s game-planning, preparation stuff. Not things that happen in the middle of a play, in the middle of a game. That’s clearly coaching. And then to follow it up with the hacky excuses about injuries and how they ran out of smoke. Just stuff this team doesn’t do. They don’t excuse it. It was awful. And you see teams still getting those matchups and winning in that way. Compounds the anger even more. So by far, that. I’m still pissed about it.

BurghBoy412: On the podcast you said you believe Ramon has 2-3 good years left in him. I agree with you. He’s 32 years old now and I’m hoping that he is brought back. At his age how large of a market do you think he will have?

Alex: Maybe a little less robust than he thinks. Because of his age, his size, and just not being a guy who gets mentioned a lot. Obviously, coaches know him better than just the national media but still, they will view him as a 32 year old and “product” of Munchak’s scheme (which isn’t really true). His size also limits some of the schemes you will play him in. Not everyone is looking for a 340 pounder.

I think he can get between 4-5 million though on a two year deal.

Rob: 

I think the defense this year, was really just about 1 more playmaker away (like Shazier) from being a consistently tough defense. Add in some more consistent game planning (like in the Patriots game), and it could have been more of an asset this year that could win games.

What’s your take?

Alex: A pretty fair assessment. Obviously, we can talk about the specifics, players, moments, personnel groupings, all that fun stuff. But if they have a playmaker, they’re probably getting one more win out of it. And the Steelers would be in the driver’s seat and all would be (relatively) well. So short answer, yes.

But we know coaching has been quite an issue too. And one player wouldn’t absolve all the many problems this defense has.


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

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