Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag, the first of the regular season. Steelers traveling to New England this Sunday Night. We’ll have a scouting report on the Pats’ offense and defense tomorrow morning.

But for now, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever’s on your mind.

To your questions!

Spencer Krick: Is there any one player you can point to that you think will be key in winning on Sunday?

Alex: I’ll have my weekly “X Factor” article on Sunday that’ll flesh this out more but I gotta go with Keith Butler. I know not a “player” but you need to have a sound gameplan in order to beat Brady. Butler called his best game last year against the Patriots. Being able to disguise coverages, give different looks, force Brady to process and hold onto the ball, letting the pass rush get home. How does he attack this time? Can’t show the exact same looks again. How does he attack the hole in the middle New England has minus David Andrews? What new wrinkles does this defense have? They have to be evolving too. So that’s going to be key. Talent can beat a lot of teams. Not the Pats. They’ve had the worse team on the field many times and still won the game. Scheme is how you win it.

Bryant Eng: Can you think of any mid-season roster moves the Steelers have ever made of significance? I’m still not sold on the TE group, for example, but I can’t think of Colbert doing anything like that in the past.

Alex: It’s a pretty short list. I’m not sure who Colbert has traded for. There was Levi Brown, an era that lasted about eight seconds. He got hurt in warmups of his first game and quickly sent to IR. There were some forgettable additions. Ben Tate. Jacoby Jones.

Chris Boswell might be the best mid-season signing Colbert’s ever had, added after Josh Scobee imploded. But there aren’t many names to look back on. Pretty much rolling with what you have. Gentry will gain experience, obviously, and that’ll help. The options at TE were just really poor.

steeltown: Do you see Diontae Johnson seeing any snaps on Offense this weekend? If so, how many and in what formations or instance?

Alex: Maybe a couple just because he’s probably going to be active. Here’s how I see the seven inactive going.


If Davis can play, then that 7th spot gets a little trickier. Gilbert? Ola? Johnson? But I’m guessing Johnson will be “up” with only five receivers on the 53. But he’s not going to play a lot. He’s missed quite a bit of time. I could see him used in some 4 WR sets, Steelers are going to use them to some degree this year, but that’s about it. 5-7 snaps, at max.

ImMikeD: Hi Alex. With the perceived lack of TE depth, do you think we may see any/more 10 personnel this year and do you think they are equipped for it with only 5 WR?

Alex: Sure, I think you were going to see it regardless of what happened at TE. Although to be a bit picky, it’s more likely to be 01 personnel (1 TE, no RB) than 10 (1 RB, no TE). At least that’s what happened last year. But if Vance goes down then you’re right, the dynamic could shift. They may use 20 personnel and split Samuels out. Think one reason they kept 5 WRs was because Samuels can work as a quasi-receiver and get some matchups on LBs walked out in space. So there’s options and that’s a good thing.

Depth is good enough as long as health is fine and Johnson can slowly make progress. They had 6 WRs last year but DHB didn’t really count, he was a pure special teamer (and not very good there last season) so that left them with five legit receivers.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex. Why do you think the Steelets didn’t extend Hargrave? Too much $$ already tied up in the D line? Not enough snaps for him to justify such a big contract?

Alex: Lots of reasons. A lot of what you said. Money allocation for the defensive line would be very, very high for Heyward/Tuitt/Hargrave. You’re paying him more than Tuitt, perhaps about the same as Heyward, and Hargrave is going to be playing far less snaps. About 30-40% less assuming everyone stays healthy. So that’s tough to justify. So you can offer him less for the snap count he’ll play in Pittsburgh but he knows if he plays well this year, he’ll hit the market in 2020 and find a team that will play him at least two-thirds of the time and more importantly, pay him at that rate. So it’s just hard to reach that number where everyone wins. And that’s why he’s going to walk. And I don’t blame him for it.

israelp: Jeff Reed was a pretty good mid-season signing. Didn’t he kick six field goals in his first game?

Alex: Close. Mid-seasons signing, you’re correct there, but his 6/6 game came in his second one with the team. Played a week earlier against the Bengals and went 3/4 on his field goals, 2/3 on his extra points, in a 29-21 Steelers’ victory.

Matt Manzo: 

Hey Alex! Happy first week of the season!

Do you think they’re serious about getting Hargrave as many snaps as possible? Will we really see him rotating some with Tuitt and Heyward?

Alex: Same to you, Matt! Sure, they’re serious about. There will be a rotation. Hargrave is an excellent player and worthy of those snaps. You’re not worried about a drop off when you sub Heyward or Tuitt out in the game, the way you were when Le’Veon Bell played 90% of the snaps. That was high but he was so good, it basically wasn’t worth taking him off the field.

And you want Tuitt and Heyward to be fresh. Not only for end of game stuff but over the course of the season. This figures to be a close race the whole season and the AFC North will come down to the wire. And you obviously want to make a playoff push. You don’t want Tuitt and Heyward to be running on empty in those critical moments. So rotation is a good thing. But his snaps will still be capped because Tuitt and Heyward are the “guys” and the ones you’re paying big money to.

The Tony: Alex,
If Ola is active Sunday night, how many snaps do you think he will receive?

Alex: That’s a good question, Tony. Recovery seems to be going well and he’s healthy enough to play Sunday night. That’s a great sign. Thought he was going to miss Week One. But he has missed some time and Tomlin basically called him a rookie a few weeks ago. So that puts you behind. I still expect Chickillo to be the #3 OLB and top backup for Watt and Dupree and this team hasn’t done a lot of rotation behind that. So at best, Ola may sneak in about five snaps. Obviously, I’m all for him playing. Work on LT Isaiah Wynn, who missed his entire rookie year with an Achilles injury. We’ll see.

SteelersFan_: If AB never plays a snap in OAK, will this have been the best roster move Kev. Colbert has ever made? What are some other of his “greatest hits?” Seems that he’s recently been on fire getting rid of guys at just the right time

Alex: Nah, drafting Ben Roethlisberger is the best move Colbert and this front office has ever made.

It will probably be proven to be the right decision but it’s still one that made the team worse as an on-field product. So it’ll be hard to ever “love” the move, even if it’s one we can sit back and laugh at instead of having to deal with.

Vance Mac: Sounds like Snell came up lame in practice today. You give Skipper a helmet if he isn’t a go?

Alex: Well if he’s hurt, and we’ll see what the practice report says, they’re probably going to need to make a roster move. Can’t go into the game with 2 RBs unless you’re actually ok with Switzer being an emergency option. So Trey Edmunds may come up. So Snell inactive, Edmunds active. Skipper’s status unchanged.

srdan: How many catches will Samuels have this year? Tonight?

Alex: Obviously some of that is tied to Conner’s health. But it’s reasonable to assume that if Conner plays 14-15 games this season, Samuels can finish with 30-35 catches with the quick/screen game this team loves to run. That’s one reason why their pass attempts seem so high but much of it are just elongated runs. If Conner misses more time, then we should see it surpass 40-45.

For New England? Think you will see a lot of short stuff. So Samuels could wind up with 3-5.

D.j. Reynolds: Come the end of the season, who do you predict will be the Steelers 2nd leading (wide) receiver? I’m curious on your thoughts of Moncrief v. Washington. Thanks, Alex.

Alex: Are we talking receptions or yards? Might be a different answer for both because Washington could be that uber deep threat, at least, with how this offense is constructed. But I’ll still go with Moncrief just because he’s going to play more snaps and will naturally see more targets given that fact and the position he plays. Will be running a fuller route tree than Washington.

Stas: Over/under for 1.5 punt/kickoff return TDs this year for the Steelers?

Alex: Considering how bad these units have been and the fact they haven’t hit two total in a season since 2005 (Randle El had a pair of PR touchdowns), you’d be a feel to take the over. Under is making some easy money.

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys! Enjoy the opener. Hope it brings some good news.

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