Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. Luckily, almost nothing has happened since last Thursday so I’m sure there’s nothing to talk about and we can all move on…

But for real. Tons to talk about.  We’ll be here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Andrew Black: 


Super excited to see Mason play an entire game with a full week’s prep. What do you think his biggest weakness is going into this game? Something the 49ers might have noticed from preseason/last week’s tape?

Alex: I’m not sure if there is one glaring weakness. There’s a lot of unknown here so after the next week or two, I might be able to provide a better answer. Just playing fast. Processing fast, being decisive, being able to read coverages post snap and seeing the whole field. Things all young/new QBs have to deal with. But with his tape study, work ethic, and being a detail-oriented guy who had the chance to sit for a year (something even Ben didn’t ultimately get to do), I think he’s in a good place.

Alex Kuhn:

Sir with the incredible name of Alex (our parents apparently had great taste).

Three Q’s
1. What subtle differences do you think we’ll see in the game plan with Mason as our QB (ie, more James Washington)?
2. When Minkah knows this defense, how much of an impact do you think he’ll have?
3. What one player, if he steps up, could get this team back in the right direction?

Alex: Clearly they good and there’s nothing better than talking to a fellow Alex.

You’re right the differences are likely to be subtle. Washington playing more is one of those things. Tomlin basically admitted it too during his Tuesday presser. More playaction too. Rudolph ran playaction seven times Sunday in a half of football. I don’t know the last time Ben’s done that. Maybe years ago.

We’ll see. He’s a talented player who can wear a lot of hats, close on the ball, and carry receivers downfield. Just adding good players to this defense should make it better, obviously. How much of a difference will it ultimately make? We’ll find out.

Diontae Johnson is probably going to see a big role with Moncrief on the bench. So if he steps up and becomes that strong, secondary option, that’d be huge for the offense. Any receiver, really, besides JuJu who can make some plays. I don’t care who it is at this point.

srdan: Alex, you and I both know that shannahan will line up TEs and RBs on the outside receiver slot to get favorable matchups inside this week. I’m really struggling how Tomlin and Butler don’t come to their senses on this, and let them be covered by matchups, rather than positions. Meaning wherever kittle is this weekend, let Edmunds or Minkah be there, not nelson. What else would you do to help cover up teh middle of the field?

Alex: I don’t know if I have a great answer for that. I’m not as worried about the middle of the field specifically as I am just the creativity of the 49ers’ offense. You’ll see that in our scouting report on their offense tomorrow morning. They’re very layered. Shanahan does a great job using one play to set up another. They will mix up personnel groupings, use playaction, attack all levels of the field. And they’re simply talented at RB, TE, and getting some weapons at receiver. If you don’t communicate well against this group, they’re going to bust some big plays on you. So that’s keeping me up at night heading into this one.

The Pittsburgh Steelers: Question I had earlier in the week: Did you watch PFFs breakdown of Minkah they have up on YouTube? It basically says he’s a great slot corner and his worst aspect is safety. The Steelers brought him here to be a safety. What am I missing here?

Alex: I haven’t so I don’t have much insight to share. But he’s young so offering him stability could help, just as it eventually did for Sean Davis (and was an issue early on). They’ll move him around, especially once he’s comfortable. Maybe Minkah ends up playing some more in the slot, Hilton at FS. The safeties and slot corners on this team move all around. Hilton can play NCB/FS. Sutton can play NCB/LCB/RCB/dimebacker. Sean Davis could play over slot, in dime, at FS or SS. Edmunds has begun to be a little more flexible and they’ve matched him over slot. So those positions are inherently fluid.

Ryan Barton: If you were hired as the DC of the Steelers, how would you run this defense? What would you do differently with this group of players?

Alex: That’s a pretty opened ended response I don’t think I can get into right now. Really it’s just about putting players in position to succeed. Having more answers, better self-scouting, fewer tendencies. Whether that’s how abysmally he’s defended empty, to blitzing Hilton too much last week (Wilson went 6/7 for 72 yards and a TD against it), to the LBs on WRs, to the communication issues that are partially on the players but probably partially on the coaching staff too.


Hey Alex! I’m not just a fairweather fan, so I’m excited to see how the young core of guys develop and grow this year, regardless of outcome. Of course I still want them to win, but whatever happens I think it will make us better next year!

My question: I love the Minkah trade. Are you at all concerned that he wanted out of Miami because of playing too many positions? Isn’t being able to do that what makes him attractive to the Steelers, and they’ll want to do something similar in the long run? Thanks!

Alex: I understand his concern. No young player wants to move around so much that they can’t get settled in at one spot. His frustration primarily seemed to be playing in that dimebacker role. Changing his weight, and no DB likes to deal with guards and tackles in the run game. Not what he signed up for, not what the position gets paid for. Morgan Burnett had a similar complaint.

And I don’t think you’ll see Fitzpatrick in that dime role much. FS? Yes. Over slot? Sure. There may be some weeks, some gameplans where they want him on a TE or specific matchup but Sutton is still the dimebacker.

Plus, if this team can win, it cures a lot of ills. Moving around is a lot more tolerable when you win and not lose 59-10. It’s also possible he just used that as an excuse to get the heck out of Miami.

Rick Williams:


What happened to the guy who was going to take some of the responsibilities from KB as far as D coordinator?

ALex: I don’t know who you’re referring to. Teryl Austin? That wasn’t the team’s plan. A potential replacement in the hypothetical Butler gets canned, which I don’t think will happen in-season, but no one was sharing Butler’s responsibilities as DC.

The Tony: Is this the week James Conner breaks out?

Alex: I dunno. I sure hope so. Let’s see if he plays first. But being banged up, the rushing attack not getting much going so far, it’s hard to pin this as *the* week, even if Rudolph under center.

Craig M: What’s your take on the maturity factor development for a player; a kid comes out of college should be expected to perform at the get go or be allowed time to grow/ learn w/ age, before he is judged?

Alex: It’s hard to look at it too broadly, just like anything for the draft. I go on a case-by-case basis. What makes him mature/immature? Is it on field? Off field? Is it how well he can be coached, how well he takes criticism? Is it his work ethic? Film study? Leadership in the locker room? What was his upbringing? Has he learned from mistakes in the past?

But obviously, a mature player is good for him, his development, and the team. Especially knowing these guys have to make an impact immediately if you’re a 1st/2nd round pick. And mature players probably handle better being in the NFL. The focus it takes, the work ethic you need, handling being a star, for some, a face of the team, handling the weight of expectations.

Immature players can turn it around. You’re right, and I think that’s the point you’re making, that a player who has made mistakes shouldn’t be written off because they did something dumb as a 21 year old kid in college. That’s what 21 year olds do. But it’s a case-by-case thing, like I said at the top.

HoosierLawyerMounty: We got to win Sunday period

Alex: Yup. No climbing out of an 0-3 hole. Gotta win.

stan: It sure seems like the team is all-in on Mason given the trade for Fitzpatrick. If that’s true, what does that mean for Ben’s future? Assuming Mason puts together a good season (knock on wood), I’d think you’d have to go with him in the future and trade Ben, right? I believe that will cost us $25M in dead cap money, but it has to be better than having a $30M QB on the bench as a wasted asset doesn’t it?

Alex: Understand your point stan but that’s not how I see it. Fitzpatrick isn’t a rental. He’s here for the rest of Ben’s window, through at least 2021. Fitz has a 5th year option for 2022 the team can pick up too. This guy isn’t going anywhere before Ben (likely) retires.

Assuming he returns full health, Ben is the QB next year. No matter how well Rudolph plays unless he wins a Super Bowl or something. Ben is the franchise, he is your starter. This isn’t an Eli Manning thing where he’s held the franchise back for years and everyone knows it’s been long overdue to move on.

ImMikeD: Hey Alex. What’s better for The Depot’s business, losses, wins, or big trades?

Alex: Any breaking news is always good for business. But, and this may surprise, things are much better after a win than a loss. I know most of the news is set up as the negative sells but not for sports. At least, not the Steelers. Which makes sense. Even I don’t want to read about the NFL when the Steelers lose. I don’t want to catch highlights of DK Metcalf posting up Terrell Edmunds or Russell Wilson scrambling on 3rd and 16. No one wants to be reminded on Monday why you’re sad the Steelers lost.

Of course, that doesn’t mean business is terrible when the team loses. Just that fans would rather tune in to read about something good.

Douglas Prostorog: gut feeling on the game this weekend?

Alex: Not great, initially. But I need to watch the 49ers defense. You’ll hear my prediction tomorrow.


Scheme-wise, what do you think will be the most beneficial change to the offense without Roethlisberger and what do you think will be the most damning?

Obviously, gaining the “ability” to go under center will be welcomed and I think you’ve said that the route concepts have been lacking as well.

Alex: Yup, under center will open up more parts of the offense. Playaction is an obvious but good place to start. I’ve been mixed on the route concepts. It’s been..ok. I would like more pre-snap motion for Fichtner for Rudolph. Steelers 27th in pre-snap motion the first two weeks. Maybe Ben could read that better without but give your young QB some more clues before the snap.

58Steel: Any chance the team moves on from Moncrief before the end of the season? With Colbert seemingly swinging for the fences this year are there any WR out that might be available and that would interest you in a trade?

Alex: I doubt it. He may not play much but not sure about cutting him. This team’s gotta get competitive again before thinking about adding anyone else. I don’t think the external options are great, outside of adding Rogers (which I’m in favor of, btw) and they’ll trust and rely on the young guys to step up.

Matt Manzo:Hey Alex!
What’s Butlers focus gonna be on Sunday? Kittle and pressuring Garapolo? Seems like that’s the ticket. With Staley out I’m expecting a big “4 quarter” game by the dline.

Alex: All of the above. Just getting back to basics. Clean communication. Simplifying the scheme where possible. Letting these guys play fast. But it’s tough because the 49ers offense has a lot of layers and is constantly trying to get your guys out of position, in conflict, or thinking. It’ll be a challenge and my confidence in Butler to outmatch Shanahan is…low.

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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