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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to the mailbag. Lot gone wrong these first three weeks but we’re here for any questions about how this team can/will turn things around. Like always, we’re here for the next hour.

To your questions!

@why_cliff: hey Alex this is for the mailbag. Let’s say Steelers let Randy Fitchner go after week 4 and you get hired as OC. What type of scheme would you run with the current group of players? And is it me or does Diontae Johnson look like Emmanuel Sanders out there?

Alex: To be clear, I don’t expect that to happen next week (the Fichtner fired part…and also me getting hired). I would have to sit down with a full plan. But I’ve harped on not isolating the route tree and relying players to win one on one. I’d open things up a bit more, let Rudolph be aggressive. Situational playcalling has been a disaster. Have a video coming out tomorrow that highlights that.

Yeah, DJ has a Sanders type feel. He got some of those comps coming out of Toledo and I think they still stick.

Rick Rineer: Seattle just released Greg Jennings, WR from WVU. Steelers had “great” interest in him coming out of the draft. Any chance they bring him in??

Alex: I doubt it. A rookie receiver isn’t helping you much now. Jennings reportedly struggled with his weight and picking up the playbook. As much as fans are unimpressed by Ryan Switzer, the team seems to plan on keeping the group as-is for now. So unless we’re talking practice squad, I doubt Jennings finds his way to Pittsburgh.

Ryan Fazi: With Nix being questionable, do we see Vannett used in a full back H-back rule when McDonald gets back on the field ?

Alex: Maybe once or twice. But he’s a little too tall for my taste trying to lead block. And he’s obviously just trying to come in and get a baseline understanding of things. They’ll probably just go without a quasi-fullback this week. Can still run some of their Power/Counter runs with the TE off set instead of a FB in the backfield. Isn’t going to limit your scheme too much.

D.j. Reynolds: 

Alex, is it time to give up on 2019? FWIW, I still see the possibility of 9-7 or maybe even 10-6 (not probable but possible – I don’t want to give up yet).

Also, if Rudolph shows well AND Ben returns, what would you do: trade one? keep both?

Thanks, Alex.

Alex: I can’t see them salvaging the season, even in a year where the AFC North victor will have probably won just 9 games. If you can’t win when your defense forces five turnovers…

But I am more focused on just Monday. Get a win, get some positivity and excitement, and who knows. Maybe I’ll be wrong. But I’m not optimistic and know I’m far from being alone in that camp.

Rudolph playing well is a very good problem to have. Most teams don’t have one good QB, let alone two. But you’re keeping both. And if you’re dumping anyone, it’s Rudolph, not Ben.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
How are you feeling about the Bengals game? And is there any reason to believe we’ll see something different from Feet and Butler?

Alex: Still need to watch more of the Bengals but it’s hard to get excited. These two teams are in pretty similar spots though. 0-3, two close games, run games have been poor, defenses up and down. So far, Fichtner and Butler haven’t inspired much confidence but you think at one point, we’ll see something different. Wish I had a magic eight ball for you on that one.

falconsaftey43: Considering nothing besides the fact that this team will have had Roethlisberger for 1.5 games, and Rudolph playing the other 14.5, what do you feel would be the acceptable record at the end of the season? I’d say 9-7. (w/ Ben entire season I would have said acceptable level was 1+ playoff win). Obviously things are not trending that way with the 0-3 start.

Alex: Considering how lost this season looks, I’ll really just take “progression from the key, young players.” But for a win category, yes the best goal is something like 9-7, which could win and should put you in the hunt for the North and/or a Wild Card spot. But obviously no one wants to say “7-9” is acceptable, even if it’s more realistic. I’m just trying to focus on the next game, not the big picture, and I hope the team is doing the same.

alevin16: What is the advantage to having MR line up in shotgun? Does the shotgun help a new QB more than lining up under center?

Alex: I think it’s just a comfort thing. Know we talk a lot on here about lining up under center, playaction, but remember, Rudolph was an exclusive shotgun QB at Oklahoma State. Working under center is something he’s done in the NFL but that’s not his forte, just like practically any QB coming out of a college system. So providing that bit of comfort in an otherwise uncomfortable situation is helpful.

The QB is able to read and process better out of the gun. Little easier with his steps. Shorter drops, don’t have to worry about getting away from center as quickly, and lets him see the field and play faster than being more mechanical under center.

So having him in the gun the majority of the time is fine. That’s how this offense works and it’s probably best for Rudolph.

Zach6432: If the steelers were to go out and get a new OC/DC who would be on your short list?

Alex:  I had a list of DCs last year because I thought Butler was going to get canned but I’d have to find it and don’t know how many of those names are still candidates. Ed Donatell was one of my favorite picks but he’s now the DC in Denver and seems joined at the hip with Vic Fangio.

I don’t worry about that stuff until the end of the season anyway. It’s hard to see Fichtner getting fired knowing Ben will be back next year and would have to mesh and learn from a new OC. There’s no in-house candidates to promote again. Butler though, could definitely be gone.

The Tony: Alex,
What kind of improvement are you looking to see out of Johnson and Washington this week against the Bengals? Are you surprised that the Steelers didn’t feature Washington more knowing his chemistry with Rudolph?

Alex: Just week to week growth. Washington winning deep, Johnson showing better timing on his routes. Not slowing up, finishing them, running hard. No, I’m not surprised. Chemistry only means so much. Doesn’t give your QB extra time in the pocket, doesn’t make Washington get anymore open, etc. They might have connected on that deep ball that was called for DPI too. With how conservative the offense was, there just weren’t a lot of chances for them to link up.

TJ Solomon: 

2 questions that are unrelated

1. Why is Ryan Switzer on this team? He is possibly the least elusive punt returner in the NFL and he already muffed a punt. Last week he was tackled solely by the gunner which is rare. He also adds very little as a WR.

2. Why can’t/won’t we copy the route concepts the Patriots run? Their guys seem to run wide opened. Is it that hard to get the all 22 film and just literally copy their plays?

Alex: I hear you. If he’s not going to play on offense (zero snaps last week) and rotated out of the KR game with Holton, then I don’t see the point. There’s trust in him from a ball security/decision making standpoint but that’s about it. You guys know what I’ve said. Eli Rogers would’ve been re-signed last week.

If only it was that easy, every team would do it. And the Steelers have actually done that before. We wrote about the tunnel screen the offense “borrowed” from New England last year. Maybe they have taken stuff and we haven’t noticed. With this level of execution, or lack thereof, it’s hard to tell.

Tom White: Ok Alex so I think we are mostly all agreed that Dupree wasn’t worth his current price tag and the Steelers couldn’t pay Jesse James what he wanted to be the number 2 this offseason. As we sit here today would you rather have Jesse James on the roster at the cost the Lions paid him or still have Dupree at OLB at his current price? So this is kind of a “who is closer to their contract value” for us and also who do you think would help us most as we sit here today at 0-3.

Alex: Know it sounds cheesy but I really don’t think about those things. I don’t know if either would’ve lived up to their contract value. I do think Dupree has played well vs the run, though obviously, he was drafted to be much more than that. With the injuries at TE, sure, a durable player like James would go a long way. But I think everyone understood why he left and why this team – at the time – wasn’t willing to give him $6 million per year. Not doing much in Detroit either. They drafted Hock and James has caught only five passes this year while playing barely more than 50% of their snaps. He saw more action in Pittsburgh. But at least he got some well deserved money out of it.

Jeff Papiernik: If Vannett is what he’s been for the last couple years for the Seahawks and the Steelers are able to resign him, do the Steelers draft a TE in next year’s draft?

Alex: Eh, I’m not sure. They aren’t going to have a lot of picks so they’ll need to prioritize. You’ll have Vance, Vannett, and Gentry in his second year. If they do, it probably wouldn’t come until late Day Three. 2021 is when they may make a splash.

stan: Last week you told me to chill out when I thought the Fitzpatrick trade was part of a team push to win now with Rudolph, and I hoped you were right. However, the Vannett trade truly confuses me. We’re trading like a 3-0 team, not an 0-3 team. I like Vannet just fine, but with him being a free agent after this year, the deal makes no sense to me. Maybe we’re banking on him leaving and bringing back a comp pick?

Alex: I’m sure their intention is to be able to bring him back. I think it just came down to them knowing the depth wasn’t good enough at TE. Grimble is a #3, not a #2. I think he’s proven that. And to hear Seattle tell it, the front office has been chasing Vannett for awhile so I don’t think this has anything to do with Rudolph. They wanted Vannett when Ben was healthy and the team had big Super Bowl aspirations.

But I agree. There is a chance you lose him and this could be a dumb trade looking back on it a few months from now.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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