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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to the mailbag. Good time for a bye week but like always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

falconsaftey43: You talked about swapping Hilton for Kelly in the Dime as one of the things you’d like to see changed on the D, as well as Williams instread of Barron going forward. Is there a similar personnel switch you’d like to see on O?

Alex: Probably less so, if for anything, because the depth isn’t as strong and they’ve hit by more injuries. I’ve been in favor of them bringing back Eli Rogers but that’s a little different, obviously, than an in-house swap. I’m not sure what position you could even argue aside from trying to reshuffle the receivers but I don’t know what someone would be in favor of. Playing Switzer more? Holton? Moncrief? JuJu/Johnson/Washington are your top three. The line isn’t changing, neither are the tight ends, and the backfield doesn’t offer much flexibility with Samuels out. I have more issues schematically with the offense and have more issues with the personnel choices defensively. That’s how I’d break it down from a 30,000 foot view.

Stephen: Hey Alex, up 24-0, why do they change to a soft defense and let the chargers drive the field for scores and bringing a blowout to a one shore game and having an interception to seal the game. The defense is shutting them down, then why change it?

Alex: A good question, Stephen. Just the mentality a lot of coaches fall into. Don’t get beat deep, force teams to throw underneath, sustain drives, burn a lot of clock. You don’t want to give up the 70 yard TD that gets them into the game with a lot of momentum and not a lot of time off the clock. Not saying that’s right but that’s the idea. The defense had their issues too. Miscommunication, injuries (losing Haden was noticeable), and some missed chances. Minkah should’ve had a pick that would’ve ended things when it was 24-10 and then we’re not having this conversation.

But that passive mentality is shared by a lot of coaches. Not just Pittsburgh. I don’t think that’s going to make either of us feel better though.

Andrew Black: 

Alex,

I mentioned it last week but after another dominating defensive outing I want to bring it back up. In your honest opinion, does a good defense for the rest of the season give Butler an extension (even if it’s a 1-year deal)?

Alex: Maybe. I’ll wait until the season ends to see how things end. Lot can change over the second half of the season, as last year proved.

I also don’t know how the Steelers do contract renewals. Are one year offers common for coaches on expiring contracts? My guess would be no. You’re probably committing for three years and this organization doesn’t tend to fire guys in the middle of their deals. Would I give Butler a three year deal? Things have been better but no, I probably wouldn’t. If it takes all the things that have been invested into the defense since he’s been DC – a first round pick every year, trading up for Devin Bush, trading a future first for the first time in 50 years – you’re not a great coach. You just have a lot of talent that most people can succeed with.

Ryan Fazi: 

Alex what happens first for a Milestone game this year and who gets it

300 yards Passing
100 yards rushing
100 yards receiving

Alex: I don’t think my answers will be too interesting but…

300 yards passing: Mason Rudolph

He’s the starter the rest of the year. I guess the better question is if anyone reaches 300, Rudolph’s only gone over 200 once (and that ended at 229) but I imagine there will be at least one game where the circumstances require you passing a lot.

100 yards rushing: James Conner

Again, pretty obvious, though Snell did get close to 80 last week. But Conner is the guy and will get the bulk of the snaps.

100 yards receiving: Diontae Johnson

I’ll be a little different here if only because the first two answers are so boring. He can create big plays, JuJu gets a lot of attention, and I can see him working over the Dolphins’ secondary. Playing that X spot lends itself to plenty of targets. Despite playing about 80 fewer snaps than JuJu, Johnson only has seven fewer targets and five fewer receptions.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
Do you think Buggs will get snaps over Walton? I sure hope so. But something about this staff makes me think they’ll give the helmet to LT.

Alex: Hey Matt! Hope you’re doing well. I don’t think he will. At least, not initially. Walton is more experienced, more of a “known” guy who does stuff the run well. More importantly, he’s versatile. Can play end or nose tackle. Karl Dunbar talked about wanting to find that “utility guy” and that’s what they see in Walton.

Keith Evans: any remedy to the invisible TE contributions this season or are we going to have to wait until the draft? It really is sorry to see, this offense could use a kick start.

Alex: Getting guys healthy. Stability at QB and TE. Having the same QB and TE for a couple games in a row would be nice. You go from Ben, to Mason, to Devlin. At TE, you had Vance, then Grimble, then a little Gentry, then Vannett. No QB has played more than 47% of the snaps this year and no TE has had more than 54% of them in 2019. So hard to get anything going with the lineup shuffling so much.

Ryan: Hi Alex,
Do you think Fichnter will pull back the reigns a little against Miami and let Mason throw the ball downfield a little more often? I feel like if we can start hitting some deeper throws thatll help open up the running game more as the season goes on. Thanks!

Alex: We’ll see. We’ve been talking about that for awhile and it hasn’t happened quite yet. I think they’re just going to be selective. If you get the right look, the right matchup, the receivers wins his, then you can push the ball downfield. I don’t know how Fichtner is going to approach it. I’m not sure he does either. This offense doesn’t have an identity right now, Tomlin has even admitted that, and that makes the unit unpredictable. Hopefully the bye lets them reset and figure out how to have more of a vertical component. I think it will.

The Pittsburgh Steelers: Possible to keep up their fantastic rush production without Tuit?

Alex: Yeah, I think they can still put up big numbers. Keith Butler is probably going to need to blitz and stunt more though than he’d like. He really hasn’t blitzed at all the last few weeks. But they’ve lost guys like Heyward and Tuitt before and still had gaudy sack totals.

@Why_Cliff: hey alex, dont you hate/love steeler bye weeks. For the mailbag, with the Steelers in possession of 5 drafts picks in the 2020 draft what do you currently see as a position of need that we should address in the draft? And will the Steelers ever draft a speed back?

Alex: I’m not sure where I’d go. I’ll wait until after the year, how everyone plays, who is likely to walk/stay. Nose tackle is pretty obvious assuming Hargrave is gone. What happens with Dupree? Do you make another move at receiver? Maybe though probably not until later in the draft. Safety depth will be an area to address too. So a lot you can talk about and I haven’t spent much time on it.

A speed back? I think Rainey and Archer turned them off of those dudes. They always like their backs big. If they’re not over 200 pounds, the Steelers don’t seem interested.

Nolrog: 

Do you have a store of old games or is there a service that provides them? So when looking at the Chargers last week, and you wanted to go back and look at tape from last game or earlier in the season, how do you do that? Is that where the “All 22” is from too?

How much do you watch for upcoming opponents to prepare for the next game?

Alex: Yes, NFL Game Pass archives games dating back to 2009 (I think?) though it’s a woefully terrible service with a horrible customer service system that’s very buggy and slow to fix things. But yes, that’s where the All-22 is at. $100 a year, a pretty good price for what you get and how valuable it is to the work we do around here.

I wish I could watch them more but I get two games of the opponent for our scouting report. Usually their two prior games. Sometimes I’ll poke around further back if there’s some aspect of situational football I want to check out. 3rd down, red zone, etc.

Beaver Falls Hosiery: Why is Pittsburgh not giving Eli Rogers a shot? From training camp; who had the overall better performance between Eli & Switzer from your perspective?

Alex: I couldn’t tell you why they didn’t. Probably the same reason now as the same reason why they cut him at the end of August and the same reason why no one else has signed him. I think he would help in the slot but I don’t know the rhyme or reason. He and Switz had very similar camps. Pretty quiet though far from terrible. Rogers made more plays downfield while Switzer caught more balls. Right in line with how they’ve always played.

BurghInPhilly: Alex, following up on your Dime article. How do you think the Dime defense may change if/when Sean Davis comes back? What about Nickel?

Alex: I would imagine Davis becomes the new dime defender. Which is sure an upgrade over Kam Kelly and I’d be fine with playing him over Hilton if that’s what the team decides and has the luxury of doing (assuming no injuries). Nickel should remain the same, though maybe they use some “big nickel” packages with Davis down in the slot/near the line. Hilton plays like a 225 pound SS though so they’re comfortable with letting him bang around against the run, too. The depth and flexibility will be really nice.

The Tony: Alex, any plans for the weekend since the Steelers are off?

Alex: Real exciting weekend in the Kozora household. Kidding. Going to take my new car to get washed. Watch some football. Not have my blood pressure go through the roof thanks to the Steelers. Shaping up to be a good couple of days.

srdan: Alex, as bad as this year has been, I’ve been enjoying it. I also think that the young players getting reps will bode well for our future. What do you think we have at receiver? I don’t mean momentarily, but how do you see JJ, JW and DJ playing out over the next few years. Do you think we still need help in that room in the form of an early pick?

Alex: I’m optimistic about the future of all those guys. Better to wait and make judgments after the year, opinions can and will shift so much these next eight games, but my thoughts haven’t changed much since those guys came in the door. Washington is in a tough spot because his skillset doesn’t mesh with the offense right now and Johnson has gotten thrown to the fire before he was ready, just as Edmunds did last season. I don’t think they’ll burn an early pick on the position because they have limited draft capital and other needs, unless they’ve really soured on Washington by seasons’ end.

Jeff Papiernik: True or False: Devlin Hodges will go on to be at least a backup/journeyman QB in the league for the next 8+ years.

Alex: Ehhh…who knows. I’ve said he has the talent to stick in the league and QBs hang around. Eight years is a log time, don’t know if he’ll enjoy that long of a run, but I think he can bounce around for 4-5. He should be in Steelers camp next year as the likely #3. He’ll never be a star or even a starter but there’s enough talent to hold onto a spot for a little while.

Ultimately, to answer your question, I will say false.


That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the bye week!

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