Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Bryant Eng: Do the Colts play man, press man, zone etc.? Asking since I think our WR’s may have an easier time getting open against zone coverage. But, I’d like your opinion on both of those comments! I think I’d prefer man, I’d love to see Samuels get open on some linebackers.

Alex: You’ll see our breakdown in the scouting report tomorrow. But ton of man, and yes, they will play up with their corners. Expect them to bracket JuJu in the red zone and on 3rd down too. Diontae Johnson, James Washington and others gotta step up and make plays. Man-heavy defense.


Ok a bit of fun. Can you rank Hayward, kiesel, aaron smith?

I’m pumped for hte colts game!

Alex: Oh wow, that’s a great question. Maybe I’m a little bit biased because I’m watching Heyward in his prime right now but…

1. Heyward
2. Smith
3. Keisel

Smith is a better pass rusher than given credit for (hit eight sacks twice in his career) and was one heck of an ironman until his body gave out late in his career but Heyward is still the more accomplished rusher. Today’s linemen are asked to do more too and I think Heyward’s job a little tougher than Smith (both difficult but you get my point). More sub-package, more alignments, more variety in his job description. Heyward is a guy who has taken over games. Smith was always the dude who would solidly do his job so others – Joey Porter, James Farrior – could take over. So it’s close but I’m giving the edge to Heyward.

And Keisel. Man I love Da Beard but he isn’t in the same tier as those guys. A step below, for sure.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
What are you dressing up as tonight?!
What do you think the chances of Conner being ready for Colts are? And should Barron continue to get snaps in front of VW?

Alex: Ha! There will be candy on my front porch for kids to take. That’s as close to Halloween spirit as I get. I’ll be busy writing the scouting report on Indy for the morning.

Conner seems like a toss-up. For a player, he sounded pretty pessimistic about it on his radio show. Gut says he will still gut it out, though on a snap count, but we’ll see. Should know by Saturday based on the moves they do/don’t make.

No, I wouldn’t have Barron get those snaps, though I thought they rotated well last week and got everyone involved. But the paid him and they’re going to play him, even if they decide to cut him in the offseason, which is probably what I would do.

Ryan Fazi: 

Hi Alex

Is there a play you have been waiting to see happen ? For me it is a Ryan Switzer PR Touchdown !

Alex: Hey Ryan!

A kick return past the 25? That might be asking too much.

Buddy on Twitter alerted me to a pretty crazy stat a few weeks ago. Know the last time the Steelers had a run of 31+ yards? December 11, 2016. Le’Veon Bell for 33 yards against the Buffalo Bills. So we’re closing in on three years. It’s the longest active drought in the NFL. Know how the team is built, bigger backs not blessed with speed, you’re not going to have a lot of explosive runs, but I have that one circled for when/if it ends up happening.

Jeff McNeill: It sure seems like the defensive turned the corner when they made the trade for Firz? Is he the biggest reason or is that just my perception?

Alex: Well it sure helped. This defense wouldn’t have the same success if Kam Kelly was the starting FS. There’s a reason why they’re barely even using him/the dime defense right now.

But it’s more than just him. He came on scene early in the year and the defense was still growing and working together. Defining roles, figuring out rotations, and the Steelers – for better or worse – tend to start slow. TJ Watt, Steven Nelson, Devin Bush, they’d all be playing well regardless if Fitzpatrick was on the roster or not.

But this defense is keeping a lid on things, not giving up big plays, and that’s coincided with Fitz coming to Pittsburgh. And that’s been a critical component of their success.

Tom White: 

Ok Alex let’s say Rudolph performs well enough that you/Steelers believe he can be the guy moving forward (I don’t need specifics as to what level he performs, just the general idea that you are sold on him). At what point does it make business since for the Steelers to look at trading Ben? Like let’s say for example you know that moving Ben gives you the money for Hargrave, Dupree, and AV re-signing and nets you some draft picks. Is that enough that you look to move him?

And please don’t say “Ben is the guy and you let him play it out”. I understand the loyalty aspect and believe he will stay, I am just asking on the business side what value is enough for you to consider/do it.

Alex: So if I accept the premise that Rudolph goes all Nick Foles and leads the Steelers to a Super Bowl, then yeah, I guess you would look to move Ben. I have no idea how it would work though. That’s some Joe Montana type stuff. The fallout in the locker room, all the unintended consequences of trading your guy, but I suppose it would be an easier pill to swallow knowing – in this hypothetical – Rudolph looks like a franchise quarterback.

It’s just such an impossible scenario to consider that I haven’t spent any time thinking about. But yeah, if he’s not starting, are you paying him that much money to sit on the bench? Is that good for the team? No. Is that good for Ben? Also no.

I suppose he may also just opt to retire if he sees the writing is on the the wall.

Dan: Hey, what was the deal with that WR having so much success on Haden? Was it just a size/strength thing?

Alex: That WR is actually pretty talented. Preston Williams. Not your typical UDFA. Day Two type talent but had off the field concerns that caused him to fall out. He’s played well for them this year.

And yeah, it was partially a scheme thing. Lot of in-breaking routes, slants and digs, when Haden had outside leverage. With his size and strength, as you mentioned, it’s hard to play through him. Haden did a nice job of wrapping up and tackling the catch. No YAC allowed. I think his performance wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be. I’m not panicking about it.


While I’m very impressed with the recent performances. I do however have one criticism. I’m just not seeing it with Mark Barron. I think he’s supposed to be this speedy cover guy, but seems a little slow for that role.

If I’m Keith Butler I roll with Vince Williams and Devin Bush and then try to figure out how to get Hilton and Sutton on the field more. Thoughts?

Alex: You’ll get no argument from me. The counterpoint is that he seems to be the one wearing the green dot now so they’re going to play him as a core communicator. I’m not sure why Vince can’t have that role, he’s done it before and the more vocal player, but that’s what they’re rolling with. For now, at least.

PghDSF: I was at the game. I was great hearing the cheers when Banner reported as eligible. However, it drove me crazy to see Holton as the only WR in that formation. WTH is Fichtner thinking with Johnson playing so well. Your thoughts?

Alex: When you go heavy like that, you want to bring in all your big people. So having that big, Z receiver, and someone who can be a true vertical threat if you want to mix in playaction and take a shot has its value. It’s also a way to get your WRs a breather.

It’s pretty common for OCs to do this. At times in his career, DHB would replace AB as the sole WR in 22 personnel. I understand your point but I’m fine with what Fichtner did there.

ironkett: Over under of Mason Rudolph TD passes this year: 25.5. Are you taking the over or the under?

Alex: Close call. I know he’s on pace for 25. I’ll take the slightly over because he seems to be finding the end zone every game and believe it or not, has the best TD rate in the NFL. Throwing one every 6.9% of the time. With an easier schedule and odds he can have one or two 3 TD games, I’ll say he finishes around 26-28.

Jamie Barnhart: Alex,
After watching live and rewatching the game vs the Chargers, did you feel that the Steelers went into prevent mode and successfully managed a calculated win, or did the team collapse?

Alex: Little of both. Played more zone, played more off coverage, but there were also communication issues that led to big plays. So some on the coaching, some on the players not executing.

Andrew: Alex, what do you consider more irrational? Your love of the Idaho Vandals or your love for Danny Smith?

Alex: I consider both the pinnacle of football success. And I will die a happy man when Danny Smith is hired by the Vandals in 2025.

jger15: Hey AK! What have you made of Edmunds’ play at S this year?

Alex: Steady but quiet. Want more splash plays. Consider this. In his 22 career starts and 23 games played, he’s created only one turnover. A pick on a Fitzpatrick overthrow last year.

The last player to do that? Former Packers’ safety MD Jennings from 2011-2013. Since 1993, only five players, Edmunds included, have struggled like that. So need to see more splash. #1 thing.

Mr. Goodkat: Jay Ajayi?

Alex: Pass. No one’s signed this guy. He may be healed from the torn ACL but he’s 26 with nearly 600 carries and we have no idea how well he’ll play coming off the injury. Now he’s gotta get in shape and contribute right away without offering much on special teams. I’d rather call up one of the guys from the practice squad, to be honest. And maybe Conner will play this weekend. It’s not like he’s missing a month of action.

The Tony: Alex,
Which throw was more impressive, the 3rd and 11 from Rudolph to Johnson with the crowd booing, backed up deep and coming off a terrible first quarter or Dobbs last year with the play action from the end zone against the Ravens?

Alex: Both were really impressive. I might lean Rudolph just because of how poorly he was playing leading up to that. Dobbs just came in and fired away. Easy for Rudolph to shrink in the moment and have his confidence shot but he stepped up. Dobbs had a more difficult throw to make but Rudolph was in a more difficult situation.

Kudos to Fichtner for having the confidence to call both plays. Would’ve been easy for him to go with a screen/draw on 3rd and last Monday. Let his QB make a play and rewarded him. Turned the whole game around.

D-Ville Tommy: Can we get rid of Bobby April after this year. I’m so tired of seeing them kick short on kickoffs to try and pin the other team deep. They almost always end up beyond the 25 yard line. They have had success blocking kicks and punts under him but the return teams are terrible. I guess this is more of a rant than a question, Carry on.

Alex: Let me explain what Danny Smith Forever means…

But yeah, I don’t know why they kicked short to Jakeem Grant Monday night. He’s too dangerous to have repeated chances to return it. They tackled it up well though.

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys! Happy Halloween.

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