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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your mailbag, back on its rightful day after I had to move things up a day last week. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

jger15: Hey AK — dug your run-game breakdown! If you’re Fichtner, what are two or three wrinkles you try to employ to get Mason right? Is there anything to build-off of that’s been positive since Mason’s taken the helm and maybe start from there?

Alex: Thanks for watching! Glad you enjoyed. Sure, there’s been positives. We’ve been too prisoner of the moment off the Browns game. An ugly one for Rudolph no doubt, but just one game in some pretty tough circumstances. It’s no coincidence his play fell apart in the second half when he was without really any weapons. And he had been coming off his best game versus the Rams. The offense had begun to get more aggressive, Rudolph was showing accuracy on intermediate routes, and his toughness/poise/short-term memory have been evident in his game since last year.

I’m not sure if that’s a new strategy to get him right. Getting healthy and the run game doing its thing will certainly go a long way. I’m excited to see how he bounces back after a long layoff to chew on everything that happened against Cleveland. Think it’ll be telling.

J Alexander Wright: Do you think this season is an accurate indictment of who Mason Rudolph is as a QB? Obviously there’s always room for growth but have we seen the limitations of his capabilities?

Alex: Well there’s still six games to go so I don’t want to talk about limitations of his game yet. We’ll revisit things really in-depth when the season ends and there’s no new information to glean from the year. Maybe he finishes strong. Maybe he doesn’t. No use in making hard and fast conclusions now.

But when this season ends, that’ll be roughly the only chance to know what he can offer you. Unless Ben retires/gets hurt again. Maybe that’s unfair but that’s how the league goes. And I believe after this year, you’ll have a pretty good idea of if he has the potential to be your franchise QB going forward. You’ll get an idea of where his ceiling’s at.

Tom White: 

Posted this as a discussion topic on the last podcast page as well but assuming JuJu finishes this season about par for the course with what it has been so far how much are you paying him on his new deal? We are not seeing the performance of a number 1 receiver and certainly not at levels of your Hopkins and Julios. The offense is down as a whole but JuJu personally has had a pretty bad season as far as drops and obviously the big fumble.

Do you pay him like a good number 2 or do you give him 1 money even though he hasn’t proven he can do it?

Alex: I’m not sure. Really haven’t looked at it because hey, I’m not the one writing the check. It hasn’t been a great season for JuJu, you’re right to point out the drops, the fumble, but obviously not having Ben and playing with a new QB is a big adjustment that hurt him. Ditto with the new attention he’s seeing.

Either way, he’s going to be expensive and you’re going to have to pay him as a top, #1 receiver. JuJu’s not going to settle. Just in the way Brandin Cooks, who I’d rank below JuJu, became something like the third highest paid WR in football when he signed his deal in 2018. It’s not always about giving money that directly correlates to your NFL ranking but the way the market works, the cap going up, and players always trying to jump what the last player received.

ImMikeD: Howdy Alex. Without the top 2 WR’s for much of the game and 4 int’s from MR (doubling his total in one game and considering at least 2 of the previous were drops by wr’s) have you seen any evidence on film that any of the int’s were possibly created from/due to blown assignments? If not, what would you attribute the suddenness of it from?

Alex: No, they were basically all on him. Forced, thrown behind, bad ball placement. Some of that can be chalked up to throwing to guys he hasn’t thrown to much, like Tevin Jones, but they still land on the QB’s doorstep. There aren’t the “yeah buts” like you had with Moncrief and JuJu’s drops that led to picks earlier this year.

Chalk it up to not having weapons, playing on a short week for a young QB, playing from behind, throwing it as much as he did. You just hope it was a one-off thing.

Reader783: When does Danny Smith’s contract expire? Can’t find it, figured you’d be the go-to

Alex: That’s the one Danny Smith-related thing I’m not sure of. Steelers don’t make those announcements publicly and I couldn’t find anything poking around online.

I assume it’s a Hotel California thing. You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave…

JohnB: Please know im not advocating anything here just asking an opinion. Based on our system and organization, do you think Lincoln Riley would be a good fit here as a head coach?

Alex: Really don’t have an answer. I don’t think about a new head coach and I don’t follow college football or Oklahoma to give you anything resembling an informed answer. Sorry my man.

pittfan: 

Yo Alex. In order of worst to least and how they impact our offense, how do you rate these circumstances.
O-line play.
Lack of potent/competent recievers.
Mason Rudolphs play.

Go Steelers!

Alex: Based on their current play or just overall? On the latter, it’s the o-line. Straw that stirs the drink.

But for their current state, it’s hard to rank them. I don’t really break it down in percentage of blame when things are so…bad all around. O-line has to run block better to take some of the heat off the quarterback/receivers. Rudolph has to play better, receivers have to take care of the football and play a lot more fundamentally sound. When you have an offense struggling so much, 24th in points, 28th in yards, 28th in yards per carry, 30th in plays per drive, you get the idea, blame gets spread across the board. It’s not like one area is obviously lacking and the rest are playing out of their mind.

Steeley Dan: Hi Alex – If Steven Nelson goes on to complete the season playing as he has to this, but finishes with no interceptions, was he a worthwhile signing?

Alex: Absolutely. He’s provided stability to give this team two good corners for the first time in forever. For the most part, he’s been lock down. Run defense has been underrated – he’s a complete corner in overall skillset. And since other guys are picking off passes, it takes some of the pressure/burden off, though I hope he makes a big play or two, just as I hope Terrell Edmunds does.

The Tony: Hey Alex!
How would you rank each of the 5 loses this season from level of importance and how the team performed.

Alex: I don’t really prefer to rank the losses. All count the same in the record and I’m more interested in why the team lost. But since you asked and this is the mailbag, here’s how I’d order them. From most important to least.

1. Cleveland – Though this wasn’t a “must win” game and that helped, to drop to 5-6 as the AFC Wild Card race heats up, to let the Browns get back into the playoff picture (one game behind the Steelers with a rematch in two weeks) really stings. Want to win those AFC games.

2. San Francisco – Because at the time, it dropped them to 0-3 and in a must-win mode for basically the next month of the season just to try and climb back into the thing. The fact the Steelers forced five turnovers, had every chance to win that one, and still lost made it hurt all the more.

3. Baltimore – Would be popular to put the Ravens as #1 or #2 but knowing how good they’ve been, I’m not sure beating them would’ve made a huge difference in the AFC North race. Think the Ravens were/are going to take it and make that Week 17 game irrelevant.

4. Seattle – Losing Ben mid-game ended up being the focus so took the heat off the loss, if that makes sense.

5. New England – Because it’s the Pats and most of us expected them to lose. Starting 0-1 wasn’t a killer.

stan: Will we finally see less of Johnny Holton as a pass receiver this week? I was really disappointed to see him out there attempting to be an NFL receiver last week even after we promoted Jones. After JuJu and Johnson got hurt it was obviously necessary (and hey even caught one!) but before that it was just like pounding your head against the wall.

Alex: I hope and think so. Why Deon Cain was brought in. To be that vertical threat. Holton is still probably going to play, he’s logged offensive snaps in every game this season and that door will stay open assuming JuJu misses, but hopefully his snaps are severely reduced. He got his chance. Time to move on.

Andrew: Hey Alex-
Currently sitting at work listing to Cleveland fans go on about how they’ll still win out and how Mason is a racist and Garrett is 100% innocent. Sigh, Ohio gets old after a while.
With Mason literally getting a smack in the head, do you see him come out firing next game? He just posted that dreaded miserable game, got it off his chest, maybe the team lets it hang a little more? Also, what percent odds would you give the Steelers to make the playoffs?

Alex: I’m not sure how Rudolph will respond. I’m anxious to see how he does against a bad defense like the Bengals. Big moment for him, big moment for the team.

Odds to make the playoffs? Nate Silver, I am not. Can the offense get it in gear enough the rest of the way? Can the defense make big plays game-after-game? Asking a lot. So to ballpark it, 33% to sneak in as the 6th seed. Wildcard race is really tight. Oakland keeps winning, Buffalo is in a great spot (though a tough schedule coming up, including playing Pittsburgh), the AFC South runner-up.

Jeff Papiernik: 

Two questions:

1. What could be the potential fallout if the Steelers lose to the Bengals this weekend?
2. Should Shaun Sharrett be on the hot seat given the performance of the OL this year despite their talent level?

Alex: In terms of someone losing their job or getting fired? I dunno. Depends on how they lose, though I know you can assume it’ll because the offense is terrible again. With all the injuries though, it’s hard for anyone to lose a job at this point. I don’t know if much changes. Maybe Sutton over Hilton full-time?

Probably not. The line has to play better but their pass protection has still been excellent overall this year, we’re too focused on what happened last week (and Rudolph was sacked only twice until that final drive). They’re still top five in sacks allowed. Run blocking is a different story but this year has been really challenging in the run game from a million different ways and really, even under Munchak, the run game was never great. This line was built to pass protect, not run block. In 2017, for example, they averaged just 3.8 YPC, 25th in football. Not too far off from where they’re at now.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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