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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

As always, we’re here for the next hour to talk about whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Andrew: How many wins do you think the Steelers would have had they not traded for Mink?

Alex: That’s a good question. Wish football had a WAR metric like baseball does. I think about not only the impact he brought, the positive plays, but the deep dropoff that would’ve existed had this team been forced to start – gasp – Kam Kelly at FS in Davis’ absence. They don’t even want Kelly to play in dime anymore and rightfully so. You’d see less splash plays, more big plays allowed, and schematically, the defense would have less freedom. So this number might be a little high for *just* a FS and not say, a CB, but I think they probably have two more losses without Minkah. So you’re looking at a 5-7 team as opposed to a 7-5 one.

Chris Carey: If we make the playoffs – would Duck be our team MVP? If he can continue this offensive turn around – he has to be considered over the likes of Watt or Fitzpatrick even tho they were good when we were losing – who would get your vote in that situation?

Alex: I understand your point and you can make that case about virtually any QB on any team. It’s the most important position. Period. But still, no. It’s to the defense. They’ve been the ones carrying this team the entire season. It would probably go to Watt, though Minkah has a good case, as I just laid out in the previous answer.

It isn’t that Duck is so good. Just that he’s better than Rudolph. Any average to slightly below QB would come in and produce similar results. It’s the defense that is only functioning with elite players like Watt and Minkah.

Think of it like this. Kinda go back to the “WAR” metric I referenced above. Replace Duck with your run-of-the-mill average QB. Does the team’s record change? Probably not. Now do the same with Watt, or Minkah, or Heyward. Now you’re seeing a difference in outcome and production/performance. That’s why I give those defenders the clear nod.

WeWantDaTruth: Looking ahead to 2020, who do you see playing LG and why? How long is Finney signed for? I like the Big Ragu’s vet leadership, but Finney is younger and the contracts of Dupree & Hargrave need to be addressed.

Alex: Good question. Not 100% sure. For now, I’ll stick by what I said in podcasts earlier this year. It’ll be Foster. They signed him to the two-year deal and yes, I know it’s the NFL, contracts are only worth the paper they’re printed on, but I think they’re going to honor it.

Finney is a free agent after this season, by the way. So there will be a decision to make. But he won’t be cheap and I don’t see them dumping a veteran and leader like Foster to keep Finney. Just doesn’t follow what the front office does. Foster hasn’t been bad this year either. And the fact the team didn’t start Finney vs the Rams? Kinda tells me they’re not sold on the guy for all matchups and situations.

But there is a good case for keeping Finney and I understand it.

Tom White: Want you to project out a little Alex. If Duck finishes the season looking about how he has so far and we make the playoffs and/or get a win, is he number 2 going into camp/preseason next year or how do you think the Steelers play it with him and Rudolph?

Alex: There will probably be a battle. Nothing wrong with healthy, open competition between young players, just as there was between Rudolph and Dobbs this year. Elevates everyone’s game, makes everyone better. Hodges should and probably will have the edge but there’s no point in setting those things in stone at the start of camp.

Swiss-Steel: Hi Alex
All the way from Switzerland 🙂
My Question: Would you pick Lamar Jackson first overall if the Steelers had the chance to do so? I can’t get rid of the feeling that he might be a better RG3 who gets hurt and will never be the same again.

Alex: Knowing what I know, now? Heck yes. I think the “he can get hurt” idea is overplayed. Any QB can get hurt. Mason Rudolph is as immobile as anyone and got hurt. Ben Roethlisberger got hurt without anyone even touching him. QBs can get hurt at any point, at any time, and you just have to accept that and – as Tomlin says – not live in your fears. Great athletes like Jackson know better than statues for QBs how to avoid contact and they can avoid bigger hits than guys who don’t move very well. So that aspect doesn’t concern me anymore than it would any other random QB.

One other side point. I know Steelers’ fans like to lament passing on Jackson for Edmunds and yes, in hindsight, that was clearly the wrong move. But it always irks me. We can play the “should’ve drafted” game for almost any pick unless you’re talking about like, the 1974 draft class. And even the Ravens didn’t like Lamar more than anyone. They took Hayden Hurst, a 75 year old TE who flamed out of baseball, before L-Jax and Hurst has been a bust. So even the team who selected Jackson went in another direction.

Chris Carey: I am a bit concerned about the Steelers apparent lack of interest in analytics. I know its a different sport, but in the MLB – analytics are being used nearly every single play to determine where to play defensively, etc based on historical patterns. The MLB teams that seem to invest the most in this type of technology and “buy into it” are having tremendous results. Do you think analytics are part of the future of a successful NFL franchise, and if so – will/can the Steelers participate in it willingly?

Alex: Yes, it’s a concern. I can’t pretend to know exactly how they use analytics. Clearly, it’s not #1 on Tomlin’s list. But Colbert? How it influences scouting, drafting, evaluation, overall gameplanning? Harder to say.

Losing Karim Kassam was a big blow. They still have an analytics department, one dude – Jay Whitmire, who previously served as an intern – but the Steelers clearly aren’t the Patriots or Ravens. Not forward-thinking about this kind of stuff.

To answer the other part of your question, I don’t think it’s just the future. It’s here, it’s now, analytics play a huge role for some teams already. But yes, I expect that trend to continue league-wide in the future.

D-Ville Tommy: Do you think the talk of Coach T as coach of the year candidate is valid considering the teams they’ve beaten? I understand they’re winning without their HOF QB, but their most impressive win might be against the Colts, with their backup QB.

Alex: Sure do. At least, if they make the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who they beat. Look at what the Steelers had. They were counted out and for a good reason. You’re not supposed to win games with the terrible QB situation Pittsburgh has had. An offense that’s struggled this much in an offensive-driven world shouldn’t make for a winning record. Once Ben went down, everyone counted them out, myself included. They’re doing things that teams don’t do. They don’t come back from 1-4 without their franchise QB. So Tomlin is worthy to be in the discussion, though I don’t expect him to actually win. That honor will go to either Harbaugh or Shanahan.

srdan: 

Alex great week of coverage. Love the youtube series.

I need you to talk me back to sensibility. This time of year I always overestimate the steelers. The feeling I get is that this team is built to play in the playoffs: defense, establish run, conservative QB play. It’s what we’ve been doing, and that still wins in the playoffs. I get this feeling that i’m more confident about this teams chances to win in the playoffs than I should have been about us heading into the Jags playoff game, even though that team was start studded on O. Am I being overly optimistic?

Alex: Glad you like it. I don’t know how to gauge this team. All bets are off. They’re doing stuff that no one thought they would be capable of doing, controlling their own destiny after a 1-4 start. But I understand your point. A defense that plays well, keeps the score down, it will always have you in games. And when it’s close, when it’s playoffs, anyone can win. Throw everything else out the window. So be optimistic. It’s a fun feeling, much better than the doom-and-gloom we felt after the first four to six weeks.

Banastre Tarleton: Do you see any avenue to keeping both Javon and Bud? The defense is finally a good unit. Seeing it move backwards would be a disappointment.

Alex: Man, it’ll be tough to keep both. I can’t see it. One of them, I hope, but it’s hard to see it as financially feasible to retain Hargrave and Dupree. They’re just too expensive.

Alex Kuhn: 

Just read that Conner is out again this week. I get the feeling he won’t be coming back at all this year and we better get ready to ride with Snell. Agree?

And two – Does anything change when JuJu comes back now that Washington has emerged?

Alex: I still have confidence he’ll return at some point. Fact he’s getting limited work in some capacity the last two weeks, working on scout teams, speaks to that. I’m not sure when that return will be ,maybe next week? But I think he’ll come back. Otherwise, he just would’ve had surgery and shut things down.

What changes when JuJu comes back? Offense is just that much better. A good thing, obviously.

steelcityinny: What would you think about using Tuitt as trade for draft capital and using what savings (assuming there is some) on Hargrave? Tuiitt has spent more of his career injured than playing, the same reason he was drafted in 2nd round instead of first. Not sure what his Salary Cap implications are. Hargrave playing very well and Alualu is signed through next year.

Alex: Nah. No interest. For starters, as you ask about, trading Tuitt in the offseason still has a net cap savings loss of nearly $3 million. Only hurts your cap space. And he’s still a great player who took off this year. I don’t want to deal that away. I want to keep the talent I’ve drafted. Injuries are frustrating, yes, but unless there’s a chronic or consistent reason why he’s hurt – a la LaMarr Woodley not being able to control his weight – then it’s hard to blame the player. Just terrible luck. I want Tuitt on my team. He’s such a talented player.

The Tony: Hey Alex!
How would you feel from a fan perspective if the Steelers were to trade for Leveon Bell this off season?

Alex: That’s a really interesting question. That could become reality. I believe Bell when he says the Steelers showed some level of interest at the trade deadline. And I imagine that interest will remain, especially with Conner’s long-term future looking awfully murky.

It would of course depend on what you have to give up, especially for a team with limited draft picks, but I’m not 100% opposed to it and wouldn’t be surprised if rumors pop up this offseason.

MoreRingsThanYourTeam: Do you believe our beloved TP43 be voted into the hall of fame on his first go round? And to follow that up, will you riot if he is not?

Alex: He better and yes, you better believe I will. Grab a pitchfork and riot with me.

Andrew Black: 

Alex,

With the way Tomlin has talked highly of Snell, and with Conner missing a good amount of time each year with injuries, is it possible the Steelers move on from Conner in the near future? He’s due for a contract soon right?

Alex: His contract is up at the end of next year. So still some time to decide things. But you’re right, his injury history is making it hard to give him that long-term deal. It’s not like RBs get healthier over time. Conner will be back next year with the goal of being “the guy” but from there? It’s definitely uncertain. Which sucks because he’s a really good player.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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