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!

Will Travis: 

It seems crazy that the Steelers have gone from first in RZ scoring to dead last. Have you had the opportunity to look at the RZ scoring plays from last season and compared them with this year’s failures?

Were Ben, AB, and JuJu just making plays that the current players aren’t capable of making, or has Fichtner abandoned some concepts that worked well last year? Thanks, and keep up the great work!

Alex: I haven’t. I didn’t even get a great feel for what made last year so different in a positive way. Barely ever a top ten red zone offense under Haley skyrocketed to #1 with Fichtner. It just felt like there were fewer negative plays. Penalties, sacks, etc.

Obviously without all those pieces you named, it’s no surprise to see this year’s numbers drop like a rock. But being dead last isn’t acceptable, no matter what your personnel is.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex! If you’re Randy Fichtner, what’s your game plan against the Jets D on Sunday?

Alex: I haven’t turned on the Jets’ defensive tape yet. But I think it starts with correcting your own issues. Beginning with your protection schemes, which were a mess against the Bills. You can bet DC Gregg Williams is going to test the Steelers and see if they’ve fixed things. If Pittsburgh can’t do that, and for the record, that’s on Shaun Sarrett moreso than Fichtner, then you have no chance.

Beyond that, staying on schedule, more power with DeCastro are good places to start with this offense.

disqus_PRLSFrvO2J: Still surprised no one references Gentry’s comment about playing at Michigan, that he’d learned all he could there and it was time to go pro. This from a guy considered extremely raw. With his first real game action coming last week, what does he show he has learned since being drafted?
Thank you

Alex: The guy hasn’t played a lot on Sundays so it’s hard to gauge. Think you see that over the time. But I think all rookie TEs, especially tall ones like him learn about the importance of leverage and pad level. You find that out pretty quickly when you arrive in Latrobe and start practice off on the blocking sleds. Those things don’t move if your too high or off balanced and not bringing your lower half.

Seeing him next summer with that second year jump is probably a better gauge to talk about progression.

PghDSF: The young WR’s have done well under Ray Sherman. Do they keep him next year or go after Hines Ward?

Alex: I’m not sure. Haven’t spent really any time thinking about it. Positional coaches are tough to evaluate but based on production, Sherman has seemed to do a nice job. He wasn’t expecting to be a full-time coach so I don’t even know what his plans are. The dude did just turn 68. But if they stick with him, I wouldn’t have an issue with it. That room needs stability and that fatherly figure presence because it’s still a young room and that’s what worked well with Richard Mann and Darryl Drake.

UK/Steeler Fan since 1969: Hey Alex, 2 questions.
#1. What was worse: play calling or execution of said calls?
#2. Why can’t Randy really scheme run capable plays on early downs using Conner more? He looked good briefly.

Alex: It’s always a mixture but I thought the coaching staff just failed Sunday night. Team just wasn’t prepared and were overwhelmed, especially on third down. I put it on them more than the players.

I’m sure they were trying to be careful with Conner his first game back. I didn’t expect him to be the workhorse. And to hear Benny Snell tell it, the plan was to get everyone involved. Feels like they abandoned that idea pretty quickly. Not being able to extend drives doesn’t help when it comes to a RB rotation.


Hi Alex. I’m going to teh game this weekend with my dad and son(4yo) I’m really excited and it will be a blast. Tonight we are making duck hats to wear. Should we bring our Rudy hat to the game just in case?

Do you expect Bush snap count to increase as tomlin said he has been holding rookies back for this time of year? Part of it appears that Vince is excelling in the spy role and I thought that would be Bushs assignment.

Alex: Enjoy the game! Yes to the Rudy hat. Can never be too careful.

I think the rotation is pretty much set in right now. Don’t think they’re going to switch it up much. Still going to see Vince in base, Barron in dime, Bush/Barron in nickel. Defense is playing well, they don’t want to push Bush too far, and still want to be mindful of his snap count even with the regular season coming to a close. If you make the playoffs, you might be playing a couple more games. Still potential for him to hit the wall and you want to avoid that.

knoxly: Hey Alex, What do you think of Ducks arm strength and can it get any stronger in the offseason? Who is a successful quarterback with average arm strength?

Alex: It’s average. Needs to have a sound base to really drive the ball downfield. Can’t make the crazy off-platform throws that your Mahomes/Rodgers of the world are capable of. QBs without great arms? Drew Brees is a really good example. Chad Pennington had success for awhile. Basically QBs who lost their strength after shoulder surgery.

WeWantDaTruth: Alex, how would you rank Berry amongst NFL punters? Top half? Bottom half? My initial thought is that he isn’t very good (hurt us bad last week) and we can do better.

Alex: Last week aside, no doubt it was his worst game of the year, he’s actually had a really strong season. Overall average and net average are as good as we’ve seen in a long time. Some of that has to do with the offense’s struggles, leading to more open field punts, but still, I think we’ve seen much more consistent “varsity” play from him, even if the Bills game was terrible.

I don’t have a punter ranking handy but he’s probably in that 12-15 range for me.



Do you see an improvement in blocking schemes this week?

Alex: I sure hope so. They must. If not, they won’t win this game. Like I said above, Gregg Williams is going to see those issues last week, especially on third down, and see if Pittsburgh corrected those mistakes.

falconsaftey43: Hey Alex, what is the run/pass ratio like when Banner is on the field? Maybe excluding goal line.

Alex: Don’t have the charting from the Bills game yet but through the first 14 weeks, it’s been:

Run: 81.8%
Pass: 18.2%

He’s run three routes this season.

That’s all for this week. Thanks everyone!

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