Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly Thursday mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!



Who do you see as the X Factor for the Steelers
this Sunday against the Texans?

Alex: You’re going to have to wait for my X Factor article on Saturday for my complete answer. But I think it’s safe to say whichever right side of the line, RT Tytus Howard against TJ Watt and RT Chukwuma Okorafor against JJ Watt, does a better job will be a big factor in deciding this one. JJ gets moved around more than TJ but that’s the matchup you’re going to see most often, I’m betting.

Steelers also may have to scale back how much they blitz. Keith Butler being proactive and adjusting before Houston starts carving them up will be another chess match.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex! Happy 2-0 Thursday!
Haven’t heard much from or about Bradley and Austin. Any insights there regarding the secondary?

Alex: Insights in what regard? The secondary has been ok to start. Given up their share of plays, some blown coverages. Some of that can be attributed to the blitz, pressure-heavy scheme but not the blown coverages. That’s gotta get cleaned up as they begin facing better QB play starting Sunday with Watson.

DropTheHammer: Houston has had trouble breaking down and tackling against shifty targets like CEH and Dobbins. Who do the Steelers target for that besides Diontae Johnson? McFarland, even if his pass pro isn’t up to snuff? McCloud on offensive snaps? Or will we actually end up missing Switzer?

Alex: I don’t think this time will miss Switz, ha. Ben, maybe. Not the fanbase. Yeah, Johnson breaks as many tackles as anyone in football. His stop/start is among the best in the league. So that’s the guy you want to target if you want to exploit that Texans’ weakness. Just get the ball into your best playmakers hands. That’s Diontae. JuJu can make people miss too. More of the “going through than around” but I’m all for him getting the ball in space. And it wouldn’t hurt my feelings for McFarland to log his first offensive snaps this weekend either.

CountryClub: Just curious if you’ve seen any changes in the kickoff return blocking scheme? I know everyone points to the return man. But, it doesn’t matter how fast the returner is if there’s no where to run. Is it a new scheme or new personnel just blocking better?

Alex: The blocking has obviously improved but I’ve yet to compare and contrast. Personnel has something to do with it. The #1 issue with why this has been among the worst KR games in football has been a blocking issue much more than it’s been a returner problem. And the fact the return game has improved is largely because of blocking, though McCloud has performed well too. A project I have in mind assuming this KR continues to progress.

Andy N: Hi Alex, there is always lots of focus on Edmunds in the secondary, some justifiable, some not in my view, but what chance of turning him into a good LB? Seems good for his brother @ the bills.

Alex: Not something I view as in the cards. He plays in the box a good bit already as the team’s SS. 27% of the time the first two weeks, according to my charting. Maybe down the road if the Steelers don’t sign him to a second contract and some other team wants to make the move with him…maybe. But I don’t see it happening in Pittsburgh. It’s not like there’s a safety ready to replace him. Move Edmunds to LB – I guess assuming Vince being gone after this year – and now you gotta draft a safety and hope Edmunds’ new role and the new safety both work out.

DropTheHammer: The Steelers have blitzed often and well in the first two weeks. Houston has had trouble dealing with pressure and communications on the OL. Is this a week to blitz even more?

Alex: Potentially. But I think they have to be more selective. Houston has some great blitz beaters. One reason why TE Jordan Akins has the most receptions on the team. Watson is just a better QB more capable of making you pay.

BurghInPhilly: Alex, thanks for the great work. You’ve studied Bud for a long time – where has his game changed the most in the last 2 years? Also, based on what you’ve seen to date, what percent chance do you give it that the “light could come on” for Terrell Edmunds in the way that it did for Bud?

Alex: Health that’s translated to power. A stronger punch, a threat to win with bull and inside moves instead of tackles just being able to sit on speed. He played hurt his first three/four years. Didn’t miss a lot of games but played through a lot of pain. Once he got and stayed healthy last year, he showcased the talent he’s had since Kentucky. Remember he was a super raw player coming out. Didn’t even have a position coach at school. Just a big lump of clay that had to learn technique and the nuances of the game. Now he’s a vet and putting everything together.

I won’t rule out the same for Edmunds. As you mentioned, Dupree is a good example of needing patience. But I think Dupree’s health/technique things were elements that’d come with time. Edmunds and ball skills/instincts, that’s a little more of a natural and innate gift. You either have it or you don’t. Even rookies who struggle early on, gambling, not processing correctly, you’ll see them make some big plays. Then it’s just about finding consistency and eliminating the negative. Edmunds doesn’t seem to have that innate playmaking ability. Those things can be improved with more reps, more comfort, better film study and preparation, but I don’t think Edmunds is ever going to make a massive jump in his career. Just smaller, incremental ones.



From a scheme and personnel perspective, which quarter of the season will be most telling on the overall capability of the Steelers? Discounting the first four games (from a team assessment perspective, obviously not win record ) this year as are probably many others…

Alex: Week 9-12. That’s a schedule of.

at Dallas
vs Cincinnati
at Jacksonville
vs Baltimore (TNF)

So you have a strong team in Dallas (who I assume will be healthier by mid-season), an AFC North matchup against the Bengals, a better-than-I-thought Jacksonville team who always plays Pittsburgh tough, and a short week against Baltimore. You go 3-1 over that stretch and especially if you beat Baltimore, this team is probably in the driver’s seat. Puts you in strong position for the final five games.

falconsaftey43: I’d just like to say, it sure is nice to have an offense that when not clicking on all cylinders and shooting itself in the foot at times can still put up 26 points. Nice to have some room for error on that side of the ball again.

Alex: Ha, right? Talking about some of the offensive inconsistency feels like first world problems compared to last year when you held your breath every time Mason or Duck stepped back to pass. 27 points was a single-game high for the Steelers last year. Now they’ve scored 26 in each of their first two games. The joys of having your HOF QB back.

stan: I can’t help thinking that Dotson significantly outplayed Okorafor. If that were the case and DeCastro is finally healthy, it would make sense to move Feiler back to RT and put Dotson at LG wouldn’t it?

Alex: Both played well. Thought each guy stepped up even if Dotson’s circumstances were a little more difficult given his youth and arguably a tougher matchup with Casey than Okorafor (though he did see a good bit of Bradley Chubb).

But to answer the question, probably not. Not unless Chuks really struggles. I don’t like playing musical chairs with the o-line. You like everything to be 1:1. One guy goes down, one guy replaces him. Don’t make more changes than you have to.

I’m less concerned about Feiler. I feel like he can wake up Sunday and play pretty much anywhere. He’s shown that. But Dotson has still played very little LG before. None in college. Only a little in camp (and he missed a week). Flipping a young player to the other side isn’t as easy as it sounds. He’s comfortable at RG. He knows that spot well. LG, not so much. So you’re probably not going to see the same positive results if you’re throwing him into a new position. Dotson is still so on-the-fly that he’s in a three-point stance every single play. I’m not interested in playing him at LG this year unless I have to.

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