Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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

To your questions!

Spencer Krick: 

Good Morning Alex!

Who do you think is primed to have the best performance against the Ravens?

Alex: Hello, Spencer! Good to hear from you. Easy answer to give but the Steelers’ d-line should eat again. Watt and Dupree will have a tough time against Stanley and Brown Jr. but Stephon Tuitt against rookie Tyre Phillips, a former tackle turned guard dealing with an ankle injury? Big advantage Tuitt, who has been whooping better linemen over and over the past two seasons. In line for a big day.

Josh Knepshield: We’re seeing the Ravens make moves to get DE Yannick Ngakoue. We’re seeing the Chiefs make moves to get HB Le’Veon Bell. Do the Steelers see these moves and feel any pressure to make a move to perhaps get more depth at LB? I just can’t see them staying pat with Spillane.

Alex: I don’t think it puts pressure on. Make a move because someone else is and that’s panic inducing. You evaluate things independently – if a move makes sense, it makes sense regardless of what anyone else is/isn’t doing. You wouldn’t not make a move just because hypothetically, everyone else stood pat, right? So it doesn’t work the other direction.

Trying to find that name too is a massive challenge. You can trade for someone for the sake of trading for someone but does that guy really help? Fit your scheme, have a role, capable of picking up your defense and potentially calling it as Spillane is right now? Things often look better on paper and in theory than reality.

Yough 61: Alex, the Steelers are seemingly always up against the cap. What does the cap situation next year look like? With Bud coming off that clears up 17M and there should also be others not coming back like Conner and JJSS. Is there relief in sight?

Alex: I’d point you in the direction of Dave’s latest 2021 salary cap snapshot. Give it a read.

A lot depends on the 2021 cap number. We know the floor of $175 million but we don’t know where it’s going to end up. But short answer, there isn’t a lot of relief in sight. The plan was to build your team with an ever-growing salary cap. Now it’s going in reverse. Totally throws off your projections because no one could plan for a 100 year pandemic. So it’s a tough spot to be in that won’t have any easy decisions.

stan: Am I the only one who thought the officiating was unacceptable Sunday? The Steelers suffered bad call after bad call and bad spot after bad spot all day. When that crazy offensive PI happened late in the game (with yet another bad spot), I just shrugged because it was clear that the refs were pushing hard in one direction all day. It reminded me of times when an FCS team comes in and plays a top 10 team.

Alex: Eh, there were some calls/no-calls I didn’t like but that’s true of most games. Steelers don’t turn the ball over three times, they win that game easily. Refs had nothing to do with that. But I’m generally not one to grouse about the zebras so I’m not the best person to ask.

CP72: Alex,
With guys like Villy, JuJu, Conner, Hilton, Feiler, and Dupree all hitting free agency next year. Does it feel like to you that this season may be the best chance to add a Lombardi before a major overhaul takes place?

Alex: 100%. Not that they can’t win a Super Bowl next year, as long as Ben’s here, they have a shot, but this is the best chance. I wrote as much before the season began. Here’s how I led off that article.

“The Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl window won’t close after this season. So long as Ben Roethlisberger is this team’s quarterback, they have a shot.

But this time next year, their chances of hoisting a Lombardi will have greatly diminished.”

You can check out the whole article and it basically reaches that conclusion. Their odds take a major hit, no doubt. This is the best roster to win a Super Bowl.

zbluez1: Yo Alex, If the Steelers continue with a possession offense approach this Sunday against the Ravens, which area do you see being the area of attack, short middle, outside the numbers short, medium MOF, outside the numbers medium?

Alex: All of the above. The best part about this offense is that they can win in anyway possible. It all depends on how a defense wants to play you. They can run the ball, throw short against zone, throw deep against press man, it’s largely based on the looks Baltimore will give. The Ravens are a more aggressive team that would lend itself to deeper throws outside the numbers but we’ll just have to see. Possession offense is less about how you convert and more about converting situationally. Winning on 3rd down most notably.



Despite recent events is there anyway Cam Sutton gets a new contract (if/when they let Hilton walk)? Great athlete who proves every start he’s capable of being a starter, with a high football IQ.

I will stay tuned ✌️for your answer.

Alex: I see what you did there.

Yeah, I hope one of Hilton/Sutton returns. It would be a big blow to lose both. Sutton seems more realistic to keep because he’s played less and should cost less money. If both guys are gone with no starter-in-waiting in the slot, I don’t know what you do next year. Sign a cheap vet (hello new Brice McCain) or draft someone and try to plug them in. Or kick Steven Nelson inside and let Justin Layne get more reps at RCB if he’s ready to make the jump. But I hope one of Hilton or Sutton returns because I agree with your evaluation, minus the *great* athlete part. He’s probably above average but not great. 4.52 40, 34 inch vert, 10 foot broad coming out. Good, far from great.

McBringleberry: All this talk about Steelers scoring a TD on their opening drive and breaking their streak has me thinking about the first 10 scripted plays. How rigid are play-callers with these plays or do they typically allow down and distance to come into play? I’m also guessing play-callers might argue that seeing how defenses line-up against specific looks may be almost as valuable as points. Any insights/thoughts are appreciated!

Alex: That’s a very good question. I can’t give you a complete answer. They are certainly scripted off down and distance. Most play sheets are. All about situational football. What are we calling on 1st and 10 (breaking it down more, first play of the drive, first play off a turnover, etc). What are we doing on 2nd and 7+, 3rd and 3 or closer, high red zone, low red zone, goal line, 4th down, two minute. Run plays depending on which hole/gap you want to attack. The game is sectioned off into a million pieces.

Here is the pass call sheet from the Steelers Super Bowl loss to Green Bay. Gives you an idea of how things are broken down.

My favorite part of this is the “2 Minute” column. Just says “huddle calls” aka “Let Ben run the show.”

Your question is a very good one for someone to ask Randy Fichtner someday.

Ian Suttie: Canada’s impact on the Steeler’s pre-snap motion is obvious (and welcome!). Have you noticed any other changes from watching the tape? Different/more combination routes maybe?

Alex: I’m sure there are minor differences but motion is the big one I think we’ve all picked up on. Steelers are 4th highest (!!!) in motion rate this season. They were in the 20s in 2019 and low most years prior to that. Huge change.

Vance Mac: Understand it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, but what would be your floor for compensation for trading Sutton?

Alex: These deals rarely happen (though Seattle/Cincinnati did one yesterday) but I’d need a player back. Someone who is going to help me win now. I guess that’d be an ILB. But I can’t trade for a pick and gain the future when I got a real good shot to win today. So basically, there’s almost no chance I’d deal Sutton. Or anyone.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex! When the Steelers return to Heinz Field in a couple of weeks, will there be additional fans permitted inside?

Alex: Good question. I’m not sure if the capacity is changing. Cases are going up in Western PA so my guess is there isn’t a big push to increase the number of fans. The fact the Super Bowl plans to be only at 20% in Florida, a state that’s been less restrictive, is probably an indication no stadium will see large jumps in seating capacity this season.



How big is the bye week going to be for the Ravens?

Alex: Funny you mention that. Just saw this stat on Twitter.

Steelers coming off a tough, physical game. Playing on the road. Against a good Ravens team off a bye. Advantage Baltimore. No arguing that.

Douglas Prostorog: Alex, I noticed Samuels played a bit in the slot the other day (Canada’s influence I would assume) and he did pretty well there. He’s not exactly a “steeler’s RB” but could be make a decent steelers receiver?

Alex: Meh. Sometimes you get a better matchup with him on a displaced LB but whose coming off the field for him? Give me any of the WRs over him. And I want Conner on the field too. He’s basically any playing in no huddle/passing situations. There isn’t much of a role for him. And I’m ok with that.

Jeremy: How did you think UG3 and Layne played in their limited action?

Alex: As you said, very limited action. Both logging about 15 defensive snaps this season. But both have held their own so far. No gaffes or major mistakes, not that either are battle-tested. Better question to ask in a month. Though when Hilton returns, Layne is off dime packages again and is just playing on special teams.

Christopher Pokins: Alex,
Offense is looking well balanced this year. Team seems to have someone different step up each week. We can all agree it’s unfair to compare to last year’s offense without Ben. But how much of the improvement do you think is Matt Canada’s influence? And do you think his involvement is just a way to get him one step closer to being offensive coordinator next year?

Alex: The offense was going to take massive leaps forward with Ben even if Canada wasn’t hired. But the motion element is squarely on his shoulders and you can definitely connect the dots to him.

As long as Ben is here, Fichtner is the OC. By the time Ben is gone, Canada may have already gotten an OC job offer elsewhere. Or gone back to college. That’s plausible.

Michael James: Hi Alex! As of right now, what are the Steelers top priorities for next years draft?

Alex: Depends on who is/who isn’t retained. That will shape much of things. But I could see an OT if neither Villanueva/Feiler are re-signed or TE assuming one of Vance/Ebron (Vance is likely gone) are cut. I just want them to draft a TE within the first two days. I’m not asking for much over here. Hasn’t happened since Matt Spaeth in 2007.


Hey Alex,

Question for you, did the Steelers mess up passing off the post/over
route combo again!? 1st and 10, 14:55 in the 3rd. Ended up being a sack.
But looks to me like Haden/Fitzpatrick didn’t pass it off correctly
again. Looks like Haden let’s the crosser go and nails deep, but
Fitzpatrick also covers the post with Nelson.

1) is that what you think happened?
2) if so, why are they having such a hard time handling this combination from a communication stand point?

Alex: They did. Sadly. I have that in my notes. Let me share the play. Fitzpatrick stays single high and Nelson peels off the over.


I think they keep changing the rules of it. There have been times this year where they reverted back to “old rules’ or letting the CB carry the over and keep the FS deep to take away the post. Think it’s getting switched up based on offensive tendencies/speed of the post WR, etc. And that’s creating confusion. My guess anyway.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for all the great questions, everyone!

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