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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. We’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind. I promise my response will be quicker than Nevada’s.

To your questions!

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex! Happy Ravens Victory Week!
Is it a good thing or a bad thing that Ben made up the 2nd half offense against the ravens?
I think it’s cool, but it has to be a knock against Randy, right?

Alex: Nah, not really. Sometimes that happens. Brady, Manning, Brees, I’m sure there have been moments where they’ve had to run the show. With the way the Ravens hide their pressure looks, sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting until you’re at the LOS. And Ben is a smart guy and you’re comfortable letting him run the show if you have to. I can respect an OC that doesn’t have an ego and says “no, I’m in charge” and doesn’t let it happen. One of the best things I can say about Fichtner is the dude doesn’t have an ego. That dooms a lot of coaches.

So long as this isn’t happening every single week, and it isn’t, I don’t view it as a problem.

Wasting my time arguing: Hey Alex!
If Vince is a cap casualty next year, do you believe Spillane has flashed enough they may consider starting him next to Bush?

Alex: Yes, I think that’s possible. Largely because, who else would you replace him with? A low-level vet, perhaps re-signing Williamson? Not an upgrade, maybe a downgrade for whoever that guy is. You could draft someone but you’ll be stretched thin addressing other positions, too. So I think it’s possible. He would certainly be squarely in the mix if Williams is cut.

Go Steelers!:

Hey Alex-

I keep waiting for Anthony McFarland to show his break out speed. Think this is the week with a weak Dallas D and some (hopefully) back up playing time?

Alex: We’ve seen flashes of it. James Conner is just running well and McFarland has had some rookie moments. Wiping out on his lone carry last week, not being on the same page with Ben a few weeks ago on an attempted/aborted draw. So he’s still earning the coaching staff’s trust and there aren’t a lot of snaps to go around behind Conner. Hope to see McFarland if Pittsburgh can build a big lead but let’s not assume it’ll happen Sunday, either.

The Tony: 

Hey Alex!

I meant to ask this last week. Both at their best, who are you taking to make the play against each other Lamar Jackson or Troy Polamalu. That matchup would have been a lot of fun to watch.

Alex: Oh man, that would be special. Lamar is a great player. I don’t yet know if he’s a Hall of Famer. I know Troy is. Give me #43. But I’m sure Ravens fans would take Jackson. Just depends who you root for.

Peter MacDonald: 

Emailed this to the pod gmail address so apologies and ignore this if you’ve answered it already and I haven’t heard it.

Why doesn’t this team have Minkah be the defensive signal caller? He’s on in all situations and by all accounts is a high IQ football junky

Alex: Hi Peter! We did answer it late on Wednesday’s show. There’s a chance he’s wearing it in dime. I don’t know who gets the green dot with Spillane off the field. But you generally like to have someone closer to the middle of the action than someone like Fitzpatrick who, at times, is lining up 15-20 yards from the LOS. Harder to communicate that way over so much space with the rest of the group. That’s why you prefer an ILB.

ImMikeD: Hey Alex. I’d assume the goal this week is to eliminate Elliot from the game as best as possible. and making a 3rd string QB beat you. Now, if Heyward and Alualu are inactive, what would you do to try to accomplish it. Anything exotic?

Alex: Nah, probably not anything exotic. Relying on younger, less experienced guys, you want to focus more on your base installs and fundamentals. Let them not think and play to their strengths. You obviously take a hit without those guys (pretty sure Heyward will play, pretty sure Alualu will miss) but I don’t think you make many schematic changes with the backups.

stan: Do you know if Carlos Davis is capable and/ or ready if we need him Sunday? Is he primarily a DT or a DE? I know he was primarily a 4-3 DT at Nebraska, but for the Steelers that could make him a DE or DT. Normally we’d know based on training camp and pre-season, but….

Alex: I don’t. We may find out soon. He played up and down at Nebraska. But I think he’s played more nose in Pittsburgh. Probably 1/3 tech here. Like you said though, I haven’t actually seen this guy play professionally. No camp, no preseason, inactive every game so far. So we’re flying pretty blind.

Assuming Heyward plays and Alualu sits, Davis will probably dress (Heyward/Tuitt/Buggs/Mondeaux/Davis your five who are ‘up’) but Davis’ snap count will likely be pretty limited. Some rotational base, the odd nickel snap.

hdogg48: 

Alex,

Who was the Steelers MVP in Sunday’s game against Baltimore?

Alex: Easy answer but Ben. He was the player-coach in the second half. Reason why the offense got going, reason why they came back to win.

Dan Blocker: Hey Alex – Is Buggs really a NT, or was this simply a case of no one else being behind Alualu? Actually, do you think we now just deploy 3 D-Linemen, and they’re all interchangeable.

Alex: He didn’t play a lot of nose at Alabama. He’s sort of a tweener. Lack of length hurts him to play as the 5 tech/4i in base. I like him inside with his relative quickness and hand use and he matches up better against guards and centers than bigger, longer, stronger tackles. So he’s a three tech/one tech type. Probably a little better at the three than the one.

srdan: AK, who has been the most consistent olineman so far?

Alex: Gotta give it up for Alejandro Villanueva. Still haven’t charged him for a sack all season. And we’re almost halfway through this thing. Gotta give it up for Villy. He’s been the most underrated player on this offense, maybe the entire team, this season.

zbluez: Alex, good afternoon from Nor Cal land. Over/under on sacks Steelers D puts up on the cowpokes this weekend, baseline of 4 ?

Alex: Hello! I sure hope it’s the over. This could be a bloodbath. I’ll take the over and say five and hope for more. But if they can’t get at least three sacks, it’s a disappointment.

Putter: Any thoughts on how Justin Layne has been playing as a CB?

Alex: Still a small sample size. But looks like he’s still processing and has been slow to react. Communication issue on final drive last week led to a big play. Looking very much like a 2nd year CB who didn’t play on defense last year.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex! Do you foresee JJ Watt as a future Steeler? Due to cap concerns, I can’t see it happening.

Alex: Ha, it’s a fun dream but a pipe dream. Plus, there’s Cam and Tuitt. It isn’t an area of concern/need.

Pghomer: Thx for all you guys on the depot do for our enjoyment.
Just wondering if you could share how you feel Justin Layne has been doing in his dime role ?

Alex: Just answered that above from Putter. Looks like a pretty raw, second year CB, though he hasn’t been targeted a whole lot either.

David Rudin: How freaked out are you on the Steelers’ D getting burned so badly by Baltimore in the run game? Is this fixable? Talk me off the ledge Alex!

Alex: It was ugly, I’m not going to try to pretend otherwise, but the Ravens are a unique situation. Dealing with Lamar in a way they won’t have to do with any other QB. It sucks because it’s Baltimore, this isn’t a team you only deal with one every four years, but I’m still confident in this run defense overall.

Douglas Prostorog: Hey Alex. Hope all is going well. My question: has UG3’s time as a steeler come to an end? He’s back on IR again with a back issue that extends back to college as I recall. If he is gone, then how does that affect the draft strategy re. ILB? I would think that Allen sticks around but that still only really gives you 4 ILBs assuming that VW is not a cap cut (which seems unlikely to me)

Alex: I wouldn’t quite put it in those strong terms but yeah, it seems like that back injury is going to be a chronic issue. Which sucks because UG3 is talented. But getting some Travis Feeney vibes over here. It’s hard to count on him going forward.


That’s all for this week. Thanks everyone!

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