Welcome back to your Thursday edition of the mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind. Thanks for being here with us.
To your questions!
DeCastro and Pouncey — showing their age this season in the run game? I know the problems are bigger than either of them, but both guys get paid a lot of money to dislodge would-be tacklers and it doesn’t seem as if that’s happening an awful lot this year.
Keep up the great work! Been a super fun season to watch.
Alex: Hey Alex! Good to hear from you. Can say the same about your work. Sure, I don’t think anyone in terms of run-blocking is doing a good enough job right now. Are DeCastro and Pouncey looking worse relative to the others? That’s hard to say. Pouncey has probably taken a step back. Snaps have been cleaned up but his overall level play has probably come down from the “above average/good range” the last couple seasons into something that looks closer to just the “average’ range in 2020. The push along the interior in general has been poor.
But it’s hard to isolate the problem. I would say that in the team’s gap/power game, defenders are spiking and attacking inside so the back can’t cut to the inside of the puller. Watch Sam Hubbard do it here and bounce Conner wide.
Fair to argue Feiler’s block isn’t strong enough here but Hubbard isn’t worried about keeping contain. He wants to be aggressive and make Conner stay lateral, daring him to try to have the speed to win the corner. This isn’t the first or only example of that. So a bread and butter scheme is really struggling right now.
Steely McBeam: Hey Alex! How concerned are you with the run game? I know their passing attack is verging on unstoppable, but wouldn’t some semblance of a run game help it out?
Alex: Pretty concerned. They don’t need to be on a 2005 level of things but they have to run it situationally. 3rd and short, 4 minute offense, days where the pass game just isn’t clicking. It’s not just that the run game is underwhelming. It’s historically bad. First time in team history they’ve been held under 50 yards rushing in three straight games. That’s gotta change. Just give me a 4.0 YPC, 45% run success rate, and a better job in short-yardage/goal line. That’s good enough but they aren’t close to that bar right now.
Putting on your GM hypothetical hat. Would you trade DeCastro for a 1st round pick.
Since this is the final mailbag before Thanksgiving. What is your favorite side dish?
Give me stuffing and yams all day!
Alex: I know it’s a hypothetical but I don’t really think about that stuff. Feels too Madden-y. To trade DeCastro in a year where you’re potentially losing Villanueva and Feiler, Pouncey closer to the end…that’s a big revamping of that group. On paper, it may make some level of sense but I don’t think I could do it right now.
Thanksgiving side…gimmie stuffing and mashed potatoes. Those are my go-tos.
PghDSF: The Defense has been really bad lately on runs between the tackles. Should the DL use 2 Gap scheme from time to time?
Alex: They do. It’s not all one-gap and penetrating. Some guys just aren’t getting off blocks, especially the LBs, some of the general run fits have been bad, guys just being in the wrong gap, and obviously they’re missed Alualu and are missing Mike Hilton. One example from the Bengals game. Sutton stuck on the block and you get an 11 yard gain up the middle.
Cam Sutton's been impressive this year but run game taken obvious hit without Mike Hilton. Sutton can't get off Tyler Boyd's stalk block and the run goes for 11 yards. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/Rs6wUAaOZQ
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) November 18, 2020
Beaver Falls Hosiery: Hi Alex – how do you see the Jaguars trying to attack the defense?
Alex: Just staying within themselves. They have a rookie QB, a young offense. They’re just trying to stay on schedule, control the clock, and rely on the run game. Lot of James Robinson mixed in with some deep shots to their speedy trio of receivers.
With Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton being free agents next year. Do we keep one, none, or both?
I would think the Steelers would want to keep Sutton as Haden may not have many years left.
Alex: It’s less about Haden’s future as it is having a nickel corner for next season. So losing both would really suck. Would really want to keep one and though his value is building, Sutton is the cheaper option and the more likely player to be re-signed.
MoreRingsThanYourTeam: Is Minkah Fitzpatrick finally rounding into the all-pro form we all know and love. It seems he’s in on every tackle now. Though he shouldn’t be as the last line of safety.
Alex: I think he was doing that a year ago. But he’s playing better now than the beginning of the year. Especially as a tackler. Cleaned up some of the hiccups he faced over the first four or five games. He’s been playing closer to the LOS recently too, especially to shut down Boyd against the Bengals.
Christopher Pokins: Hey Alex,
Conner, like the rest of the run game, has not done well. May have played himself out of FA $. Snell and McFarland are far from showing they can be the lead guy. Is this years lack of success making a second contract in Pittsburgh more affordable and likely, or is it showing another reason to move on and hope Benny steps up?
Alex: It didn’t change much of anything one way or another. I think Conner’s gone and felt that way since the start of the year, regardless what type of season he’s had. He ran well the first six weeks of the season and still doing well in pass pro so I’m not going to paint his entire season as bad yet anyway.
srdan: AK, who has been the second best DB on this team? I assume you agree that Minkah is first.
Alex: That’s a good question. You can make an argument for lots of these guys. Very tight race for 2nd/3rd/4th place. Kinda just depends on the week. Overall, I’d actually be tempted to lean Sutton, but I wouldn’t really argue you if you put Haden/Nelson/Hilton in that silver medal spot. Even Edmunds has taken noticeable strides forward though his lack of ball skills probably can’t justify second place. They’ve all had some down moments but overall, played smart and played well.
steeltown: You can only keep 2 WRs currently on roster long term… which ones and why?
Alex: That seems to be tying my hands pretty early in the process. But if you’re making me choose, JuJu and Claypool. Washington is an easy odd man out here. Diontae Johnson is a really impressive player but doesn’t have Claypool’s upside or JuJu’s toughness/reliability. But the good news is Johnson/Claypool/Washington will be here through at least 2021.
Pghomer: Hey Alex,
1-What is your Covid-19 go to ‘food addiction’? [Mine has been ‘crunch peanut butter’ on everything. lol]
2-What concerns you most that could prevent this team from raising #7?
Alex: Anything salty. Any chips or crackers. But that was my vice long before COVID was a thing.
Not a whole lot of pressing concerns for a 9-0 team. The run game has to shape up, obviously. And some of the miscommunication defensively keeps rearing its ugly head. Which is getting to be a little bit annoying. And will come back and bite you if you play a team like the Chiefs come January.
Do you see Ben hitting on a long one this Sunday, ie. 50+ yards?
Rodgers didn’t look real good against them yet he hit on 1.
The Jags rank 28th in Pass Defense.
Alex: I hope so. But I’ve been saying that the past few weeks against lackluster Cowboys and Bengals’ defenses. Jacksonville gives up plenty of long balls though so I’m hopeful.
That’s all for this week. Appreciate you all stopping by the chat! Heads up, probably won’t be a Mailbag next Thursday – or we’ll move it to Wednesday – because of Thanksgiving.