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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your weekly edition of the Steelers’ mailbag. This week has been so screwy I blanked on doing this on its normal Thursday schedule. But that’s given me more time to re-watch Wednesday’s game against the Ravens. So we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!

The Black Heath Miller: Was there any pre draft connection between the Steelers and McLaurin? They picked Diontae about 10 picks earlier than Terry was selected. Wonder if they considered Terry there

Alex: Not that I’m aware of, looking back through the website when he came out of Ohio State. I’m sure they looked at him. But they were looking for the next AB. Someone with more quickness. Who could handle the short stuff like Brown could. Slants, comebacks, beating press man 1v1. McLaurin is obviously a talented player but more of a vertical threat who doesn’t excel quite as much in the short game. At least, that was the report coming out.

Vance Mac: Are players on the COVID reserve list allowed to take part in virtual activities?

Alex: I believe they can. But obviously, no meeting in-person. Must quarantine. But I don’t think there’s anything preventing them from being part of a Zoom call.

Kevin Reich: I’ve heard from fans Dotson at guard and Flier at Tackle would help the run game. Is it wishful thinking?

Alex: Eh, probably sounds a lot better on paper than in practice. Putting Dotson at LG, a position he hasn’t played before. So you’re going to have consequences of that. And I don’t want to do a lot of shuffling for an offensive line that hasn’t given up a sack in their last 199 pass attempts. I’d rather just focus on the current starting five and how I can fix that without wholesale, mid-season change.

Stas: Alex, I know Ebron has been used much more in the passing game, and Vance has been a great blocker. I think there is real opportunity to exploit the lack of usage of McDonald and surprise some teams passing in 2 TE sets. What do you think? Even no RB on the field – have 3 WRs and 2 TEs – they may expect more sweeps and jets etc. Thanks!

Alex: Eh, I’d rather put my talent at WR on the field to catch the ball. Those guys are doing a good job overall. Saw this team get too cute trying to throw out of heavy on that 4th and goal disaster Sunday. I want JuJu and Johnson making my plays. Not McDonald. Obviously, you sometimes have to throw out of 12 personnel but McDonald’s role is to block. And that’s where the focus needs to be. This team isn’t starving for more options in the pass game.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
What is the Oline doing wrong in the running game?

Alex: It’s hard to dial down to just one thing. Lot of small issues. Overall, I don’t think the line has been physical enough. Not enough of a push on the frontside of downblocks, not winning the POA, TEs struggling, guys not executing their combo blocks correctly and getting to the second level. Lot of penetration when this team is trying to pull and run power which disrupts the whole thing. There’s ball placement issues by backs too. Guys not reading things right.

But that’s a lot to throw at you and I don’t see one specific theme again and again. I just think they’re struggling to adjust on the fly to what defenses do and they’re not playing physical enough up front.

DirtDawg1964: If you were the OC, how would you find a way to integrate Washington into the offence more?

Alex: That’s a good question. You could simply rotate Washington and Chase Claypool more. Closer to what it was earlier in the season. You could try to kick Claypool in the slot more to replace McCloud and get Washington on the outside. But Washington’s snap count will be limited to no more than 40-50% of the snap count unless you really want to reduce Claypool’s playing time. Lot of mouths to feed here and that’s a good thing for the offense.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex! If the Steelers were to go outside for an OLB, who would you suggest kicking the tires on?

Alex: There isn’t a name who jumps out to me. Which is typical for the scrap heap that is early December football. Most talent has already been signed because most injuries have happened and whatever vet guys were waiting for a deal have already gotten it. I mean, here are the top names.

Terrell Suggs
Clay Matthews
Brooks Reed
Sam Acho

Matthews is the best name there but no one jumps out to me. Certainly not to start over Highsmith.

The Tony: 

Alex,

How do you think the loss of Dupree could potentially affect the Steelers comp pick formula?

Alex: It certainly could. Comp formula is based off playing time and contract. Dupree is unlikely to be ready for Week One next year and his market value has taken a hit. So you probably went from getting a third round comp pick to him to at best, a 4th. Maybe even worse. Which definitely sucks. Underrated point.

MoreRingsThanYourTeam: Troy Polamalu is my all time favorite football player. When he retired, a small piece of me went with him. I think he is more than just a generational player. I think he is THE greatest safety to ever play the game and I will die on that hill. I compare all safeties to him. This brings me to my question. Do you think Minkah Fitzpatrick is the best free safety this league has to offer right now? Secondly, what are some of his strengths and weakness? And lastly, is he the second best safety we have ever had?

Alex: I’m not great at the “rank him” questions league wide. He’s definitely no worse than say, top three. I just don’t study and watch the rest of the NFL enough to confidently put together a list. I know Kevin Byard in Tennessee is really good. So I just don’t think I’m qualified to make that concrete of a statement though obviously Fitzpatrick is one of the best in the game. And if you want to put him at #1, I’m not going to argue with you.

Strengths are obvious. Football IQ/anticipation, angles, ball skills, big play ability, fundamental, open-field tackling, communication, good character, hard worker, guy offenses have to gameplan around

Weaknesses? Shorter list. Not a super physical player, struggles more in the box in run support. And that’s about all I can come up with.

Second best safety in Steelers’ history? Not yet. Donnie Shell still second behind Troy. Is Minkah third though? Would have to debate him vs Glen Edwards, Mike Wagner, Darren Parry. By the end of Fitzpatrick’s career, he’ll be no worse than a clear third place and could pass Shell 5-6 years from now.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: 

Good afternoon Alex!

In the limited opportunities he did receive against Baltimore, is there anything you saw from Bennie Snell that was NOT encouraging?

Alex: It was a good performance overall. The thing about Snell is the old adage of “he’ll get you three when you need one. He’ll you get three when you need five.” Very much a straight-ahead back without a lot of wiggle and sometimes can be too eager to get downhill though with the way things are going right now, I can live with it. Just get positive yards. He knows the type of back he is, he wants to use his size, his power, his leg drive, but sometimes you lose out on a chance for a bigger play where he’s just plowing ahead instead of reading the play and occasionally bouncing wide. I’ll have a video in the AM on Snell that shows one example of that.

JohnB: Hey Alex, been liking what ive seen from Sutton (non all 22). Was curious if we keep him long term if you see him as Hiltons replacement or Hadens

Alex: It would be Hilton since Sutton is primary a nickel corner (though he can also play outside) and because Hilton is a FA after the year. Of course, Sutton is a FA too and his value has gone up this year. No guarantee he’s re-signed but it would really suck to lose Hilton and Sutton. No in-house replacement. Maybe they bump Steven Nelson to the slot in nickel next year if that happens if they’re comfortable playing Layne outside.

Jeremy: Hey Alex. I am starting to get worried about the lack of diversification on offense. Not much time left in the season to develop these things, and the offense is seeming to become more reliant on the quick passing game rather than developing other options to supplement it. Can/will this team get something going in time for the playoffs? I mean anything – a run game, a deep passing game, anything.

Alex: Understand the concern. And you’re right those areas need to grow. But the good news with this short pass game is that it gives you a lot of options. You can run a lot of schemes and route combinations out of it with all the talent this team has. And when teams have tried to take that away, like the Browns did, the Steelers did begin flexing their muscle with the deep ball. If teams are going to let Pittsburgh win short, the Steelers are going to keep doing it. And that’s worked well so far, obviously.

But sure, I want this team to hit more deep balls. I want them to run more effectively and situationally which we’ve seen small signs of but there’s still a ways to go.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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