Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!

HinesWardFan: Happy belated Festivus, Alex!
Your opinion on why the offensive line is playing so poorly?

Alex: Same to you! I think it’s the same stuff we’ve discussed before. It’s hard to narrow down to one thing. Overall, I don’t think they’re physical enough. I wouldn’t agree with Booger McFarland’s assessment that they’re “soft” – Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva (a former freakin’ Army Ranger) are not soft people – but they aren’t playing as physical as they need to be. I do think there’s a distinction there.

But the issue has been across the board and slightly different from game-to-game. Against the Bills, too many LBs ran free with linemen not getting off their first level combo blocks. Other games, they simply haven’t been able to sustain their blocks long enough. Double-teams that didn’t generate enough movement. The frontside of power/gap runs allowing penetration. Matt Feiler struggling as a puller. I can’t really boil it down to one thing.

But I know the next linemen I draft needs to be a butt kicker. That’s a requirement.

Sam S: Hi Alex, Ben has appeared to underthrow quite a few deep balls where wr was breaking away from db and had to comeback towards the ball. Are you able to glean anything from Ben’s mechanics that would lead you to believe he is injured? I’m concerned Ben’s arm might be cooked with off-season surgery, fatigue or injury. Do you have any confidence Steelers will have any deep passing game for rest of year?

Alex: I’m not expert enough to go into detail about specific mechanics. Especially anything upper body. But there’s nothing I’m seeing from an arm standpoint that tells me he’s hurt. The knee is a different story but I’m guessing his arm actually feels pretty good. Relatively speaking at least – the dude does lead the league in pass attempts this year.

But to your question, no, it’s hard to have confidence at this point. Inevitably, they’ll hit on one or two if they keep throwing it enough but I’m not holding out hope for a significant, consistent turnaround.

Andi B: First round of playoffs who do you think we match up the best against?

Alex: Don’t mean to dodge the question Andi but I really haven’t thought about that much. I just go in with the approach of they’ll play who they play and if they want to win a Super Bowl, they’re going to play some teams they don’t match ideally up against. But I guess I’d go with Miami. Rookie QB, young team. But Steelers need to play a lot better these next two weeks for me to feel they can match up well against anyone.

HinesWardFan: Thanks, Alex.
Fichtner stated the advantages of the quick passing game. Do you believe he’s using it for the advantages, or to cover up unspoken weaknesses?

Alex: Maybe a little of both. But primarily for its advantages. That’s where Ben’s strength is and the strength of these receivers. Guys like Diontae Johnson and JuJu are best at catching short and running long. Remember Roethlisberger got the ball out very quick in 2018, pre-surgery, so this isn’t new.

RedzC: Happy Christmas Eve Alex.
Is Conner gone after this season and if so who would you like them to target in the draft or sign as a replacement?

Alex: Yes, fully expecting Conner to walk after the season. I’d go through the draft but I don’t have a name in my mind. Sure you’ll hear Alabama’s Najee Harris a lot throughout the draft process.

WeWantDaTruth: The last few weeks, teams have really been taking advantage of Steelers’ OLBs crashing down the line of scrimmage, and then gashing us with runs outside of them. Future opponents are going to do the same. Do you see this as a concern as well?

Alex: Somewhat, yes. It’s an easy adjustment for the Steelers to make if they want to. One problem to that is not having the speed at ILB – like Devin Bush – to be able to scrape over and make plays on the perimeter that allows your OLBs to play hard and fast. Against teams with mobile QBs who put that stuff on tape, the Steelers do adjust. So it doesn’t hurt them as much against Baltimore like it did Cincinnati in that strict “the QB is unaccounted for” issue. Obviously, the Ravens have run all over Pittsburgh since Jackson got to town.

So I’m less concerned about it against the teams you need to obviously prepare for that stuff. Moreso about the teams who don’t do it much but can adjust to it mid-game, as Cincy did.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the Holidays, guys!

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