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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly mailbag, the final mailbag before the 2021 season gets underway. Beginning tonight between Dallas and Tampa Bay with Pittsburgh kicking things off Sunday versus Buffalo. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything on your mind.

To your questions!

stan: What’s your take on the compensatory pick/ Witherspoon situation? Dave Lolly tweeted that the Steelers didn’t actually give up that pick and it doesn’t seem like the Steelers would be reckless enough to toss away a compensatory pick in addition to the one they traded.

Alex: My understanding of the formula and more importantly, the experts in these circles like OTC’s Nick Korte, says it counts against the Steelers in the balance sheet. So yes, I think it will factor in this season. There are still things like playing time that will have to be accounted for (Joe Haeg may ultimately not count, meaning they could get back a 5th for Hilton) so we’ll just have to wait and see. But my belief if Witherspoon could cost them the 5th for Feiler.

If this team’s focus is on winning today, and it most certainly is, than losing the future draft pick is a trade-off they’re probably ok with.

zbluez1: Alex, is the key match up Sunday Bills D-line vs Steelers O-line or ????? What’s your take

Alex: Absolutely, yes it is. I’ll expand on it more later this week in an article I’m planning to write but yup, the Bills have won the trench war each of the last two seasons. Granted, clean slate here with Klemm in charge and a brand new looking o-line, but that’s going to define the game.

srdan: It’s 3rd and a long 3 on Sunday, tied game in the first quarter. What personnel would coach Alex put on the field, and what do you call?

Alex: 11 personnel. My best people out there. Top three receivers, Harris, and a tight end (Ebron or Freiermuth though…interesting question). But this is a base 11 personnel team. That’s how they’ve been built. And that’s the group I’m rolling with in most “default” situations without a lot of other context available to me.

It’s less about the personnel than it is the playcall and the execution IMO.

The Tony: 

Alex,

As of today, who are you more confident in with their play, Moore Jr or Green?

Alex: Man, good question. Both guys are going to have their warts and struggles. Just like most rookie offensive lineman do, especially on the road against a challenging Bills’ scheme. I’m not sure who I would pick. It ultimately doesn’t matter who I’m more confident in. We’ll start getting our answers soon. They’re going to start, they’re the best options to start, and we’ll go from there. Speculation time is almost over. Now it’s time for the test.

PwndHearts: So… My thought is the Steelers inevitably have to wade into the guaranteed money situation regardless of whether it’s the “Steeler Way” or not… right? Ii seems like that’s just the way the league is moving these days and at some point they put themselves at a competitive disadvantage by refusing to negotiate with players on the same playing field as the rest of the league. I know the team relies a lot on their reputation, but it seems like a bad move to have their reputation become “The team that signs you to a rookie contract then tags you twice if you’re good.” I guess the question is “How long can the Steelers put off guaranteeing money before it starts to hurt them?”

Alex: You’d think so. Their method is a dying breed. Eventually, they’ll have to take the plunge even if that won’t happen until after Colbert/Khan are gone. As Dave and I talked about the other day, besides Minkah, there aren’t any other obvious mega-money players in-line for a contract in the next couple of years (and Minkah isn’t going to get Watt money, though he’ll be paid very well).

Sure, I think that point is well-taken. Personally and hey, it’s not my money so it’s easier for me to say, I’d change if I were the Steelers. With what happened with Bell, with what’s happening to Watt, it’s not a good look. It’s not the idea of “taking care of your own.” It’s a lot more “my way or the highway.” I get the goal is to get the best deal for your side but this stuff is getting messy and it’s doing more harm than good. Both from an optics standpoint and a team standpoint – it’s not a good thing Watt missed so much time.

So short answer, they will eventually change. But old habits die hard.

Byrron Mobley: What are the chances Watt is still a Steeler heading into next season?

Alex: 100%. If no extension is reached, they will tag him. No doubt about it.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex! Alulu has a bad elbow. What’s the starting DKine if he can’t go?

Alex: In base: Wormley-Buggs-Heyward

In nickel: Davis-Heyward. Obviously a rotation there. Maybe Wormley starts in nickel. But they’ll rotate through. Buggs has been the run plugger though. So he’d be the man to replace Alualu as the base NT.

Jerry Reid: If Bush and Schobert play up to their abilities in the middle, how much pressure does that take off a now injured DL against the Bills? Or will it still be essential to create disruption in the back field and pressure Allen? In the past the front pressure has made up for lacking coverage, now its looking like it could be the other way around being minus Alualu and Tuitt.

Alex: It sure won’t hurt. It’s hard to quantify the amount of pressure it’ll take off because everyone has to do their job, especially against a tough Bills’ offense, but those two playing well is just important in general. But Bush and Schobert still aren’t going to be the main source of pass rush nor the first line of defense in the run game. And if your front four aren’t getting home or getting run into the second level, it’s hard for your LBs to play a great game. Covering longer, dealing with more trash against the run. So this d-line needs to play well. It’s how this team is built. It’s how most great defenses are built. Begins up front.

Dan Blocker: Alex, any chance the Watt deal is done already, and it’s an attempt to keep the Bills wondering who’s facing them Sunday?

Alex: Next to zero. Buffalo already knows Watt is going to play. He’s practicing. And if they plan for it and he doesn’t, mazel tov. Great news for the Bills. The Watt deal is not done yet.

Lambert58: Late to the party, but I’ll submit this: Is TJ Watt playing a game of chicken that he can’t win? I really can’t believe he thinks he’s going to remake the way the Steelers do business.

Alex: They’re going to change one day. For someone. Few guys better to try to make that case than TJ Watt. But I think if either side blinks, it’ll be his camp.

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