Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your Thursday edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything on your mind after a busy and fun Week One.

To your questions!

Go Steelers!: Najee played 100% of the snaps. With him being a rookie plus the season going to 17 games, I would bet that number comes down. Who benefits more- Snell, Ballage or McFarland (when he is healthy)?

Alex: We’ll see. It’s hard to tell right now. I think McFarland will be the #2 when he’s healthy and gets up to speed, though it’s unclear when that’ll be. You’re right Harris won’t play 100% of the snaps every game but I don’t think his snap count will dramatically decrease in most games. The other guys are fighting for scraps and carving out their role on special teams. My guess is Snell is the #2 right now, if you’re looking for a “this weekend” kind of answer.

Mackintosh: Knowing how rough of offensive line looked, does that change your outlook on Najee’s year? First game out of the way, I think he can still be a beast but even with someone like him, its hard to run when the line is blown up right away. Excited to continue reading this season! Go Steelers!

Alex: It doesn’t. I don’t think anyone expected the o-line to look amazing in this one. First game of the year, on the road, silent count, a strong front. Not a surprise to see this run game start out slow. My outlook on Najee was based on the volume he was going to see. Snap counts and carries. And he got both of those. 100% of the snaps, 16 carries. And that’s going to be about the norm the rest of the way. So my outlook hasn’t changed one bit.

MudBanjo: Hi Alex,
I noticed our secondary in buffalo was moving pieces around. Specifically I noticed minkah down in the slot. Butler said in his interview that they are moving him around and using his versatility. Isn’t that exactly what he was frustrated about in Miami? Is there any concern about frustrations in that respect, especially with his contract coming up here?

Alex: It was. But I think it’s a completely different situation. Minkah’s been in his ideal spot for two seasons now. He knows the Steelers want and are smart enough to use him the best way possible. That’s been proven. So that makes him a lot more open to doing some additional things down the road for the greater good of the team. As opposed to starting at Miami moving him around from the get-go and Fitzpatrick never feeling like he had a voice or input or his best role in Pittsburgh.

So I think it’s two wildly different situations there and I’m not worried about it.

falconsaftey43: Hey Alex! I had an idea for an article series, or maybe just an addition to your weekly scouting reports. Would you be able to highlight who you think coach Dunbar would designate as the “fish of the week” on the opponents offensive line? And maybe how you’d attack him?

Alex: Hey man! I like the idea. I just don’t know if there’s enough hours of the day. Maybe that’s something we could add to our individual report. That’s probably a better approach than a separate article.

I’ll say for this week, based on what I’ve watched/know so far, attack those guys. No Goode. Incognito banged up. Go after those guys. And the Ravens seemed to get their most amount of pressure off twists and stunts so I think we’ll see a more aggressive, attacking, blitzing front from Pittsburgh this week. Much more of the norm compared to last week.

Dan Blocker: Hi Alex! What do you see as the Steelers offensive change in the 2nd half versus Buffalo? Was it still Canada’s show, or did they lean more on Ben’s comfortability in the no-huddle, or some combination

Alex: Eh, I don’t think it changed too much. I don’t think they really changed much of anything anywhere after halftime. It was just better execution. Offense might have gotten a bit more static, a little more shotgun, some of that is game circumstance and trying to throw a little more, but nothing radical. Just executed better. A little better on possession downs, kept drives going instead of stalling out.

Sam S: Seemed like there was couple 1st downs and other scenarios as well would have liked to see us run the ball. Can’t recall exact plays but the thought crossed my mind that Ben is defaulting to pass on RPOs. A little scary if it is so implanted in Ben’s head that he has to shoulder pressure to make things happen by passing. Thoughts? If you’re Canada and see this do you just call straight more run plays considering Ben can be stubborn.

Alex: We’d have to talk about specific examples to evaluate that question better. It’s a read. It’s based on box count, if you’re +1, -1, even. It depends on how they’re covering the pass-option. The Bills did more to sell out the run, especially on the Steelers’ final drive, so it makes more sense to throw the ball in those situations.

It’s not a matter of stubbornness. It’s a matter of options. And generally made good decisions so I have no problem with him throwing on those RPOs.

PghDSF: With Chuks still having problems blocking, will he become the swing Tackle when Banner comes back and if Moore continues to improve?

Alex: Let’s see what the next couple of games look like. We have at least two of them before Banner is eligible to return. Lot can change until then. But yes, I think that’s possible. Will it happen? We’ll need to watch and see. He’s got a tough matchup against Crosby this weekend.

PaeperCup: Hey Alex!! With current Steelers personnel, what do think is the best way to contain Darren Waller?

Alex: I don’t think there’s a one-shoe-fits-all answer to that. I think you have to mix up how you play him because he’s going to run the whole route tree and aligns all over the field. You’ll see examples of that in our scouting report tomorrow.

But I’d treat him, in a sense, like a Tyler Boyd. Much different skillsets and body types, obviously, but in terms of bracketing him, playing inside/out, having a slot corner outside leverage, a robber like Minkah to come down and play inside leverage and take the whole route tree away.

In general, I’d put a lot of Minkah on him seeing how the team is comfortable playing him over slot. But it’s a mult-man job and scheme kind of thing to stop a guy who had 19 targets Monday night. First TE to have 19+ targets in a game since 2012. Dude is a freak. And the Raiders know teams are trying to take him away so they’re doing more to move him around the field. Guy lines up everywhere. Backside X, #3, traditional Y, in bunch (not as the point man so he gets a free release) on switch routes, wheels, double-moves, the guy does it all. And does it well.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, we saw a son of personnel rotating in and out on defense, especially in the defensive backfield. Aside from one instance of having too many men in the field, I thought the D really seemed to have their act together. Do you credit new signal caller Joe Schobert for keeping a lid on things? Can he be the steadying force in the middle that takes this defense from good to great it is the secondary still to much of a question mark to consider that?

Alex: It seems like Bush and Schobert were both swapping out the green dot so I credit both of those guys, for sure. I really credit everyone. Players for being aware, doing their job, and communication is an 11-man job. Not just talking but being attentive and receiving information on the fly and then potentially communicating that to a teammate. To the positional coaches for getting guys on and off the field. That’s a big role they have. So I think it’s credit to the whole group but for sure, having a vet like Schobert definitely helps.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex! How do you feel about kickoffs? IMO I’d like to see all our kickoffs go out of the end zone and make the other team start from the 25. Especially with a strong defense. The reward of pinning an opponent inside the 25 is minimal compared to the risk….see opening kickoff at Buffalo. What say you?

Alex: I get that. And I wouldn’t be mad if that was the approach. But sometimes you don’t always get what you want. Especially based on weather conditions. I don’t know what the wind speed/direction was for the opening kickoff Sunday that got returned 75 yards, but it was gusty all day. And so sometimes that ball is going to fall short if there’s a strong wind at your face. Or when it gets cold and that ball is harder to kick. Or some other weather issue out of your control. What you want and what you can do aren’t always the same.

Plus, I’m sure Smith has a lot of confidence in his group too. That they’re capable of making plays. Sure, if you boot for a touchback each time, you’ll never risk a long return. But you’ll also never start the offense inside the 25 either. If you think it’s hard for an offense to go 75 yards on this defense, it’s even harder for them to go 85. There will never be a splash play that fires up the crowd, the STs unit, and the defense with a big hit or stop inside he 20. Or a penalty on the kick return team that puts them on their 11. Or a forced fumble that you pop out and give your offense back-to-back possessions on a super short field. So there’s a lot of benefits here too.

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