Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind. Appreciate you stopping by.

To your questions!

CJT: Hey Alex, do you think the OLine will improve with more time together this season, or is this just a group that is not very good and will continue to struggle?

Alex: It’s natural to expect improvement. It’d be pretty foolish to think otherwise given how young this group is. And they have talent. But the questions I’ve asked from the get-go have been how quickly will it begin to improve and how much better will it get. If it takes until the last quarter of the season to get better, that doesn’t do you much good. If it goes from “really bad” to “still pretty poor” then you’re not taking enough steps. And that’s stuff we’ll just have to watch and see. But I think it will get better. It almost has to when you have a brand new front five and so many young guys out there. We treat Dotson like a vet because with this group, he’s actually one of the more experienced guys, but even he is still just in his second year who made only a couple of starts in 2020.

stan: I’m trying to make sense of Tomlin’s comments that Ben has limited ability to audible in key downs. I just can’t believe that anyone would shackle the HoF quarterback. What do you think?

Alex: I get that. I’m not sure what to make of it either. Tomlin is trying to say it was a more game-specific thing because they were on the road but Canada’s offense feels more limiting and structured than Fichtner or Haley or Arians. I guess Tomlin’s point is the 4th down calls are specialty calls that inherently have less freedom (I assume the same can be said for say, a 2 point call) but yeah, Ben needs to have autonomy.

MattSteelCurtain91: Thanks again for doing all you do!
Which of the upcoming QB class has caught your eye as a potential franchise QB? and what think odds are we get him? Bonus extra Or is more likely we try n trade for a Watson Rodgers Garapollo situation

Alex: Appreciate it, Matt! I really haven’t spent much time on the QB class. I know if I just watch bits here and there, watch highlights, then I’m going to cloud and bias my judgment as we get into the pre-draft process. And I just don’t have a lot of extra time right now to study those guys.

The odds of getting him? Depends on what the class shapes up to be, who they like, where the Steelers are picking, it’s a thousand factors that are hard to predict right now. Could they trade for a QB? Again, really hard to say. Is it possible? Yeah, I think it is.

Dan Blocker: Hi Alex. You told me to come back and ask my O-Lineman questions this week after the Packers game (tapping my stack of question papers on my desk). But you got an O-Line question already! So, what do you see happening with the NT/DT spot, and do you think Buggs can handle a starting spot on this line? It seems a dedicated run stopper, even as a reserve, may be needed. Your thoughts?

Alex: Haha, I did! You were asking about changes to the o-line, right? At this point, no I wouldn’t bench Green for Hassenauer. Could that change? Sure. But I wouldn’t for this week. Zach Banner sounds good to go at RT so I would start him there against Denver. Who becomes the LT? I’m probably riding with Dan Moore. But if they went Chuks, I wouldn’t hate the idea. That could go either way. Moore is going to be here a lot longer though and their play is fairly equal so I’d give him the nod.

Buggs will continue to be the NT. Team doesn’t really have a choice until Davis comes back. As a plugger/run stopper, yes, I think Buggs can do that job. Not as good as Alualu, of course.


Hi Alex, thanks for the coverage, hopefully this week there are more positives to discuss, I miss those.

Like last year we think that 11 personnel is our best group out there – fine. Like last year we don’t have a QB mobile enough to run or even execute play action consistently – fine. Now we put that QB behind a young line and the early results aren’t great. Schematically, can this work? Would getting out of 11 be better for this team?

Alex: I’m not sure what benefit you get or how you hide an immobile QB/worse o-line in 12 or 21 personnel. That probably means you’re under center more which isn’t good for a QB’s mobility. It puts more blockers on the field but do you want Ebron blocking?

The talent and strength of this offense lies with its wide receivers. Johnson, JuJu, Claypool, Washington. So those guys being on the field puts your best people on the field. And in the run game, I think spreading things out is still better than going heavy. Good run blocking teams can go heavy and impose their will. Like the Ravens can. Bad run teams who try to go heavy just run into a wall.

Of course, things vary and you’ll mix up packages and personnel groupings based on health, game flow, gameplan, etc. You don’t want to be in 11 personnel 95% of the time like the Rams were a couple years ago (and they’ve evolved out of it). But when your WRs are your best guys, you want them on the field a lot.

The Penalty!
I’ve come to accept when the league/officials “let them play” even when it hinders us. [EG last year TJ being held so often even when it wasn’t called] I hate it, but understand it. What is hard for me to “choke down” is the flag that comes out when there was NO PENALTY committed.
Am I the only one facing this issue?
I was trying to wonder why that has me so frustrated.
Agree or am I waaaaay off base here.
Thx again for all you do….and you did say we can ask anything:

Alex: Haha, you’re always more than welcome to ask. I think you spend more time frustrated by the refs than I do to be honest. Which is fine, not knocking you for it, I just don’t pay attention to it because it’s out of my control. But sure, any bad call in either direction (letting them play vs a ticky tack flag) is frustrating. I’m more in the “let them play” camp, especially for DBs, so I generally get more upset when they throw a flag on what should be a non-call. So I’m with you. Probably just a little less vocal about my displeasure, ha.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex! Based on the OLine struggles, should the Steelers still have realistic expectations of competing this season? And if not, does it make sense to “blow it up” and trade vets let Heyward, Haden, JJSS to get picks for the future AND to give them a chance to join a playoff contender!

Alex: Sunday might tell us our answer. Beat the Broncos and you’re 2-3 and semi back in this thing. You have some life, some hope. Lose to the Broncos and you’re 1-4 and yeah, your season is pretty much cooked at that point. Not only in record but in who you’re losing to and what the rest of the schedule looks like. Road doesn’t get easier from here.

But they’re not going to blow it up nor am I advocating for it. They could trade someone like James Washington and at the biggest name, Joe Haden (because his contract is expiring, even so, I’d be very skeptical) but not Heyward, not other big-name, core guys under contract beyond this season.

BurghInPhilly: Hi Alex, if Banner comes back, who plays LT- Chukes, Haeg or Moore? Thanks!

Alex: Won’t be Haeg. Either Chuks or Moore. It honestly could go either way. I’ll lean they stick with Moore to keep more continuity on that side with him and Dotson. But I wouldn’t put money on it.

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