Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly mailbag. We’re here for another hour to answer anything on your mind as the Pittsburgh Steelers get ready to face the Cleveland Browns in an important matchup this weekend.

To your questions!

Chris Carey: Did the Front Office really think this was a championship OL when the season started? Seems like they knew it would be a work in progress – and “work in progress” sounds like building for the future instead of making the best out of Ben’s potential last year.

Alex: I think they understood it wouldn’t come together overnight. They’d be foolish to think otherwise, especially with some of the injuries they dealt with in the spring and Banner not being ready for Week One. Their stance, and they really said as much before the season began, was preaching patience. They thought it was a talented group who needed time to develop and grow. So they were making the proclamation about the talent, not Day One readiness.

There generally aren’t any easy answers to totally rebuild an offensive line left to right in one offseason with limited financial capital. The Chiefs took a more aggressive approach and it hasn’t worked out great for them. Maybe a little bit better but not at the cost of the money and draft picks they spent.

The Villy-Foster-Pouncey-DeCastro-Gilbert/Feiler group took time to build. That didn’t happen in one offseason. Foster was first, then Pouncey, then Gilbert, then DeCastro, and then Villanueva. So it took several years for that group to become what it was.

Stephen: Hey Alex, all the talk about Zach Banner, someone who has rarely played gets a lot of attention so what are the realistic expectations to expect from him. Thank you

Alex: It’s a fair question. It’s also hard to give an answer because you’re right, we don’t know much about his game. He simply hasn’t played much in his career, especially as an actual OT and not tackle-eligible. So I am trying to go in with a mostly clean slate. You’d like to think a guy who can create movement in the run game and use his length to seal speed/outside rushes. But how he does in pass pro, handling the corner and inside counters, would be key for him.

But I don’t know if the guy is even going to start this weekend. We’ll see what happens.

zbluez1: Happy Thursday morning (west coast time) Alex, Given Mike’s vehement dismissal of the college ranks for coaching, Mr Haden’s I’d run through a wall for that man comment, the teams attitude seems to be at one of its highest points in some time. Ben has acknowledged he’s no longer the winningest QB in that stadium, the question begs asking:
Will #Steelers offense actually start fast this Sunday ? Your take ?

Alex: I sure hope so. They’ve gotten better at it this season off a couple of 45-50 yard TDs to Diontae Johnson. But I don’t think that rah-rah stuff means a whole lot once the team takes the field. Their success/failure is going to be based on how well the iOL combo blocks, how Dan Moore fares against Myles Garrett, if the WRs can make tough catches, if the offense avoids penalties, etc. Not about what Mike Tomlin said in the presser, even if it probably did pump up the team in the moment. But that stuff gets set aside when the ball kicks off.

Rey Sayhitodabadguy Hunt: Hey alex can you explain why the steelers sign two first rd players only to place them on the practice squad for over a month

Alex: Because they can. Those guys are on practice squads for a reason. Karl Joseph nor Taco Charlton played like first round picks. For a variety of reasons, not solely because they aren’t good, but those guys have bounced around and no one is caring about their pedigree anymore (except maybe Pittsburgh). There really isn’t a role or home for either guy on the 53. Norwood is playing well and Charlton isn’t even much of a special teamer so him beating out Tuszka isn’t going to happen. They’re just depth.

Chris Carey: Tomlin has said he doesn’t want to “start over with a rookie” – per Jay Glazer. Do you think that means he’s very supportive of Rudolph, or instead of building from the draft and getting a rookie there – that we might be open to spending some of the savings from Ben leaving – by getting an experienced (but less expensive) player as Ben’s replacement. How did you read that comment?

Alex: Hard to know exactly. Maybe Tomlin will talk about it during the offseason a bit. All Glazer said is just that – no rookie starting. Does that mean they won’t even draft one? Or draft one and have him sit? They’re going to have to draft one eventually. They can’t just jump from vet to vet every two years and think that’s sustainable or win in an AFC full of 1st rounders.

I think signing a vet QB is certainly possible. It’s probably preferable to Rudolph. At the least, Rudolph can’t be the long-term option. The Steelers will need the draft to find their next guy and the Steelers need to realize that, even if Tomlin doesn’t want to start that guy right away.

Rey Sayhitodabadguy Hunt: Hey alex which qb is better in your opinion joe burrow or Josh Allen

Alex: I’m going Josh Allen. Burrow has improved in a big way but Allen was an MVP candidate and still could get to that point this year. Bigger arm, bigger playmaker, the guy I’d worry about a lot more. I’d rather face Burrow twice a year than Allen.

David Shoff: Alex, if the steelers were to trade ingram i wouldn’t do it for anything lower than a5th round pick. Heck if he is being traded, the other team must plan on using him as a starter or almost a starter so wouldn’t that be worth even a4th round pick?

Alex: I’m with you, David. 5th rounder is the minimum. And even that would be tough because it’s probably going to be a mid-late round pick, knowing only contenders are going to look to trade for him. A 4th would be better because it’ll function like an early 5th round pick instead of an early 6th rounders.

But it depends on the market. Teams value their draft capital and we have a tendency to value our guys more than other people do.

zbluez1: And a second question if I may: given Canada’s recent comments about things he said he’s NOT aware of, How concerned are you that he appears to be attempting to operate in a bubble 💭 cut off from the input of others? I realize that a certain amount of it is required to do the job but he just seems to be a bit more disconnected than I am comfortable with and I have to believe that to a point it’s effecting overall communication on offense, you?

Alex: Well you know the Steelers and analytics. Anything number-related is sacrilegious. They’re all gut-based. But I dunno, maybe he knows. His interviews are brutal. Guy never says anything. Total college coach, close to the vest, can’t/won’t say anything interesting. Bring back Randy just for the interviews at least. I’ve been critical of Keith Butler but I love listening to the guy. He’ll basically just give you the Steelers’ playbook. I like hearing from him and the assistants. They don’t have the coach speak down. That makes what they have to say interesting. Canada has yet to say a single interesting thing this season.

MudBanjo: Alex,
All things equal for this year, would you rather have highsmith or Ingram opposite TJ. Not accounting for next year or development, future trade value, whatever else. Purely for winning games this year, who would you like to see start.

Alex: Highsmith. Ingram has played well, he’s great depth, but Highsmith’s ceiling is higher. Better athlete, for starters. Much more explosive and he’s not 32 like Ingram is. Some of the advanced numbers give a clear edge to Highsmith as well and he showed it against the Seahawks.

David Shoff: Alex, do you expect more 3 man dl play from the steelers this week to stop the run? I think we went to that in the last game late in the 4th quarter.

Alex: Yes. A good chunk of that is dependent on what the offense does. What personnel they come out with. If they’re in 12/21 with multiple backs and tight ends, basically any defense (including the Steelers) will be in base. Or else you get run over. And the Browns are a “big people” kind of team. Now, they will go heavy and then spread the field out, they did that a ton Week 6 against Arizona, and that’s hurt the Steelers in the past because it forces LBs to walk out and cover.

But beyond that, even the times Cleveland plays 11 personnel with 3 WRs on early downs, Pittsburgh could stay in their base 3-4. They’ve done it before a bit. And they know they gotta stop the run. Especially if Keenum is at QB (I think it’ll be Baker though) they’ll be in base and force the QB to win it.


if you’re Colbert, what would a nfc team have to offer you for Ingram?

How about JW?

I don’t think they’ll do either, they think this team will keep improving

Alex: 5th at the minimum. 4th would probably do it for me. Even for an AFC team. If that’s the best deal, I’ll take a 4th from an AFC team than a 5th from a NFC club.

Washington, probably a 4th, but that’s tougher with JuJu going down.

srdan: Is Butler the most candid interviewer you’ve seen in pro football?

Alex: Ha, I don’t know about that. He’s up there. But I think Danny Smith has him beat on his own team. But listening to Butler is a treat, for sure.

David Shoff: Alex, if banner is ready do you go xhukks or banner? If go chukks because if hate to see a rusty banner against garrett.

Alex: I gotta go with Chuks. Line is playing better, don’t rock the boat. Though I think Garrett will mostly go up against the rookie in Dan Moore. Really try to attack him.

Bill Sechrengost: Hi Alex. So, if the Steelers trade for another player, what position do you think they would target? Run-stuffing nose tackle, maybe?

Alex: Maybe. Or cheap speed at WR. Will Fuller, Albert Wilson, Andy Isabella, John Ross, etc. But I don’t think they trade for anyone. They really don’t have any draft picks to give away at this point.

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