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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the Steelers’ mailbag. Bumped this one to Friday instead of our usual Thursday spot since yesterday was Thanksgiving and you and I were stuffed to the gills with turkey. As always, we’ll be here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Matt Manzo: Happy Friday Alex! Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving!
Is it weird that we don’t know who the back up kr/pr is?

Alex: Hey Matt! I did – hope you did as well.

I don’t know if it’s weird. Especially when we think the fallback option is a guy like Steven Sims, who has played in just one game with the team and hasn’t returned a kick or punt. It’s not like something we get to see much of. Not like there’s ever a rotation or anything like there is at say, receiver or outside linebacker. McCloud has been the return man for two years so we haven’t had to see who their next guy is. It’s just unusual this team has gone so long with the same returner, at least, in the kick return game.

SteelCity: 

Alex,

What are your top positives / negatives for offense, defense, and special teams for the season so far? Thank you

Alex: 

Offense (Positive): Opening scripts. Only 1 opening drive TD 2019 and 2020 combined. This year? Four TDs and five drives that resulted in points. It took awhile to get going, didn’t hit the first one until the Packers game but it’s been pretty strong since. Much better, at the least.

Offense (Negative): Big plays. Or lack thereof. No explosive runs, Mason Rudolph has the longest rush of the season, and the deep ball has been active but not successful enough. And this offense needs big plays. All the best offenses generate them. That’s why Pittsburgh is a bottom-tier scoring team.

Defense (Positive): Play of its stars. The studs are playing like it. Watt. Heyward. Fitzpatrick isn’t at the level he’s been at but still been very good. Those guys, largely, have played at expectation. Which is good because it’s been required given the play of the rest of this group.

Defense (Negative): Its personality. Which is a big, umbrella thing to talk about, ha. But they’ve changed who they are. Blitzing a lot less, week in and week out. Playing more zone. Overall getting less pressure, a full ten points lower than a year ago per PFR (35 vs 25%) and a secondary contesting fewer passes. I get why they’ve done it, compensating for a younger/greener/less talented group of DBs, but it’s really hurt them and what’s made them effective. Here’s a crazy stat comparing/contrasting takeaways from 2019 and 2020 compared to this year.

Special Teams (Positive): Chris Boswell. Punt blocks right up there but Boz has been so good this year. As good as any kicker this season including Justin Tucker.

Special Teams (Negative): Punting. Punting numbers and net numbers are poor. Sins of a rookie, I suppose, but punters get less grace than other positions. Those guys don’t get much time or patience to produce. They gotta bring it Day One.

David Rudin: Hey Alex,
I saw Matt Canada’s comment that he doesn’t need a mobile quarterback to run his offense. Realistically though, can you imagine the Steelers with a mobile QB after Ben, ie Fields, Allen, Hertz etc…? Even though Tomlin “doesn’t pay attention to the Joneses” wondering if it’s easier to join them if you can’t beat them?

Alex: Oh sure, you can bank on the next Steelers’ QB to be more mobile than Ben. A low bar, I suppose, so let’s say a decently mobile QB, minimum. Maybe not Fields/Allen/Hurts/Jackson but someone you can design the occasional run around or scramble or keep the ball on a read/option from time to time. Tomlin has salivated over QB mobility and mentioned it about every chance he’s gotten this season. It’s not the only thing, it’s still not #1 for me, but it has its value. Especially for any young guy trying to break into the league, like the names you’re mentioning.

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