Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Billjump: Do you think good qb play would transform the offense into a good unit? Or do you think other issues are holding it back as well?

Alex: A good QB, a top ten guy? Yeah, probably. That’s the power of a QB. But is Kenny Pickett the answer out of the box? Doubtful. The problems on this offense run deeper than just QB play. And you think this offense is structured and rigid now with Trubisky? Wait until Canada is working with a rookie with zero track record. That’s QB jail – no freedom. So I don’t think Pickett comes in and this offense starts putting up 30 points in the game though as you guys know, I was supportive of Pickett starting Week One. For basically this reason. Trubisky is who he is and going to Buffalo wasn’t some Garden of Zen that would transform him as a player. Trubisky was a stop-bridge for a reason and he’s showing that now.

Yehshaya: On scale from 1-10, how well do the following QBs fit with Canada’s style? Not how good are they overall, but how well do they match up with what he wants them to do. Wondering how much of our trouble is talent vs system vs the meshing of the two


I’d say Trubisky and Pickett are similar. I’ll give edge to Pickett because he is more accurate. So about an 8 for Pickett, a 7 for Trubisky. Rudolph I’d say a sneaky six because he is very much a “do whatever the OC says, play totally within structure” kind of guy. And that’s how Canada largely runs things. Roethlisberger was like, a two. There wasn’t a lot that matched up from play to style to personality, Roethlisberger an alpha who wanted to do it his way and Canada an alpha who wants to do it his way. So that’s my rankings:

Pickett – 8
Trubisky – 7
Rudolph – 6
Roethlisberger – 2

dp4: What do you think it would take for Tomlin to relinquish Canada from play calling duties?

Alex: A lot, probably, especially since it isn’t Tomlin’s side of the ball. I don’t know what exactly the bar would be, I doubt Tomlin does right now either, but probably this team just bottoming out until the bye. Being 2-6 at the bye with an offense that’s bottom five in the game. Then maybe you see a switch there but even then, this is not a team that does a lot of that stuff in-season with coaches. The last example I can remember was former o-line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. being unofficially stripped of his duties about a decade ago with Shaun Sarrett taking over the rest of the season. It’s not a move this team often makes.

Jake Sas: What’s more worrisome to you and why? Play-calling being boring, qb play being below average, run defense being Swiss cheese.

Alex: Well none of it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I mean, take your pick here, ha. Maybe the QB play because it is so central to it all. Scheme is a big problem on offense but good QB play can usually elevate that and open up the creativity of an offense. But this is a bland, boring, stale offense that certainly isn’t making the most of its talent.

stan: I think we all know Tomlin well enough to know that he’s not going to fire Canada mid-season. The man is loyal to a fault even though Canada clearly isn’t fit for this job. Is there a chance we hire an extra offensive mind as an assistant though? Maybe secretly give Mike Sullivan playcalling duties?

Alex: I don’t think they’re going to hire anyone. I’m not even sure who that’d be. The latter, giving them to Sullivan, seems a lot more likely but I don’t know if it’s anything that’s imminent, something that’d happen in the next week or two. As we’ve talked about on the podcast, it’s basically been 25-30 years at least since the team has fired a coordinator mid-season and I don’t think Canada will be shown the door until after the year. Going to Sullivan would be as far as I think Tomlin takes it.

The good news is Pittsburgh has an assistant QB Coach in David Corley. So if Sullivan became the OC, he wouldn’t have to try to pull double-duty as OC/QBs Coach like Pittsburgh tried (and failed) with Randy Fichtner. Corley could see an expanded role so that’s one thing to keep in mind.



What is the #1 thing for the Steelers Offense to improve on?

I saw 3rd Down efficiency.
Get that one right and lots of good things will fall in place.

Alex: Yeah, I’d say third down. This offense needs to hit more chunk plays but no offense finds consistency and efficiency  when they suck on third down. Aside from the first half of the Pats game, they’re just 21.4% (6/28) on third down, including being 20.8% (5/24) in Weeks 1 and 3 with the Pats’ game excluded.  That’s just not going to be good enough. And they’re in manageable situations, they’re not in 3rd-and-forever. They gotta hit these 3rd and 5 and closer moments so they increase TOP and don’t keep running their defense out there.

Daniel Moon: Hey Alex, If the Steelers were to make a mid season change at OC, who do you have in mind? I know QB Coach Sullivan has been mentioned as he was OC at NY Giants. Any outside candidates you have in mind?

Alex: It’d 100% be Sullivan. It’d be in-house. You can’t go out of house mid-season. After the year, we’ll see. They’ll vet outside candidates though Sullivan would probably be the favorite versus the field. But no outside hire. He can’t implement his system on the fly like that. There’s a reason why the team starts in the spring to install their base offense and build from there. Sullivan works with the QBs, has OC/playcalling experience, so he can do the job. That one is a no-brainer.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, there’s been a few disappointing players to start the season; guys we’ve seen underperform expectations. Trubisky has been abyamal. Najee Harris has missed some big holes and been a bit porous in pass pro. But the biggest disappointment for me has been Witherspoon. He’s reminding me of Artie Burns out there. Who’s play have you been the most concerned with thus far this season.

Alex: I don’t know if there’s one guy. I think the Trubisky, Witherspoon are certainly good ones to mention. Harris literally got off on the wrong foot this summer and hasn’t quite been himself though not nearly as bad as the others. It’s probably a combination of a lot of pieces and parts and overall, this offense is just a hollow husk. So that’s disappointing, obviously.

It also sucks to see Tyson Alualu’s career basically end. Father Time is undefeated but I was hoping for one more swan song. Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Michael Stickings: As much as I’d like to add to the conversation about the Canada-Trubisky mess, I have a question about the D and its ceiling/expectations… While obviously losing a player like Watt, one of the very best in the league, would hurt any team, and so we had to expect a decline, this is still a D with numerous high-pedigree players and loads of talent overall. Yet even with Watt it’s not exactly “elite” (however we define that, I suppose). What do you think is holding them back… or what are they lacking? For a long time I think fingers were pointed at the coaching. But would you say this team just has lesser talent overall than more elite Ds? Or is just a combination of not having a true shutdown corner, Edmunds not being a stellar strong safety, Bush not playing nearly to draft expectations, lack of depth at edge, etc.? Okay, there are a few questions there. Mostly I’m just trying to put my finger on why this D isn’t as good as I think it should be, and why it’s certainly not “elite” enough to make up for the Canada-Trubisky mess on O.

Alex: It’s a lot of smaller things. I don’t think it’s as big-picture crisis the way the offense is. The lack of a rush. The missed tackles. Guys not getting off blocks. Not winning on third down. The offense forcing this defense to have very little margin for error. There’s also been coaching miscues on smaller scales than the offense. Some “popcorn” there of bad personnel groupings and decisions. A lot of that stuff came in the Patriots’ game.

For all their warts, this is a defense that should be in the top half of the league from a PPG standpoint. They kinda got screwed on that fumble/touchdown at the end of the Browns’ game. But they’ve allowed 20 (in five quarters), 17, and 23 points the first three weeks. All numbers you can reasonably win with.

Not having an elite pass rush makes it hard to have an elite defense. I don’t know too many top-shelf groups that couldn’t get after the QB. Of course, elite defenses rarely have weaknesses, that’s why they’re elite, but getting after the QB is how you keep the score down, create turnovers, force teams to abandon their gameplan, etc.

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