Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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

To your questions!

The Chin: Two parter:
If you had to make an educated guess, without the benefit of this Sunday’s result, what would you predict the record of our guys will be at the bye?
And best guess as to when Calvin Austin finally gets a helmet?

Alex: Well my prediction guesses have been uh, poor, this year but I have them at 2-6. Losing three of the next four. I don’t know which they’ll win, they’ll be underdogs for them all, but I’ll give them a win in there somewhere.

Austin won’t play this weekend. He’s a rookie who missed two months of action. Gotta catch that moving train and he’s gotta get back into football conditioning. There’s no running you’re doing with that foot injury. He probably just started that back up. So I would say Week 6 against the Bucs at the earliest and it’s probably more likely to be Week 7-8. They may take full advantage of that 21-day window.

Gluebucket: Does the inability to get pressure without TJ Watt fall on the coaches (Austin, Flores, Tomlin, etc.)? Lebeau always used to have exotic blitz schemes to get pressure, but I feel like the pass rush without Watt is fairly bland. I see stunts and twists, but it always looks like the timing is off or they are too slow to develop.

Alex: To an extent, yes. Coaches have to be at their best when they’re lacking talent. It’s their job to overcome and maximize what they have. I did see Pittsburgh dial up more sim pressures against the Jets, they actually ran a Fire X (though it was man coverage, not a Lebeau Fire Zone) and they have done a lot with different groupings and alignments to try to compensate for losing Watt. But they still haven’t blitzed much and some of the things they have done haven’t been effective. And they need to get some of the blame for that, certainly. Still, some of it is on the players to go out and execute so it isn’t 100% on the coaching staff.

Michael Stickings: Hi Alex. Just wondering about Claypool. I haven’t given up on him, and I do want him to do well — maybe in large part because he’s Canadian, and it’s nice to see Canadians succeed in the NFL. And I think back to his rookie year when he flashed so much. It’s clear that something’s missing, though… but is it him… is it the coaching / scheme? He’s obviously not a 50/50 jump-ball guy, but is that because he’s not being coached up? But even if that’s not a strength, it just seems to me the team isn’t putting him in a position to succeed. I like the end-arounds, sometimes, but what about a slant now and then, something to get him the ball in the middle of the field where he can use his size to find additional yards. He may not be twitchy and quick, but he’s got a motor and can knock people over. To that point, I suppose, why not use him more as a sort of TE? Am I just being overly optimistic that there’s something good there?

Alex: The problem is that’s what he was drafted to be. That’s what he was in college. But often, those guys don’t work out because it’s hard to win contested on a regular basis in the NFL. Even for Pickens, I think it’s going to be a challenge but he can do it on a higher level. Claypool is a good athlete so ideally, that was going to allow him to be more than other jump ball guys who did nothing (N’Keal Harry, Laquon Treadwell, etc) but he’s not separating like he needs to.

I think Frisman Jackson is a good coach. I don’t know how much of this is on him. He’s gotten the ball in space to a degree but he isn’t that sure-handed and trusty slot receiver either. His game is supposed to be best on the outside and he’s struggled there. He’s also been a really bad blocker and shouldn’t be used as a TE. Even in some of the wing/split flow concepts they have him in, he’s pretty brutal. I’m not sure what is going to happen with him – we’ll see how the rest of the year turns out, especially under Pickett. I’m not making a final judgment right now.

srdan: Let’s keep it light! Is Deandre Hopkins a good comp for Pickens? Do you have a better one?

Alex: Yeah I can see where your head is at. I don’t know if I ever had an “official” comp for Pickens because I didn’t write the report on him. AJ Green gets tossed around a lot, too. I’m really just focused on his game now. Once they’re in the NFL, I don’t do a lot of comps unless it’s an opposing player I’m trying to compare for Steelers’ fans benefit who may not be super familiar with the guy.

Matt Smith: What’s your evaluation of Myles Jack at the quarter-pole? I see pretty consistent play down to down, and he’s around the ball a lot, but very little in terms of splash plays (TFLs, tipped passes, forced fumbles).

Alex: That’s a pretty fair evaluation. He stays clean in the run game, does his job, makes some plays in underneath coverage, doesn’t miss many tackles (though his one on the goal line last week sucked) and is a solid all-situations guy. Not a lot of splash but it is four games in. Sometimes these things come in bunches or increase throughout a season, especially as a new guy gets more comfortable within his scheme. He’s not a great linebacker but he’s a good one who probably looks a bit better because of how starved for even competent ILB play Steelers’ fans are.


Greg Cosell often talks about quarterbacks’ ability to eliminate and isolate within play structure for success.

Of the very limited sample size we have of Pickett, do you think that’s perhaps a difference as to why they moved on from Trubisky?

Alex: Not really. I think it’s zoomed more out than that. The offense wasn’t producing. That isn’t all on Trubisky but when you’re the stop-gap quarterback playing middling football ahead of the first round pick face of the future and the offense stinks…the team is going to make a change. Or at least certainly could. And that’s what Tomlin did. I don’t think it’s more than that.

Now, we can get into Trubisky’s specific issues of not being fully comfortable in the pocket, of missing underneath reads, of being ineffective on downfield throws. All of that is fair. But I don’t think it was a highly analytical decision the Steelers made. It came at halftime, not even during the week when you can go through the tape, talk with the staff, plan it out. Tomlin is a gut guy. Steelers needed to beat the Jets. Tomlin needed to try to light a spark. So he made the change. Simple as that.

Jarvis Ragdoll Jones: Alex,
Mike Tomlin did very well his first 4-5 years on the job. Since then he has not accomplished much. Is he overated my the local and national media?

Alex: I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about overrated or not. I just try to evaluate the job that’s been done. And it’s more than fair to say everything since at least 2017 has been one big disappointment. This playoff drought is unacceptable. I can be more forgiving this year given the big transition but big-picture, yeah, it hasn’t been good enough. Winning is hard, fans are prone to taking it for granted, but I’m not going to make a bunch of excuses for Tomlin either. It’s why I hate the “never had a losing season” stat and 2022 seems like the end of that tired sentence.

PaeperCup: Hey Alex, maybe we’re little jaded, but do we overvalue players like Muth, Najee, the entire WR corp who we all have stated are some of the best in their position, but really have not performed anywhere near the top tier?

Alex: Fans generally have the most extreme view of their players one way or the other but it had the makings of a good unit. Maybe Claypool has been too overrated, I don’t know, but the others have consistently proven themselves on Sundays. There was a work-in-progress element to this offense so I’m not trying to draw conclusions about this year right now. Maybe things look dramatically different by the time we’re talking around the bye. Maybe not. I’ll just take it all in and draw those conclusions at the end of the year.

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