Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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

To your questions!


Hey Alex,

writing to you from Munich. Let’s start with a question that has nothing to do with the Steelers starting 2-5: How high are the chances of the Steelers playing a game in Germany in let’s say the next 5 years? (Let’s assume the NFL continues to play 4 Games a year in Germany).



Alex: Hey, good to hear from you! That’s a good question. I really don’t know what to put the odds on it of. You’d think they’ll play some sort of International game at some point just with the league increasing the number of them. But I know you’re asking about Germany since that’s where you’re writing from. From an International standpoint, aside from the more “standard” London game, Mexico has always made the most sense for a Steelers’ game outside the border because of how popular they are in that country. Huge contingency of Steelers’ fans. So that makes the most sense. But I don’t know what all goes into the team deciding its international games so I can’t give you a complete answer.


Hey Alex.

I wasn’t able to find this info online, but if I remember correctly, the OL coach also functions as the run game coordinator in Pittsburgh. Do we know if Pat Meyer is doing that job as well? And if so, how much of the running game woes would you place on him just not scheming things up well as opposed to the OL not blocking well?

Alex: Yes, that has been the operation under Mike Munchak. I don’t know if it’s still the same today but I’m working under the assumption it is. I think Meyer has done an alright job to take what we thought would be a bottom-three unit and make them average-ish but in the run game, there’s still a long ways to go. The line has done a nice job at the first level but not well enough at the second level and they haven’t been able to figure out an identity. There’s some blame to be placed on him, he’s the coach and he’s responsible for results, but I haven’t been as frustrated by it. I haven’t seen a ton of issues in miscommunication or breakdowns like I did last year which I generally put more on coaches not preparing guys than flat out execution issues.

BananasFoster: Two Parts:
Alex- I feel like this is the week. Another poor offensive performance and Canada is history. What say you? And if they are in fact 2-6, how confident are you Omar and Andy makes some moves?

Alex: It’s possible. But I don’t think anyone knows. I don’t even think Tomlin thinks about it in those terms and says “if it’s bad after this week, I’m making a change.” He’s all-in until he’s all-out. But if there’s a time to change, the week before the bye and midway through the way is certainly a logical time to do it.

I think it’ll be a quiet deadline. Mostly bark, little bite. Think Claypool stays, Rudolph stays, etc. Maybe they make one move. But it’s mostly fodder that won’t become reality.

stan: Can I have the first Canada question? Say for the sake of argument that Tomlin fires Canada after another miserable offensive performance against Philly. It seems clear that Mike Sullivan will take over, but should Steeler fans actually want that? In that case we’re 2-6 so tanking the rest of the season is in order anyway, and if Sullivan suddenly turns things around then Tomlin is all the more likely to make yet another in-house promotion that won’t bring any real change and improvement.

Alex: Sullivan turning things around is a bad thing? That’s a good thing. I hope the offense gets better. In-house isn’t inherently good or bad. If a guy is producing and has a good relationship with Kenny Pickett, then yeah, keep him. It wouldn’t be in-house like before where they’re promoting a guy before seeing him in that role. It sounds like you wouldn’t want things to get better. I disagree.

JohnB: Whats your overall take on coaching from the booth vs the sidelines?

Alex: I prefer the sideline. I mean, I’m just a guy, never been a coach, and there’s pros and cons to both. But for coordinators, I like them to be around the players. To be able to look players in the eye, not talk on the phone. To better judge body language, to easier connect, to more easily converse with more than just one person. But the booth provides a calmer and wider perspective of the whole field. Remember coaches don’t have video on the sidelines. Photos only. So being in the booth provides that moving All-22 perspective that certainly has a benefit. But I like the coordinators to be on the sidelines.

Craig M: Alex, not trying to put you on the spot, just asking because of the respect everyone has for you opinion; what’s your take on Tomlin’s handling of this soap opera QB/ offense strategy situation, honestly?

Alex: I wouldn’t call it a soap opera. It’s a lot noisier here than it is inside that building. I think it’s been pretty clear to the team who the starter is. Now, you can feel the tension and frustration with this offense and team, that much is obvious and natural for a team playing this poorly and not used to struggling to this degree. And how Tomlin has handled that, eh, it probably could be better. He lets guys be themselves and that comes with the downside of dealing with some of that stuff. But the locker room still sees together so I guess he’s done a good-enough job handling it.

Michael Stickings: 

Hi Alex. I know it’s very difficult to assess coaches’ performance, especially positional coaches. Armchair/couch commentators (like myself) often have no idea what they’re talking about — or maybe we do, a little, who knows. Anyway, how much of a) the offensive ineptitude/simplicity and b) the lack of a successful pass rush without Watt do you think is on the coaching/scheme and how much on the players and overall lack of execution?

Personally, from my armchair/couch, it’s just hard to see how it’s the players’ fault that the offence is so bad. I get trying to simplify things for Pickett, but it’s not like things were going well with Trubisky. And sure, Trubisky wasn’t all that good for the most part, but I’m talking about things like the failure to use the MOF, the inability to scheme WRs open, the perpetually awful screen game, etc. And on D, sure, Watt is a huge factor, but they still have good players on D, if not much at OLB beyond Highsmith. Surely they could find some creative ways to get to the passer, no?

Certainly many players have underperformed, certainly there have been lots of mistakes, certainly some position groups / players just aren’t that good. That’s the reality of this not-good team. But I think you can tell from my comments there that I tend to put a lot of the blame on Tomlin and the coaches. I have been saying for some time now that genuinely transformational changes need to be made. New thinking, new approaches. What do you think?

Alex: It’s both. Players and scheme. When they’re struggling so clearly in those areas, overall offensive output and sack production, it’s hard to blame and pin it on just one area. I’ve certainly outlined my issues with Canada very clearly and while I’ve been less critical of the lack of pressure with the team missing such a key piece in Watt, there’s more they can and need to do to get after the QB. The defensive staff has at least tried to do more and generally just been a better unit than the offensive side of the football. So I can be a bit more forgiving. But sure, the blame can go on Tomlin and the coaches. They’re responsible for the overall production of the team and when it’s not going well, they rightfully get blamed. Comes with the territory. I just try to be specific in my criticism when I’m critical and not just offer blanket and vague assessments.

srdan: 70% of the Eagles points come in the second quarter. What do you credit for that? How would you scheme to get to halftime ahead on the board?

Alex: It’s a very strange stat. I guess they’re just doing a good job adjusting off their script. Off their first 15-ish plays and adjusting from it. Maybe they’re good in two-minute/end of half situations, I hadn’t looked at that aspect yet. How to get ahead? Just start faster. Pittsburgh’s 2-0 when they lead in the first quarter this year and 0-5 when they don’t. I don’t know if there’s a magical recipe behind it. Just be aware of the Eagles’ strength and not staying stale to what you’re doing defensively. Anticipate the Eagles adjusting and changing their approach in the second quarter. That’s the best I could offer.

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