Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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

To your questions!

ÄB: Hey Alex,

Is there a reason why Teryl Austin isn’t getting more heat for some of these losses as well? I know not having TJ Watt is huge but let’s not act like his defenses were elite when he was a DC a few years ago, they were pretty bad.

Alex: Probably because there’s so much heat on Matt Canada. if you stub your toe and then break your arm, you forget about your toe.

I’d also say there’s the understanding that Mike Tomlin runs the Steelers’ defense. So the coordinator gets less blame. Right or wrong, that’s debatable, but that’s a pretty big reason. And Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t been as bad as their offense and like you said, there’s a “better” excuse/explanation of not having their best player out there. I think Austin is a good coach too so I’m not especially displeased with his performance. Some issues, some schematic breakdowns, but much of it due to trying to survive post-Watt.

Plus, it’s Pittsburgh. The OC always gets complained about. Haley, Fitchtner, Canada. Yelling at the Steelers’ OC is a national pastime around here.

BananasFoster: At this point I’d like to see KP get better each week. Week 10 he should be better than week 8. Week 11 he should be better than week 10, etc. If at week 18 he’s the version we saw of him in the Eagles game do you still see the Steelers rolling with him next year, or try to trade up. FYI I love Drake Maye maybe in ’24.

Alex: I’ll zoom out more at the end of the season. Though it’s a new regime, my expectation is they wouldn’t consider any alternatives until after the 2023 season if Pickett is still struggling. So in other words, yes, they’ll roll with him this year. Plus, if they’re sitting at pick #8 and trying to get a Top 5 QB, that is an expensive trade-up that would deplete a lot of the capital they’re adding/will add.

Billjump: How would you like to see the steelers adapt without Claypool? He made some good plays in his final few games but there are opportunities to give more snaps to other players, perhaps more 2 tight end sets

Alex: I don’t know if there’s one specific route. I think it’ll be multiple players getting chances to show what they can do. Sims should start but he shouldn’t be the only one. Sure, multiple TE sets are an option, though it’s a big circumstantial. And with this offense needing big plays, I don’t know if going heavy is really the ticket to do that. But I’d need to look at the numbers and success rates a bit more.

I would like to see Connor Heyward get some work in the slot. He’s an interesting space option and he’s run good routes in limited chances this season. Just need more YAC opportunities for these receivers across the board, Sims and Diontae Johnson especially. That’s a must.

Sdale: Alex, not making excuses for the Oline (they’re mediocre at their best), but we’ve played some good defensive fronts in the first half of the season. Do you see, based on our opponents, an improved run game in the second half, and do you see that translating to more wins, or do you see us at 5-6 wins?

Alex: Yes, I can see that. In the second half prediction Dave Bryan and I did on Monday, I have this team going 4-5 over the final nine games to put them at 6-11 on the season. So a bit better finish than start. Easier schedule, Watt’s return, this offense – by sheer accident, at least – scoring more than 20 points once or twice, should all contribute to things being a bit less brutal. And like you said, some of these defenses have been tough and Pittsburgh’s been playing from behind. Which sure doesn’t help.

PghDSF: If Bush doesn’t resign next year, doesn’t ILB become at least a Day 2 pick?

Alex: Potentially. It’s hard to map all that out so neatly and perfectly. I don’t see anyone on the roster who steps right in. They like Spillane but in a more limited role. They traded for Joe Schobert to bench Spillane after Vince Williams retired, signed Myles Jack instead of starting Spillane this year. So they don’t love him that much. And Mark Robinson can’t be counted on to make that kind of jump.

There is free agency and the Steelers should have money to spend. So that could be a way they plug that gap instead of a draft pick. So it’s hard to say exactly how they’ll approach it.

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