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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!

Steel PAul:

Hey Alex! Great great job with the 2022 year and season, first off. I can’t believe we’re back to talking draft again.

Here’s my Q: if our bff Matt Canada is let go, do you have any favorite OC potentials in mind?

Alex: Hey Paul! Thanks so much. I know, season moves fast, switch flips quickly.

I haven’t given future OCs much thought until we know the current one is gone. And who knows which way that’ll go. Houston’s Pep Hamilton makes sense. QB guy, available with Lovie Smith fired, and the Steelers interviewed him before officially promoting Canada so there’s plenty of connections there. But I won’t dive in until and unless we know Canada is on the outs.

DropTheHammer: Offense dominated defense by a lot less in 2022 than it has for the past many years. What has changed in the defensive schemes to explain this?

Alex: Scoring was down a little bit, no doubt. There’s probably a variety of reasons but I think the biggest reason was just QB play. Clear correlation to the value/strength of QBs versus points. And it was something like a record 64 different starting QBs playing this year and I think that number didn’t even reflect any additions for Week 18. So when you have injuries and poor play and teams using two and three QBs throughout the year, you have worse offenses. Probably less about defenses doing anything, maybe they’re defending mobile QBs better than they had, 2-Man usage around the league was way down this year, but I think when you have a year of crappy QB play overall and a lot of changes, scoring is going to be down.

Zach: Would the Steelers consider signing an offensive assistant like a run game coordinator or passing coordinator and have that guy in waiting to be the next OC ? Kinda like they did with Matt. since Matt Canada’s contract is supposedly up after next year

Alex: Traditionally, the offensive line coach is the de facto run game coordinator. It was under Mike Munchak at least. So I don’t think they’ll bring in someone to have that specific a title since it’s already handled by the o-line coach. I don’t think teams to the “guy in waiting” for OCs either. There may some understanding of the future but if you want to fire a guy, just fire a guy. Don’t hire his replacement a year early except for situations where that guy may leave, like a hotshot OC getting HC looks that you know probably isn’t going to stick around. But Canada isn’t in that situation, clearly.

Steel PAul: And if your answer is, I’m just not there yet, which is understandable, who on the Oline is the weakest and strongest going forward?

Alex: To answer your second part of the question, Dotson is the weakest, Daniels is the strongest. Dotson was better the second half of the year but he makes so many mental mistakes. Daniels played great once he got comfortable in Pat Meyer’s system. Great strength, anchor, and technique. Worked his hands much better even if he has a sorta wide initial punch.

DropTheHammer: 

I see a lot of pop-pop-pop contact with repeated small punches, and a surprising number of “get out of the bar” final shoves. That’s what happened on the play with #42. Moore threw him out of the way to clear a path on the inside, and Najee went outside instead. The throw was so powerful that Fields couldn’t get turned for a moment even though Najee basically ran right into him, but the angle allowed him to make an assist.

What I don’t see any of is the classic latch on, drive, and pancake action. Not even on the very effective down block.

Is this a flaw in Moore’s game? Or is it a technique being taught by Pat Meyer? The latter would even make a certain kind of sense. Why take the defender to the ground if you’ve neutralized him, and might have a chance to help elsewhere by staying on your feet?

Alex: I have less knowledge about how specifically Meyer teaches run blocking as opposed to pass protection. But that’s just the idea of finishing your block, taking a guy to the ground. I see that along the line. Get a guy off his feet so he can’t stay up and potentially get back in the play. That’s my guess at it anyway. Saw that with Okorafor on that block on Anthony Walker in Week 3.

Richard Prezel: How often will we see Carrie this postseason???

Alex: God Willing, zero. I actually forget if she’s on in the postseason for SNF. Probably. And I’ll still be mad about it.

Billjump: There seems to be general agreement the steelers OL was better as a running blocking unit than in pass protection. How important do you think it is for the pass protection to improve for the steelers offense to become more balanced? Would the OL be holding Kenny Pickett back if it didn’t?

Alex: Both areas progressed which is what I am most focused on. They got better. Pass protection towards the end of the year was pretty good, really. But sure, you want to see it grow. The tackles to get better. Stunt pickup to be more consistent. Handling defenses that mug and sim pressure and have fewer free rushers or better built-in hots. But both areas improved, the whole line got better, and that’s encouraging.

Banastre Tarleton:

Hi Alex!

Are we really going to expect to roll with Austin or a drafted rookie next season or should we expect a free agent? Possibly Lazard who can play slot?

Alex: They could add. Would be a good idea. Lazard feels too strong and I suspect that if Canada remains OC, they’ll want a smaller/shiftier guy to run the jet sweeps and motions, but a veteran would be nice. I hadn’t gone through the names. A vet free agent for that presence would be preferred but it just depends who is out there, cost, scheme fit, etc.

CP72: AK,
We spend a lot of time talking about this 2022 draft class, and rightly so. What is a best case scenario of Calvin Austin could bring to this offense? Was watching his college highlights the other day and my goodness he can scoot.

Alex: What he was supposed to be when drafted. Big play threat on horizontal and vertical concepts. Run down the seam. Take the jet run. Make the play in space on the RPO/bubble. Maybe do return work, punts, at least. Be a guy who wears a lot of hats and is a threat to make a couple house calls. Hopefully he can still be that guy after foot surgery.

Kevin Good: Hi Alex.
Another great season for you guys covering the Steelers. I played for 9 years, but you still keep teaching me. Keep it up.
But as we go from watching the Steelers play to gearing up for the draft, my 2 questions for you are…
1. When can we expect the college profiles to begin? I love them.
2. Can we expect coverage on the nfl free agents the Steelers could/should sign?

Alex: Hey Kevin! Thanks for the kind words. Means a lot. To answer your questions.

1. First one is dropping Monday! Any guesses who it will be?

2. Yes, the free agent wishlist and similar articles will be back. Not until later this year. There’s lots of times and it’s good to see who might actually be available and hit the market as opposed to being re-signed. But we will have that content for you, no doubt.

Ryan Barton: Aren’t the Steelers getting a 3rd round pick for this year’s draft for the Omar Khan hire? Also, if Brian Flores gets a HC job somewhere else in the NFL, would the Steelers get another 3rd rounder next year? Lastly, are these picks given out at the same time the comp picks are announced? Thanks for all of the great information from you and the Steelers Depot team! Been a follower of the site for 10 or 11 years and the content gets better and better.

Alex: No and no. Teams don’t get them for internal promotions. Which is good because if they did, teams would have a direct incentive just to promote their minority candidate for draft picks and then they could fire them after a year if they wanted. The system would be dubious at best.

Flores has to be here at least two years to be eligible. So if he became a HC this year, Pittsburgh gets no compensation. If he goes and becomes a DC, no compensation either, regardless of years.

Yes, the official order would be announced at comp pick time but we know they are 3’s and fall in an order in-line with the draft. So we’d have a good idea of the range. But it’s a moot point this year. Thanks so much for reading!

Jesse Hernandez: Hey Alex I know there’s been a lot of criticism about diontae. I don’t wanna beat on the guy but one of the things that caught my eyes that I haven’t seen anybody else bring up is him tracking the deep ball. I felt he was much better the first 3 years even with mason and duck. Do you have any concern about that?

Alex: It’s probably a fair assessment but I don’t have the data in front of me to compare. Could be recency bias. Yes, 2019 was an exception but largely, he worked with Ben for his career so there was a level of comfort and reps. Less so with the QB musical chairs, especially Pickett, who didn’t do much throwing to Diontae in the summer with Johnson holding in and then working 1st team once his deal was signed. The deep ball inefficiency of this offense overall is a concern but not specific to Johnson.

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