Welcome back to your weekly Pittsburgh Steelers mailbag. Had to change the time slightly today and bumped it up an hour. I’ll do my best to come back and answer anything throughout the day for those expecting the usual 2:30 PM/EST start time.
To your questions!
JohnB: Hypothetical May no-news question: lets say its three years from now and only three picks from this years draft are still on the roster, who are they, and if you feel, why?
Alex: Ah that is a tough one. Especially knowing they’d all be on their rookie deals so that means some really bad stuff happened. Guys getting cut outright, not just left to hit free agency. I would say Jones, Porter, and Benton. Not that create of an answer, I know. But those are your top picks and they get more leeway. I’d be tempted to put Herbig on this list though I don’t know who I’d take off. But you could argue Washington kinda implodes and his medical might be a problem. You could argue the same with Cory Trice Jr. who has a little Travis Feeney in him. And Anderson as a 7th round pick to leave off is easy.
But hopefully there’s more than three still on this roster three years from now.
Brian Tollini: Could you see the Steelers using 13 personnel as a real RedZone weapon this year or would would that be a very limited usage (if used at all)?
Alex: It’s not going to be a package you see a lot but sure, there’s flexibility to be versatile with their personnel groupings. You can do some Freiermuth/Washington/Heyward or swap Heyward for Gentry and go ultra big and heavy. So I don’t know how much you’re going to see it but yeah, it has its advantages and the team can mix things up better this year than they could in 2022. They’ll get big people on the field, no doubt about it.
Hi Alex! I think coordinator evaluations are really hard without being just results based. Your Pickens article got me thinking maybe some of the criticism of Canada’s offense was so straight forward. Maybe some of what we saw as a lack of diversity was so much “that’s all Canada’s offense has” and more of an intential choice to put guys in a position to do what they do best. I.e. just ask Pickens to go deep because he’s not capable of a lot else right now. Run a ton of curls/comebacks because that’s Pickett’s favorite route (per Ben’s podcast).
One is the mark of a good OC, the other of a poor one. It’s really hard to separate the two.
Actual question: what is one Schematic change you are looking for from the offense this year?
Alex: I agree with you. It can be hard to judge coaches because you’re trying to separate what was execution issue and what was gameplan issue. And that can be hard to define, especially when things go poorly. So I don’t like to put all the blame on one man or one aspect. It’s usually spread across.
To the team’s lack of YAC, it’s multi-fold. Pickens’ lack of YAC is less to blame on the OC and more on Pickens’ own vertical style and rawness everywhere else. But Diontae Johnson’s lack of YAC is far more on the OC and the scheme and routes they ran. Sure, Diontae takes some blame for running backward and his drops but he’s always been a YAC guy. And his number cratered last year when it shouldn’t have. That I put on Canada for running so many curls/outs/comebacks that didn’t allow for that.
To answer your question, I want to see better use of constraint plays. Using one to set up another. Canada didn’t do enough of that last year and when he did, it wasn’t dressed up differently with a different grouping or formation. With more continuity, this offense should have more layers to it.
What key area do you see the potential for our greatest improvement
Rushing yds? Rushing yds allowed.
Rushing TDs scored? Rushing TDs allowed?
TDs scored? TDs allowed?
Passing TDs scored? Passing TDs allowed?
Third downs made? Third Downs allowed?
Red zone TDs scored? Red Zone TDs allowed?
Alex: I’m hopeful it’s red zone offense. Obviously that boosts scoring too but this RZ unit has been 23rd in 2021 *and* 2022. That’s gotta change. There’s a bigger and more physical offensive line. Better WR room with more slot options. Big tight ends to throw to. Pickett in Year #2. This team should be able to finish drives at a much better clip inside the 20 than they have the last two years.
Chad Prince: AK,
When I look at this roster I’m excited. Not a lot of glaring needs. This whole thing is going to come down to what type of jump Pickett makes in year two isn’t it?
Alex: Ha, bingo. I was planning on writing about that at some point. It’s great the roster has improved, that’s a positive no matter if you have a good or bad QB, but in a very competitive QB-world in the AFC North and AFC, the season will largely be defined by the jump Pickett does/doesn’t make.
Banastre Tarleton: Can you think of a year in recent history where the Steelers put so much emphasis on “quality depth?”
It seemed in the past we went with, “If everything goes perfectly injury wise, we will be OK.” This season, our OL, for example, is as deep as I can ever remember. Khan seems to have Plans A, B, and C and I don’t think he’s done at slot or ILB when camp cuts come about.
Alex: It’s hard to think back and compare. But certainly seeing a deeper o-line than a year ago. Pittsburgh played with fire last year and it’s a minor miracle they didn’t get burned. And I think they realized that. But like you said, some positions still don’t feel great depth-wise like RB, ILB, and NCB. Of course, depth can only be so good and it’s not going to be perfect everywhere but it’s been a focal point for Khan by and large.
Chris Carey: What sort of a role do you think Hakeem Butler would make IF he makes the roster? Who would he be competing with for a role? Surprised to get a former round 4 pick as a FA, is it due to drops?
Alex: He’d have to be active on gameday. If he’s a #6 WR without a lot of special teams value and loses out to Miles Boykin, then Boykin might be in street clothes unless and until there’s an injury. I’m not that surprised by it. His NFL career hasn’t been a success and he found a second chance in the XFL and thought Pittsburgh was his best fit. His raw talent hasn’t matched up with production, partly due to the drops you mentioned.
steelers58: Hey Alex,
If Jones balls out at LT and Moore shows he can handle RT, what would u do with Chuks? Start him anyway, or cut him?
Alex: Okorafor should start this year. Because even if Moore looks okay at right tackle, it’ll be preseason action. And that’s not enough to judge him to the degree where you’re cutting the guy and he’d be a might expensive backup. Plus, the Steelers want that three-deep at tackle. They’re not going to wipe that out right before the season begins. If Jones wins the LT job, Moore will become the swingman.
Everyone seems to accept that D-linemen have to play in rotation, which means that having only a good starting pair (Heyward and Ogunjobi) isn’t enough. Why isn’t that accepted in the same way for pass rushers? Isn’t this a case where the team *must* have three, but really ought to have four?
I am trying to understand why people shrug off Golden as a “backup” like the #2 Center, when he will actually be getting hundreds of very important snaps even if TJ and Highsmith stay healthy.
Alex: I’m not in that camp and haven’t seen many say the same. I’ve beat the drum to add a quality #3 EDGE and they didn’t have that until Golden inked his deal. The EDGE guys play in a rotation too, just like the defensive line. Having four is ideal but that #4 has primarily been more of a special teamer and it’s hard to find four plus pass rushers to collect on a roster unless you’re loading up via the draft.
draframe1: Hi Alex!
I love the Golden signing to shore up OLB. What remaining position would you like to see addressed with a vet signing? I’m going with ILB
Alex: ILB is a solid suggestion. I still am uneasy about the NCB spot though I don’t think there’s a vet available right now I’d bring in. Would wait until the summer for a trade/roster cut. RB is a sneaky one too because if one of Warren/Harris goes down, there’s going to be a problem.
stan: What do you make of Kendrick Green working at center again? We all know how bad it looked when he was a rookie, but I had hoped that with some work he would figure out how to handle power rushers while snapping. However, it seemed like he gave up playing center entirely last year. Is this a matter of him realizing that center is the only way to get back on the field? Or do you think the Steelers are giving him one last shot to earn a roster spot with an eye toward cutting him if it doesn’t work out?
Alex: It means he’s gotta work somewhere and that this team lacks center depth. Hassenauer leaving opens up the spot. Green isn’t going to cut it at guard, he’s just too small, so I guess they might as well try him at center. And he’s got nearly a full NFL season doing that so there’s experience there a lot of other guys on the roster don’t have. But bottom line, he’s gotta play somewhere while he’s on the roster.
Certainly though, he very much feels outside-looking-in.
Dan Blocker: Hi Alex! Admittedly, I didn’t know a thing about Tanner Muse until we signed him. But after checking him out a bit, is it possible he’s considered a passing downs option at ILB? It seems he had that ability in college (safety), but due to the fact he’s not sticking in his first two stops in the NFL, he’s lacking somewhere? Your thoughts?
Alex: You’re right, he was a safety at Clemson before moving to ILB at the next level. But he hasn’t been much of a coverage guy or defender in the NFL. He’s a special teamer. He’s like Marcus Allen. Safety-turned-linebacker, didn’t carve out a defensive/dime package. Cole Holcomb should be the three-down guy at ILB this season, the lone off-ball LB when the Steelers employ six DBs.