Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Welcome back to the mailbag, everybody. One old man rant for the week. I don’t know if I am being a typical lazy millennial or if I have a legit gripe but I hate the 280 Twitter character count. Absolutely abhor it. And then I hate myself for feeling exhausted after reading one and living in a world where that’s a feeling many other people share.

140 was the sweet spot, Twitter.

To your questions!

Lukesaenz: What’s going on with Ben’s deep ball this year? In the past, it’s been such a strength to his game, but nowadays, it’s looking like one of the biggest challenges to us getting our offense rolling. Is it just unlucky, or is there something looking different?

Alex: That’s a good question. I’d chalk it up to being a bit unlucky. Had Bryant open last week…missed him. Had him open vs Chicago…drop. Some of that is getting back into rhythm with Bryant. Missing a year can’t be overstated. It takes a lot of time to get back. Heck, look how it affected Bell.

And sometimes when you’re in a drought, you start to press. And I think Ben has done that a little bit. Those plays will open up though.

Jesse Hernandez: Hey Alex, do you think theres a legitimate decline to Ben or do you think he’ll bounce back to 2014 Ben? Im finding myself angry during offense possesions now when it used to be the other way around.

Alex: I think that question is better answered over more time. Ben isn’t always the strongest the first four weeks. His numbers after the first month since 2014.

2014: 68.1%, 7.7 YPA, 6 TDs, 2 INTs
2015: 75.3%, 10.3 YPA, 4 TDs, 2 INTs
2016: 63.5%, 7.7 YPA, 11 TDs, 4 INTs
2017: 62.1%, 6.8 YPA, 6 TDs, 2 INTs

So yeah, some of those numbers are down. But not so significantly so. Roethlisberger, and the team, tends to get better as the season barrels on. Something to watch but I’m not going to jump to any conclusions yet.

Michael James: Hi Alex, are you pleased with Dupree’s play so far? Do you think he has shown significant improvement?

Alex: Yes, I don’t know how you couldn’t be. Especially knowing that he’s not 100% and I’m betting he won’t be the rest of the year. Could be one of those guys who ends up having offseason surgery. Just getting reps, something he obviously couldn’t do this time a year ago, is going to accelerate his development. And he’s a really hard worker. We’re seeing it pay off.

srdan: 

A quarter is in the books.

Who is your most pleasant surprise of the first quarter?
Who is the biggest disappointment?
Who are you most excited to watch the next four weeks?

Alex: 

Surprise: Gotta be Jesse James, right? I thought this would be the Vance McDonald show by now. But James rose to the moment since the trade. Doing well as a blocker and making tough, competitive catches in traffic. A real red zone threat now that I think Roethlisberger has a high level of confidence in. He proved a lot of us wrong. Me, at least.

Disappointment: That one is tough. There isn’t one guy I am super disappointed with. I’ll cheat and throw out a couple names. Vince Williams has been fine but I’m waiting for that game where he proves the Steelers made the right decision moving on from Timmons. His coverage has actually been solid and I don’t hear anyone talking about how much of a liability he is (of course, he’s also getting subbed out in dime). But the run defense has left more to be desired. And too many missed tackles. Five, according to our Josh Carney.

Villanueva obviously has had a rough go. There was the illness that I’m sure played a role but he won’t use it as an excuse. Three sacks in the first month is not what you want out of your left tackle.

And while Sean Davis has had bright moments, still, very few impact plays. No interceptions, no forced fumbles, one pass breakup. Strong safety spot has to do more than that. JJ Wilcox has a breakup and INT in far fewer snaps. If Wilcox keeps getting some playtime and makes an impact like that, and Davis fails to, I am not totally opposed to exploring a change in depth chart. Being steady but not impactful is what got Robert Golden benched.

Most excited: It’s so hard to choose. Probably Bryant. That monster breakout game is coming. Buckle up.

Steelers12: Alex would Todd Haley be better suited sitting up in the press box calling plays?

Alex: I mean, I can’t really answer that well. They tried it out and obviously didn’t like it enough. I don’t have any compelling evidence or argument to go against it.

Personally, I like the idea of my play-caller being on the sideline. I get the idea of being in the booth and getting the bird’s eye view but with photos and tablets they have, you have that on the sideline. This isn’t 1960. And the ability to communicate, look a guy in the eye, and learn all you learn from body language and talking with your players, that makes a big difference.

Tim Drake: Do you think Cam Sutton carves out a role when he returns, or are Hilton and Gay playing well enough to hold him off?

Alex: If Hilton keeps playing the way he is, his spot is safe. But sure, Sutton could edge out Gay. It’s good to have that competition. Sutton’s main focus is still to get healthy and make an impact on special teams. That train is far away from the station. Lot of catching up to do.

SkoolHouseRoxx: Long time no see, Young Alex! Would you rather have Ladarius Green with a clean bill of health or Heath Miller 1½ yrs removed from football?

Alex: Hey man! Have either of them been working out? Can we assume Green has at least? I love Heath but I’m sure the dude has done zero training. He’s probably lost weight. Look at Alan Faneca, those guys look totally different when they don’t need to have 20,000 calories a day and can actually be a normal human being for the first time in their life.

So based off that alone, I’d go Green. And he’s still the more dynamic threat.

NickSteelerFan: You’re the GM, the season’s over, Steelers are Super Bowl champs and you are looking towards 2018! As of right now, what are the top three positions of need for the Steelers to fix in FA and the draft?

Alex:

Man, those questions are hard to think about this far out. I really don’t know. Probably another CB. Joe Haden has been fine but who knows if he comes back. High price tag. ILB could be another position to look at high if you can bring in an elite talent. RB with Bell’s situation. TE….less of a need now than I thought six weeks ago but still possible. Have to see how the season shakes out.

MP: I love your Stats of the Wierd column. It’s my favorite thing to read after the game while everyone is angsting over winners/losers. Anyway, on a scale of 1-10, what’s the predicted level of distraction of all of the non-football related activity on this season in your opinion? I, for one, am predicting it’s a “meh” though I think they could have been more focused for Chicago.

Alex: Thank you, they’re my favorite to write.

I dunno, I’m not in their heads but I think it’s low. A 2-3. Maybe for something like the anthem, it went up, but for this AB stuff, and most everything else, it’s much more talked about here on blogs like this than it is in that locker room. There’s always distractions in these players lives. Not even always football stuff. Most of these guys have families. A wife, kids. There’s always things going on in a player’s personal life that they can’t bring to the football field. Kids sick, fight with the wife, figuring out who is taking their son to football practice. Just normal life stuff.

You have new guys and rookies adjusting to a new city. JuJu came from the West Coast all his life to Pittsburgh. That’s a “distraction,” something to overcome. And most players are able to compartmentalize it because that’s their job. So bottom line, some of that stuff exists, but you can’t ever use it as an excuse.

CP72: Alex,
Is this a much improved defense or Is it a defense that’s played some really sub par quaterbacks?

Alex: I think it can be both. And it is. They are better. Guys with more experience, Davis/Artie/Hargrave. Adding Haden. Getting Heyward back. Drafting Watt, Dupree taking another step, it’s impossible to think it’s the same as last year.

TroymanianDevil: I’m gonna ask you to play coach Tomlin here for a second. Would you ask Ben to stop taking that 1 practice off he gets every week?

Alex: I see the point of contention people have of him sitting. But I really don’t think you can go back and say that’s the root cause of the problems. The guy has been in the league so long, getting a day of like that isn’t going to mess with him that much. I’m fine with him taking some rest for his arm because he is older and you want to be proactive in avoiding the consequences of wear and tear. The goal isn’t just to play all 16 games. It’s to play in the Super Bowl.

So yeah, I get the point, but it’s far down the list of issues with this offense. Or even Ben.

RyanW: What do you think of all the Ben is done talk? I think it’s way too early to even think that.

Alex: Eh, mostly noise. No one knows. Ben probably doesn’t even know. Much bigger things to talk about.

The Sun Is Pro Black: Is this Mitchell’s last year as a steeler?

Alex: I dunno. Honestly haven’t given it much thought. My guess is no. But I haven’t thought a lot about 2018.

SteelDodo: 

Hi Alex,
Is it just me or does it seem like Ben tries to throw it long on third down far more than is needed? Every time it’s third and two or third and six I get nervous that Ben is going to take a shot 20+ yards downfield. It’s not bad to try it every now and then to keep the defense honest, but I would like him to hand the ball to Bell or do a short pass in those short yardage situations then wait to try the long ball on first or second down.
Am I overreacting? If not, is that more on BB or Haley?

first time poster. Love these mailbags!

Alex: Hey man, so glad you’re posting. Stick around!

I know Dave has a lot of the data so he’s probably more fit to answer the question. I think it happens less than people think. And when he does, it’s usually one-on-one coverage without the safety over the top which is honestly probably the most open anyone will be on a play. So I don’t begrudge him for that.

But it’s generally Ben’s decision. Not Haley’s. There’s a deep route on most pass plays. Ben’s choice if he wants it or not.


Thanks for the chat everyone! Talk next week.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • Lukesaenz

    What’s going on with Ben’s deep ball this year? In the past, it’s been such a strength to his game, but nowadays, it’s looking like one of the biggest challenges to us getting our offense rolling. Is it just unlucky, or is there something looking different?

  • Jesse Hernandez

    Hey Alex, do you think theres a legitimate decline to Ben or do you think he’ll bounce back to 2014 Ben? Im finding myself angry during offense possesions now when it used to be the other way around.

  • Michael James

    Hi Alex, are you pleased with Dupree’s play so far? Do you think he has shown significant improvement?

  • srdan

    A quarter is in the books.

    Who is your most pleasant surprise of the first quarter?
    Who is the biggest disappointment?
    Who are you most excited to watch the next four weeks?

  • srdan

    -TJ watt and Hilton
    -AV
    -TJ watt

  • Steelers12

    Alex would Todd Haley be better suited sitting up in the press box calling plays?

  • Tim Drake

    Do you think Cam Sutton carves out a role when he returns, or are Hilton and Gay playing well enough to hold him off?

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Long time no see, Young Alex! Would you rather have Ladarius Green with a clean bill of health or Heath Miller 1½ yrs removed from football?

  • srdan

    I am. He defiently got more bend to him. It’s constant pressure from that side now it feels.

  • NickSteelerFan

    Hey Alex, welcome back!
    You’re the GM, the season’s over, Steelers are Super Bowl champs and you are looking towards 2018! As of right now, what are the top three positions of need for the Steelers to fix in FA and the draft?

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    1. Back up QB
    2. Safety
    3. ILB

  • MP

    Hi Alex,

    I love your Stats of the Weird column. It’s my favorite thing to read after the game while everyone is angsting over winners/losers. Anyway, on a scale of 1-10, what’s the predicted level of distraction of all of the non-football related activity on this season in your opinion? I, for one, am predicting it’s a “meh” though I think they could have been more focused for Chicago.

  • CP72

    Alex,
    Is this a much improved defense or is it a defense that’s played some really sub par quaterbacks?

  • TroymanianDevil

    I’m gonna ask you to play coach Tomlin here for a second. Would you ask Ben to stop taking that 1 practice off he gets every week? Seems like that extra practice would help him with Juju and Martavis ( lesser extent). It’s not a big concern of mine, but personally I’d like to see him there on that off day until the rhythm comes back and then sure, take that day off once the offense is rolling again

  • CP72

    1. Hilton
    2. The killer bees (minus AB)
    3. Juju….there’s something special about this kid.

  • RyanW

    What do you think of all the Ben is done talk? I think it’s way too early to even think that.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Is this Mitchell’s last year as a steeler?

  • SteelDodo

    Hi Alex,
    Is it just me or does it seem like Ben tries to throw it long on third down far more than is needed? Every time it’s third and two or third and six I get nervous that Ben is going to take a shot 20+ yards downfield. It’s not bad to try it every now and then to keep the defense honest, but I would like him to hand the ball to Bell or do a short pass in those short yardage situations then wait to try the long ball on first or second down.
    Am I overreacting? If not, is that more on BB or Haley?

    first time poster. Love these mailbags!

  • SteelDodo

    One more Q.
    Let’s assume that Ben plays every game this year. The Steelers win the Superbowl, then Ben calls it quits. What do you think the Quarterback room would look like next year? Would a first round rookie starter be an option or do you think they would go the veteran (Brian Hoyer type) to allow Dobbs more time to develop?

  • Alex Kozora

    I think they look at a 1st round option. It would obviously be tough though if they’re picking 32nd.

  • falconsaftey43

    It’s not the whole story, but here are some stats. On 3rd down, Ben on average throws the ball 0.9 yards past the sticks. That ranks 8th highest in the NFL. Winston is the highest with 3.1 yards (Brady 2nd with 2.6). Glennon is the lowest with -2.6 (Flacco 2nd lowest with -2.1). Make of that what you will.

  • SteelDodo

    wow. I am very surprised by that. thanks!

  • Charles Mullins

    Id give Landry and Dobbs a year to see what happens. They succeed we have a qb.. they fail we have a good pick.

  • nutty32

    What are your thoughts on PFF? Just saw they ranked the Jags LB unit as the 2nd best in the league so far. After watching all 4 Jags condensed games, they absolutely stink, IMO.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    id take cousins if this were to happen.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    i believe so. 5 mill salary due, 8 mill cap hit. 1 mill dead money if cut. depends on how they draft but he is ultra vulnerable.

  • Ike Evans

    1. Playmaker at defensive back safety mainly or cb
    2. Tight end
    3. Quarterback
    4. Back up RB/WR that can return kicks
    4. Back up oline
    5. Backup LB
    6. Backup dline

  • Sam Clonch

    Assuming Sutton gets activated off the IR, who gets the axe to account for his roster spot?

  • Alex Kozora

    I’m not baffled. It’s a bunch of smart guys and some ex-coaches that work there. I do similar to them. Watch plays, give my thoughts. I can appreciate trying to quantify it.

    But they aren’t very transparent about their grades and when they have tried to break down a play, they have shown to be wrong. And I don’t like when people toss their data around like gospel without forming their own opinion.

    Bottom line. I like their stuff for stats. For the grades? Generally pass. Especially the ones right after the game. Meaningless. And I bet they know it.

  • Alex Kozora

    Cross that bridge when we come to it Sam. Lot could – and will – change.

  • Sam Clonch

    Dude, PFF said before the season that the Browns had the 2nd best OL in football coming into this season. They then gave up 7 sacks to us in week 1!

  • stan

    Obviously the team can see those guys in practice and knows what it has in them. If the team thinks they’re good enough then that’s ok with me. Having seen what I have so far though, I kind of doubt that’s the case. Dobbs needs some more work and Landry is only a decent back-up.

  • Wil Masisak

    I think, in that scenario, the Steelers would do what they have to to sign Alex Smith. It makes way too much sense. Smith is the perfect QB to run Haley’s offense. Chiefs will be willing to move on, provided Alex doesn’t lead them to a Super Bowl– they have Mahomes in the wings.

  • Charles Mullins

    I don’t disagree with you. But I would be willing to risk it to get to the top of the draft the following year. Lets just hope Ben keeps playing.

  • heath miller

    dobbs needs more time and landry will be 3d string by next year if not by this year… hes a average 2nd string QB ..

  • heath miller

    to me ben now plays like hes afraid to get hit.. i can see a change in him .. i would bet even money this is his last year ..

  • heath miller

    if ben retires:
    round 1 bens possible replacement
    round 2 bens possible replacement
    round 2 bens possible replacement
    and hope to hit on one .. you can always trade the others away

    if ben doesnt retire
    round 1 bens possible replacement
    round 2 safety or CB
    round 3 safety or CB

  • will

    He is the latest “new” player that is always injured.