Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Lot on your mind today, I’m sure, so let’s dive right in.

To your questions!

pittfan: Alex, excellent video discussing the dubious play calling Sunday. Could you do a similar video demonstrating the route concepts you suggested be tried?

Alex: Thanks pittfan. That second video is probably tougher because I’d be jumping all over the place to find different examples and the new Game Pass is wonky.

Here’s an example of the Spot concept I talked about. Here’s Indy Post.  And here is Hank. That should get you started.

CP72: Alex,
How much has this offense missed Marcus Gilbert? I think his injury has been understated when it comes to discussing the offensive struggles.

Alex: A lot, I’m sure. Matthew Marczi had the good stat yesterday. Steelers are 2-4 without Gilbert. But still, I can’t use it as an excuse. The Steelers are enjoying remarkable health right now. Gilbert was the only guy hurt in that Jags game. Pittsburgh probably the healthiest team right now. So I can’t use that stuff as an excuse. It’s not like Ben is gone.

Brian Miller: Alex, what scenario do you think is the most and least likely after the end of the season: Tomlin is fired, Haley is fired, Danny Smith is fired, Big Ben retires, Bell is traded, Martavius Bryant is traded?

Alex: Ben aside, I don’t see any of those scenarios being very high. But if you make me rank.

1. Ben retires: which I don’t think is all that strong, even as bad as things look. Roethlisberger is one of the biggest competitors on the team. It’s a lot easier for a guy like him to talk about leaving than it is to actually leave. He’s got that Favre mentality.

2. Haley is fired. Which I think is slim. But if Ben goes, maybe they restart everything.

3. Bryant is traded. But I think evidence is low.

4. Danny Smith fired. Danny Smith forever (his unit has been good too, so I don’t know why you would do it this year and not last).

5. Bell traded. Which I don’t even know how that works. Tag and trade?

6. Tomlin fired. He survived two 8-8 seasons. They’re still likely to win the AFC North. Not going anywhere.

Phil Brennemann II: Using an A, B, C, D, F grade scale what did you expect from Vince Williams coming into the season (grade wise) and how would you grade him on his play so far?

Alex: Probably about a B, assuming Shazier is an A. I guess I need to study VW really closely. Think he’s been fine in coverage, not this massive liability most people thought. Little weaker in the consistency/run defense than I expected.

So maybe a B-, maybe? C+?

T3xassteelers: What’s the deal with the run D? Looks great on paper with our DL and LBs… Is it more of the scheme or simply the OLBs not setting the edge well enough? You’d think with Shazier and VW that would be a strength.. It also feels like the run D is hit or miss, as in they get 3 stops behind the LOS and then a 50 yard run the next play.

Alex: Like the offense, it’s multi-layered. Poor run fits and bad tackling are good places to start. I think they’ve had issues, especially the Bears game, responding to shifts and motions. And the alley defenders have been inconsistent. They’re crucial to stopping those decent runs from being great ones.

Butler has also been too cute. Some of the run stunts have worked but others haven’t.

Jefferson_St_Joe: Are you charting the defensive coverages this year? When in zone, are the Steelers underneath guys doing more pattern matching or are they still wandering in their zones?

Alex: We aren’t charting the coverages. I don’t think we’ve ever done that. Maybe a little less spot dropping this year. Sometimes it’s hard to see.

Spencer Krick: Hey Alex,
What do you think the offense needs to get it going? Also, if Cam Sutton comes back from IR, who do you think loses a roster spot?
Cheers,
Spence

Alex: So many things, lol. Ben has to be better, receivers need to be schemed open, they have to be better on third down, in the red zone. Sprinkle in some no huddle, some 10 personnel, list goes on and on.

For Sutton, I really don’t know. Roster could change so much over the next month. So I really couldn’t tell you.

PghDSF: Last year after the team got embarrassed by the Eagles, they crushed the Chiefs the following week. Do you see this happening again?

Alex: In a totally irrational way, I do. Just thinking from a gut but yeah, I think they turn it on this weekend.

I have zero evidence to back this up, by the way.

Grant Humphrey: Alex on a scale of 1 to 10 1 being not worried 10 being very worried, How worried are you about Ben’s play so far this season?

Alex: Probably a 6 or 7. We keep waiting for that turnaround game and it hasn’t happened. If there is a source of comfort, it’s not as if I feel like he’s fallen off physically. You can’t get that back. If it’s a mental issue, that can be overcome.

Michael Stickings: Hi Alex. One huge unknown, I think, is the secondary, mostly because it just hasn’t been tested yet. It may come this week against — gasp! — Alex Smith, but better QBs and passing offences are on the way regardless. That said, I’m deeply concerned by what I’ve seen so far against relatively weak competition. Artie has been awful against the run, Haden has looked vulnerable, Davis seems to have taken a step back, and Mitchell… well, he just celebrates way too much for nothing (as does Artie). Plus, there have been countless bad angles, missed tackles, etc. So my questions: How confident are you in this unit going forward? Have you seen enough from Burns and Davis in particular to expect positive growth through the rest of the season? Other than Hilton, what have been the bright spots so far, if any? Thanks.

Alex: You’re right the test starts now. Steelers are done facing the mediocre QBs of the world. And this secondary isn’t as good as the stats indicate. We know the competition, we know the game situations, and I’ve talked about how they should’ve given up some deep balls this year. So I’m buckling up. Ride could get bumpy, Michael.

D.j. Reynolds: 

Alex, the Jags are better than anyone is giving them credit for around here. They actually bet Baltimore (IMO) worse than they beat us! Though we have issues, this is not apocalyptic like everyone seems to think. Chill out, we will be OK.

Agree or disagree?

Alex: The Jags are a good team but more importantly, they got to stick to their gameplan. Keep the game close early, get a lead later and sit on the ball. That mattered the most, I think.

Sure, the truth is always in the middle. Things aren’t great (obviously) but the season isn’t over. Steelers were off to a 4-5 start last year and everyone thought the season was over. But there is a rightful reason to be concerned. Can’t just ignore the issues, which are massive.

Darth Blount 47: Would you rather the Steelers make the playoffs this year, and then Big Ben retires, regardless of outcome. OR… Would you rather the Steelers miss the playoffs this year, but Ben comes out and states that he’s returning for 2018?

Alex: Give me the playoffs this year. For all we know, 2018 is his last year (totally possible and that’s my completely random guess). So then you’re just hoping for the same outcome, making it to the playoffs. And everyone is another year older, including Ben.

We knew this was a win-now mode the team was in. So that’s what I want. Win now.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex!
Do you think Brian Allen will gain playing time before the end of the year? I feel like it might be nice having an outside CB willing to tackle. I know he wouldn’t be a starter, but could you see him gaining any snaps on defense?

Alex: If he does, something went terribly wrong. Sensabaugh is next man up. So if it gets to Allen, I don’t know what went wrong. His focus should be on, and has been, special teams.


That’s all for this week. Great chat, guys.

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.

  • CP72

    Alex,
    How much has this offense missed Marcus Gilbert? I think his injury has been understated when it comes to discussing the offensive struggles.

  • pittfan

    Alex, excellent video discussing the dubious play calling Sunday. Could you do a similar video demonstrating the route concepts you suggested be tried?

  • Brian Miller

    Alex, what scenario do you think is the most and least likely after the end of the season: Tomlin is fired, Haley is fired, Danny Smith is fired, Big Ben retires, Bell is traded, Martavius Bryant is traded?

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Using an A, B, C, D, F grade scale what did you expect from Vince Williams coming into the season (grade wise) and how would you grade him on his play so far?

  • T3xassteelers

    What’s the deal with the run D? Looks great on paper with our DL and LBs… Is it more of the scheme or simply the OLBs not setting the edge well enough? You’d think with Shazier and VW that would be a strength.. It also feels like the run D is hit or miss, as in they get 3 stops behind the LOS and then a 50 yard run the next play.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    Are you charting the defensive coverages this year? When in zone, are the Steelers underneath guys doing more pattern matching or are they still wandering in their zones?

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Fun question:

    Least likely: Tomlin is fired. I would put this at 0%. No chance it happens even if they lose out. He was just signed to extension this year.

    Most likely: Tough one. I would say Ben retires which I would put at about a 60% chance. I said last year I thought if they won an SB he would retire and they fell short. He knew they had enough talent to do it so he came back but now with all of the drama I don’t think he is having as much fun anymore so even if they don’t win it this year he might not come back.

  • Spencer Krick

    Hey Alex,
    What do you think the offense needs to get it going? Also, if Cam Sutton comes back from IR, who do you think loses a roster spot?
    Cheers,
    Spence

  • PghDSF

    Last year after the team got embarrassed by the Eagles, they crushed the Chiefs the following week. Do you see this happening again?

  • T3xassteelers

    Oh man, if shifts are a huge problem with them, they’re going to have a whale of a time with KC.

  • Alex Kozora

    Similar window dressing as Chicago. Definitely could be an issue.

  • Hi Alex. One huge unknown, I think, is the secondary, mostly because it just hasn’t been tested yet. It may come this week against — gasp! — Alex Smith, but better QBs and passing offences are on the way regardless. That said, I’m deeply concerned by what I’ve seen so far against relatively weak competition. Artie has been awful against the run, Haden has looked vulnerable, Davis seems to have taken a step back, and Mitchell… well, he just celebrates way too much for nothing (as does Artie). Plus, there have been countless bad angles, missed tackles, etc. So my questions: How confident are you in this unit going forward? Have you seen enough from Burns and Davis in particular to expect positive growth through the rest of the season? Other than Hilton, what have been the bright spots so far, if any? Thanks.

  • Grant Humphrey

    Alex on a scale of 1 to 10 1 being not worried 10 being very worried, How worried are you about Ben’s play so far this season?

  • Brian Miller

    I was entertaining the Bell tag and trade myself, just trying to think outside the box. I agree with Alex, I don’t think any are very likely, but hey, you never know!

  • Brian Miller

    Or worse, when we play NE.

  • D.j. Reynolds

    Alex, the Jags are better than anyone is giving them credit for around here. They actually beat Baltimore (IMO) worse than they beat us! Though we have issues, this is not apocalyptic like everyone seems to think. Chill out, we will be OK.

    Agree or disagree?

  • Darth Blount 47

    Hey, Alex! Let’s play a quick game of “Would you rather.”

    Would you rather the Steelers make the playoffs this year, and then Big Ben retires, regardless of outcome. OR… Would you rather the Steelers miss the playoffs this year, but Ben comes out and states that he’s returning for 2018?

  • D.j. Reynolds

    Thanks Alex. FWIW, I’m not too worried about Ben – he’ll be fine. T. Haley’s game plans have always baffled me at times but he too will get it righted and start running Bell more (and using him more in the short pass game).

    As for the issues that (currently) worry me a good bit: The run defense is a BIG time worry! Also, M. Bryant has underwhelmed thus far (we’ll see if he can turn it around).

  • D.j. Reynolds

    Good question, DB47: FWIW, my opinion is we still want Ben, so I vote for the 2nd.

  • NickSteelerFan

    Hey Alex!
    Do you think Brian Allen will gain playing time before the end of the year? I feel like it might be nice having an outside CB willing to tackle. I know he wouldn’t be a starter, but could you see him gaining any snaps on defense?

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Right here, right now.

  • Thanks, Alex. Yes, extremely bumpy ride expected. No doubt better QBs might have torched the CBs already. I think about Flacco missing Wallace, etc. Once the better QBs are out there against us, there’ll be even more pressure on the pass rush to limit the damage they can do. We all know a good pass rush is part of a great pass defence, and hopefully that pressure will come from Watt, Dupree, Tuitt, etc. Because I think we all know what’ll happen if Rodgers, Stafford, and the rest are able to stand back there and pick us apart.

  • PaeperCup

    Sorry I missed it!

    I do have a duel question about our offense, anyone free to answer.

    Two things I noticed a lot more of this year than in years past.

    1) Deflected balls at the line of scrimmage.
    2) Pre-snap penalties by our WRs. Even AB is a culprit.

    Why?

  • Alex Kozora

    First I think is partly because Ben is staring down his reads. Easier for DL to see and time.

    Pre-snap stuff. Good question. I dunno. Lack of focus? Ben’s hard count has been successful vs defenses this year…maybe has a residual effect on the WRs, too.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Win now mode all the way, baby!!

  • Brian Miller

    Is tanking the rest of the season for a top 10 draft pick an option??

  • Brian Miller

    I agree…i never understood how a 6’5″ QB can get so many balls batted down…I expect it from Brees but not BB…

  • Darth Blount 47

    It wasn’t an option, but it may be a reality. Why, got a long snapper you’re just dying to draft? Lol.

  • Brian Miller

    Ha ha!! Funny, although I might just have another slot WR to choose in the top 5, we could always use another!!