September 19, 2021

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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag – Steelers Depot

7 min read
Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag - Steelers Depot

Welcome back to the mailbag. Luckily, almost nothing has happened since last Thursday so I’m sure there’s nothing to talk about and we can all move on…

But for real. Tons to talk about.  We’ll be here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Andrew Black: 


Super excited to see Mason play an entire game with a full week’s prep. What do you think his biggest weakness is going into this game? Something the 49ers might have noticed from preseason/last week’s tape?

Alex: I’m not sure if there is one glaring weakness. There’s a lot of unknown here so after the next week or two, I might be able to provide a better answer. Just playing fast. Processing fast, being decisive, being able to read coverages post snap and seeing the whole field. Things all young/new QBs have to deal with. But with his tape study, work ethic, and being a detail-oriented guy who had the chance to sit for a year (something even Ben didn’t ultimately get to do), I think he’s in a good place.

Alex Kuhn:

Sir with the incredible name of Alex (our parents apparently had great taste).

Three Q’s
1. What subtle differences do you think we’ll see in the game plan with Mason as our QB (ie, more James Washington)?
2. When Minkah knows this defense, how much of an impact do you think he’ll have?
3. What one player, if he steps up, could get this team back in the right direction?

Alex: Clearly they good and there’s nothing better than talking to a fellow Alex.

You’re right the differences are likely to be subtle. Washington playing more is one of those things. Tomlin basically admitted it too during his Tuesday presser. More playaction too. Rudolph ran playaction seven times Sunday in a half of football. I don’t know the last time Ben’s done that. Maybe years ago.

We’ll see. He’s a talented player who can wear a lot of hats, close on the ball, and carry receivers downfield. Just adding good players to this defense should make it better, obviously. How much of a difference will it ultimately make? We’ll find out.

Diontae Johnson is probably going to see a big role with Moncrief on the bench. So if he steps up and becomes that strong, secondary option, that’d be huge for the offense. Any receiver, really, besides JuJu who can make some plays. I don’t care who it is at this point.

srdan: Alex, you and I both know that shannahan will line up TEs and RBs on the outside receiver slot to get favorable matchups inside this week. I’m really struggling how Tomlin and Butler don’t come to their senses on this, and let them be covered by matchups, rather than positions. Meaning wherever kittle is this weekend, let Edmunds or Minkah be there, not nelson. What else would you do to help cover up teh middle of the field?

Alex: I don’t know if I have a great answer for that. I’m not as worried about the middle of the field specifically as I am just the creativity of the 49ers’ offense. You’ll see that in our scouting report on their offense tomorrow morning. They’re very layered. Shanahan does a great job using one play to set up another. They will mix up personnel groupings, use playaction, attack all levels of the field. And they’re simply talented at RB, TE, and getting some weapons at receiver. If you don’t communicate well against this group, they’re going to bust some big plays on you. So that’s keeping me up at night heading into this one.

The Pittsburgh Steelers: Question I had earlier in the week: Did you watch PFFs breakdown of Minkah they have up on YouTube? It basically says he’s a great slot corner and his worst aspect is safety. The Steelers brought him here to be a safety. What am I missing here?

Alex: I haven’t so I don’t have much insight to share. But he’s young so offering him stability could help, just as it eventually did for Sean Davis (and was an issue early on). They’ll move him around, especially once he’s comfortable. Maybe Minkah ends up playing some more in the slot, Hilton at FS. The safeties and slot corners on this team move all around. Hilton can play NCB/FS. Sutton can play NCB/LCB/RCB/dimebacker. Sean Davis could play over slot, in dime, at FS or SS. Edmunds has begun to be a little more flexible and they’ve matched him over slot. So those positions are inherently fluid.

Ryan Barton: If you were hired as the DC of the Steelers, how would you run this defense? What would you do differently with this group of players?

Alex: That’s a pretty opened ended response I don’t think I can get into right now. Really it’s just about putting players in position to succeed. Having more answers, better self-scouting, fewer tendencies. Whether that’s how abysmally he’s defended empty, to blitzing Hilton too much last week (Wilson went 6/7 for 72 yards and a TD against it), to the LBs on WRs, to the communication issues that are partially on the players but probably partially on the coaching staff too.


Hey Alex! I’m not just a fairweather fan, so I’m excited to see how the young core of guys develop and grow this year, regardless of outcome. Of course I still want them to win, but whatever happens I think it will make us better next year!

My question: I love the Minkah trade. Are you at all concerned that he wanted out of Miami because of playing too many positions? Isn’t being able to do that what makes him attractive to the Steelers, and they’ll want to do something similar in the long run? Thanks!

Alex: I understand his concern. No young player wants to move around so much that they can’t get settled in at one spot. His frustration primarily seemed to be playing in that dimebacker role. Changing his weight, and no DB likes to deal with guards and tackles in the run game. Not what he signed up for, not what the position gets paid for. Morgan Burnett had a similar complaint.

And I don’t think you’ll see Fitzpatrick in that dime role much. FS? Yes. Over slot? Sure. There may be some weeks, some gameplans where they want him on a TE or specific matchup but Sutton is still the dimebacker.

Plus, if this team can win, it cures a lot of ills. Moving around is a lot more tolerable when you win and not lose 59-10. It’s also possible he just used that as an excuse to get the heck out of Miami.

Rick Williams:


What happened to the guy who was going to take some of the responsibilities from KB as far as D coordinator?

ALex: I don’t know who you’re referring to. Teryl Austin? That wasn’t the team’s plan. A potential replacement in the hypothetical Butler gets canned, which I don’t think will happen in-season, but no one was sharing Butler’s responsibilities as DC.

The Tony: Is this the week James Conner breaks out?

Alex: I dunno. I sure hope so. Let’s see if he plays first. But being banged up, the rushing attack not getting much going so far, it’s hard to pin this as *the* week, even if Rudolph under center.

Craig M: What’s your take on the maturity factor development for a player; a kid comes out of college should be expected to perform at the get go or be allowed time to grow/ learn w/ age, before he is judged?

Alex: It’s hard to look at it too broadly, just like anything for the draft. I go on a case-by-case basis. What makes him mature/immature? Is it on field? Off field? Is it how well he can be coached, how well he takes criticism? Is it his work ethic? Film study? Leadership in the locker room? What was his upbringing? Has he learned from mistakes in the past?

But obviously, a mature player is good for him, his development, and the team. Especially knowing these guys have to make an impact immediately if you’re a 1st/2nd round pick. And mature players probably handle better being in the NFL. The focus it takes, the work ethic you need, handling being a star, for some, a face of the team, handling the weight of expectations.

Immature players can turn it around. You’re right, and I think that’s the point you’re making, that a player who has made mistakes shouldn’t be written off because they did something dumb as a 21 year old kid in college. That’s what 21 year olds do. But it’s a case-by-case thing, like I said at the top.

HoosierLawyerMounty: We got to win Sunday period

Alex: Yup. No climbing out of an 0-3 hole. Gotta win.

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