Before I get too far, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler is not going to be fired in-season. That’s something the Steelers just don’t do so I’m not suggesting that. However, I am suggesting that I believe his job is in serious trouble for the 2017 season unless things turn around quickly.
The Steelers wake up on this Monday morning looking at a two-game losing streak and while both sides of the ball (and injuries) take much of the blame, the defense finds itself in a position that is far from normal in the Steel City.
Right now the Steelers rank 28th in overall defense. They are giving up almost five yards per carry and they rank 29th against the pass. To make matters worse they are on pace for just 18 sacks all season long and have recorded just three interceptions. This just isn’t going to get the job done and if it doesn’t improve, no amount of offensive firepower will mask the issues on that side of the ball.
My personal opinion is that Mike Tomlin made a mistake when Dick LeBeau was let go following the 2014 season. What Tomlin should have done was make his move to the 4-3 defense he ran as defensive coordinator in Minnesota. Instead, he has allowed Butler to continue running the 3-4 while incorporating several principles of the cover-2 which he picked up in Tampa Bay from Tony Dungy. Because of this, I think it has forced them to use players in positions they really weren’t made for and it has also affected how they draft.
Some of that is just bad luck. The tape on Senquez Golson was very good out of Ole Miss. Had he been a few inches taller he may have been first round material. The problem is that he has not seen one play of an NFL game yet due to injury. Ryan Shazier hasn’t been much different. When he plays, he’s a difference-maker. That hasn’t been on a very consistent basis however. Again, due to injury.
Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree have yet to become the edge rushers the Steelers thought they would be and it appears they aren’t getting much in that regard from anyone else.
We’ve also seen just how poor the defensive line is without Cam Heyward. That lack of depth and development may not be on Butler 100% but he’s the one driving the bus. Well, at least we believe he is. I’m told that in recent weeks, Tomlin has gotten “more involved” with the defense than at any time in his tenure with the Steelers. We know he’s been involved with the secondary but as far as the entire defense that hadn’t been the case.
I don’t put the entire defensive mess on Butler and one reason why is the lack of blitzing in recent weeks. I think that has more to do with Tomlin than it does him. Remember, this is a guy who learned under the father of the zone blitz so it seems quite odd that he wouldn’t use it more often regardless of the opponent.
Whether Butler takes the fall in 2017 is up in the air right now because there’s a long way to go -nine games to be exact- so I’m not going to going to go any further than I have. A healthy Shazier and Heyward could help quite a bit. Still, I think Tomlin wants total change and a sagging defense this season could be the prelude for it.