Next Man Up Syndrome Applies To Coaches Too

All it takes is one bad game for the entire house of cards to come crashing down—or at least that seems to be how it is in the minds of some fans.

I am speaking about the vaunted ‘Dick LeBeau defense’, and now that we’ve been through essentially a whole season of below par defense, it’s clearly time for the old man to move on so that the next old man can take his place.

Or so goes the line of thinking.

Because it’s LeBeau that prevents younger players from taking the field. His defense is too complex for neophytes to understand, leaving less talented, aging veterans to go out there and get exposed by the more talented offenses in the league.

This is the storyline every time the Steelers lose to the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, or whichever team Peyton Manning is quarterbacking at the time.

You know, as though these elite offenses don’t embarrass defenses of all performance levels on nearly a weekly basis between September and February every year.

So it’s time for LeBeau to step aside and let linebackers coach Keith Butler take over. Surely he will simplify the defense and get his young players on the field.

Just ask Jason Worilds. Even though he was a second-round pick, it was difficult for him to receive any playing time unless there was an injury in front of him or if there was some mop-up duty to take care of late in a blowout.

One gets the sense that Jarvis Jones was forced upon Butler last year, and when Jones received a concussion, Butler took the opportunity to remove him from the starting lineup, knowing that he wasn’t quite ready yet.

Ryan Shazier’s situation is a bit different, of course. Shazier faces no real significant impediment toward entering the starting lineup as a rookie—which is something that Butler has formerly boasted about never happening since he’s been with the team.

Whenever LeBeau’s defense slips up, there is that vocal minority crying for, essentially, the next man up. This is the same thing the players face whenever they slip up. The next man up is always the better answer because he’s not the man that they just saw make a mistake.

But to think that the defense will change significantly, either in schematics or in general philosophy, would be a mistake.

Like LeBeau, Butler has a three-level understanding of the defense, even though he is the linebackers coach. He knows what he needs from the defensive line for his linebackers to excel, and he knows what his linebackers need to do to help the secondary keep the receivers in check down the field. This is evident in the rare instances that he is interviewed. Nobody gives up answers so freely as he does.

Butler has been working with LeBeau for a solid decade now. He not only knows LeBeau’s system, he runs LeBeau’s system. He helps tweak LeBeau’s system every season.

It’s his system now, and it will likely be the Steelers’ core defensive system until they hire a new defensive coordinator from outside the organization, as they did on the offensive side of the ball with Todd Haley. In other words, when the day comes that LeBeau hangs it up, don’t expect much to change.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • blackandgoldBullion

    Good! Once the right key players put a little time in, they will return to being an elite NFL defense. Just what the Steelers are all about.

  • cencalsteeler

    You brought up a sore subject with me. The Steelers NEED to be able to outsmart the offenses of GB, NO, and especially NE. The other battle they MUST address, is the west coast jinx. Both of these issues seem to have gotten in the heads of the staff and have trickled down to the entire team.

  • Craig

    Defense change significantly no, improve significantly yes, w/ the simple addition of a running game that controls TOP and directly helps the Def. in keeping it off the field and rested.

  • Steve

    Let LeBeau leave when he is ready. Butler is not the answer to our D and he is not a good evaluation of talent IMHO. Last year Butler was praising Woodley being in the best shape of his life, what a joke and the wheels fell off. Let us see how Shazier does this year and go on from there. No coaching decisions need made. Get rid of the prevent Defense which does not prevent anything.

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/JohnnyLoose Johnny Loose

    I’ll support Lebeau as long as he will stay. He will be missed when he is gone. What a great man.

  • charles

    Truly entertaining reading. From overhyped Blitzburgh to ‘runandshoot’ defense, I mean 3-4 defense, the Steelers are ‘known’ for D. Since our 2008 SB LeBeau has been ‘hyped’ for his defensive prowess. A book could be written about things from Harrison’s immaculate interception to Carnell Lake’s propping LeBeau’s defense up even w no pass rush. Everyone knows the ‘Steel Curtain’ refers mainly to Joe Green, Ernie Holmes, LC Greenwood and the others on the front four. The dominance of great front 4s on Manning and Brady (shehawks, Giants) can be contrasted w Aaron Roger’s dominance of the 3-4 in the last 4 out of 5 SBs. Even with all the hype of offense lately, great teams play 4-3 D. 3-4 could be considered genius for working ‘with the talent that you have’ rather than imposing your system on the players that you have. And that was how ‘Blitzburgh’ came about.
    I am sure LeBeau knows this as do other commenters, the best D is not Richard ‘blowhard’ Sherman, it is Cam Heywood laying on top of the QB. That is ‘fundamental’ D that the Steelers have not been producing since the 08 SB. And it just seems sometimes that LeBeau is forcing his 3-4 D on the players that he has. That may be what has characterized the Steelers lack of playoff competetiveness from the Jags to Denver to GB or nobody at all the last three years. That is certainly not a 1 year study and I would love to see a return to traditional 4-3 D if not by LeBeau then by someone else. Though not intended as a troll, iMO, Tomlin was hired for his Ds and that is where his greatness truly lies….

  • Luke Shabro

    It’s not as if this never happens. LeBeau’s defenses have beat Manning and Brady. They beat Brady when he had Hernandez and Gronk. I’m not always a huge fan of LeBeau’s system but as the talent level improves again so too will the defense.

  • Ryan

    Whos heywood? Your whole defense not good since 08 arguement makes 0 sense with the exception of the 12 and 13 teams theyve been a top 10 D every year. No need to change a system that has worked for many years just cause they havent been as good for 2 years. Thats why we rebuild and draft young blood and sign players like Mitchell. If Woodley had stayed healthy and played up the his preinjury level wed have easily been playoff bound the last season if not also the season before. You cant always prevent injuries.

  • Ryan

    Yeah cause Timmons, Harrison, Woodley etc suck right? And Butlers fault that after starting out healthy Woodley got injured again. Just cause a guy is in shape doesnt mean he wont get hurt again. All Butler said was Woodley was in great shape he didnt say he wont get hurt. Theres a reason other teams keep wanting to interview and even hire Butler to be their coordinator and a reason the Rooneys keep giving him a raise to stay and wait.

  • steeltown

    I think when playing these types of offenses they really need to get in more man coverage, hug the hips of these WRs off the line. We have the speed to do it and we’ve seen them do it before. Otherwise these offenses will continue to pick our zone scheme apart.

  • awlcohen

    “we’ll those elite offenses embarrass teams every week” …tell that to Seattle. It’s not a good excuse. This is supposed to be an elite team. The past two years they are not even close. They have been a third tier team in the league. And the year before that they were embarrassed by a Tim Tebow offense – not exactly Peyton or Drew.
    For some reason those who claim to be experts are always giving more and more slack to Lebeau/Tomlin and always finding a player(s) to blame. How many seasons without a playoff win until they admit there is an issue?

  • Steve

    You know who Charles is talking about, don’t act dumb. This is not a spelling class. Guess Troy did not prevent the same problem with his legs last year.