Study: Why Keith Butler Needs To Start Sending Five

The sample size is small and the result maybe a little obvious but the Pittsburgh Steelers five man rush has produced the best results this season. Not burying the lede here. That’s the conclusion. Let’s show why.

After three weeks, I sifted through the weekly charting we conduct to get information like this, stuff you can’t get anywhere else.

In the table below, we’ll sort the numbers by yards per play, completion/attempts, completion percentage, touchdowns, and interceptions.

# of RushersYards Per PlayCompletions/AttemptsCompletion %TDs/INTs

Numbers pretty much speak for themselves. It’s fair to say the sample size for five man rushes is low, officially just 11 passes (12 total plays, one was a scramble), so let’s take a look back at the yards per play from last year.

3 Man Rush: 7.1 YPP
4 Man Rush: 7.5 YPP
5 Man Rush: 4.8 YPP

That, of course, is supported from a much larger sample size. The five man rush alone has over 200 entries, begging the question of why Keith Butler has held back so much this season. In terms of actual blitzes, anyone not lined up as a defensive linemen or outside linebacker rushing, Butler’s percentage is not significantly lower, but his five man pressure is way, way down. Enron stock down.

It appears he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too. Get pressure with just a four man rush, he and Mike Tomlin have professed how critical that is, and be creative with those looks.

We’ll explore some of those specifics once the coaches tape comes out, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But big-picture, if Butler wants to not only get pressure, but put this defense in a better position to succeed, he needs to start sending one more player.


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.

  • Nolrog

    The big problem is that this defense has very few play makers. Shazier maybe, if he can stay on the field, and then who else? Tuitt and Cam? Good solid players but are they the kind of guys that make plays like Harrision, Troy, and guys like that?

  • C2K

    Great read!

    They could send 6, doesn’t matter if they can’t get more than a foot or two of push.
    This team is in desperate need of edge rushers and there’s no hope of finding any. Unfortunately the LB blue print left with Cowher and possibly Dick.
    Bask in the Defenses former glory because Tomiln’s lost.

  • afrazier9

    yeah i agree i had high hopes for Tuit, and cam even hardgrave, but they have done little to nothing in the passing game. I really fill like we jumped out their with the outside linebackers not being good at all, and now depending on a 40 year old to play all 16 games the whole game is so far fetched its rediculous. I will not hold colbert accountable for the misses because this isn’t a easy job to spot talent, and know that it will turn out to be a good decision. We have missed with jarvis, the jury is still out on bud, and shakier still is unable to play a whole season, so what do you do but keep trying to find that needle in the haystack lol.

  • MC

    Please send this statistics to Butler.

  • Mark Tercsak







  • Steeler-Drew

    I understand their goal of getting more pressure by rushing 4 with rookies Davis and Burns getting significant playing time but clearly it’s not working. They don’t rush 4 down lineman who can get after the QB. The coaching staff should not be naive to fact that it’s not going to work with the current personnel and should quickly abandon ship with this approach before it’s too late to make a change in philosophy.

    Aside from re-signing Gay, getting a quality CB in free agency who can tackle and cover would have helped immensely with their current approach. If they don’t change their approach, much like the Eagles game, watching them sit back without a fight will be tough to watch.

  • Kelly A

    Hmm, people feel compelled to criticize and degrade the talent that has been drafted; I can almost assure after their next win, much of that criticism will fade away. Perhaps I’m the only one that believes this (and frankly I don’t care if I am), the Steelers have the right people in place to have a dominate defense, week 2 against San Fran last year was enough to prove that to me in my opinion. Excellent article Alex, because rather than criticizing the players individually, you’re analysing the system as a whole which needs to be modified and adjusted depending on the team they have in front of them; you can tell from that game, Butler did not prepare correctly for the Eagles, and it was obvious from watching the film that you provided; that was on Tomlin and Butler to correctly prepare for the schemes that the Eagles threw at them. My hope is that this week, they prepare correctly for the Chiefs so that they can continue to evolve. One thing I’ve learned about this game, it’s necessarily about being the most ‘talented’ player (talent can be perceived differently by others), it’s about being prepared; all the talent in the world is useless without preparation.

  • Edo M

    Think its hard to get an effective pass rush going when a QB gets the ball out in a couple seconds. Thats why the Pats have their way w. us, and now the Eagles, and I;m sure other teams who are capable of doing that will do that to us.

    Why? We play a soft zone D and teams can easily move the ball up the field throwing those quick out passes because they are easy wide open throws. I assume we dont play more man because the D backs arent talented enough to play man.

  • cencalsteeler

    Nice post, Kelly.

  • Steelerfan4lifeinAZ

    The problem is that Butler is trying to protect his young players with the lack of experience they have as rookies. He is running more of a Quarter and Dime Defense which is sacrificing the 5 or 6 man rush. We have no edge rusher because we arent bringing any heat up the middle with the multiple LB twist up the middle which would draw double team. If that said our guys arent good enough to win the one to one battles thus no pass rush. He needs to trust the rush by bringing more heat and let our secondary deal with the one to one matches.

  • cencalsteeler

    Butler just needs to go back to what he was doing late in the season last year. Problem solved.

  • Jason Kelley


  • RickM

    I’m not sure we can rely on that many No. 1 QB’s being hurt 🙂

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Might have to go to 10 man rush with a deep safety to get a sack this year.

  • RickM

    Sorry, Kelly but we do not have the pieces in place to be a dominant defense. You need a pass rush to be dominant in the NFL and we need to add at least one edge rusher. I respect that you disagree.

  • Kelly A

    Rick, at the same time, you need to put your ‘pass rush’ in a position to succeed. There really is no warrant to say they don’t have the pieces; this team last year ranked 3rd in the NFL in sacks and were at the top of the NFL in turnovers, their problem as everyone said ad nauseum, was their Secondary. Are their pieces that I’d like them to have, of course. I would like them to have a Von Miller, yet even Von Miller wouldn’t be very useful if the system he played for, didn’t prepare him appropriately. In my opinion, effective pass rushing requires good coaching, preparation, along with talent; again, whether you don’t agree with it or not, they have the right people to achieve this because they’ve shown it. If you don’t believe so, then there’s no much I can say, but I’m not going to assume such an opinion because they were beaten by a very good football whom was prepared.

  • Kelly A

    This is precisely what is going on. Excellent post.

  • Michael Martin

    Jesus…grow a pair Butler. If you have to keep rushing 3 and 4, make sure at least 3 of them need to be double teamed so that we can actually get some pressure.

  • Michael Martin

    We have plenty of playmakers. This is purely a result of scheme. Soft off coverage zones aren’t going to generate any pressure with a 3 or 4 man rush. Especially when your defensive front that is rushing is a traditional nickel look. The boys are just too light in the pants to handle 5 OL and whatever RB’s and TE’s stay back there to help. The huge cushion is compounding the problem because there is no disruption of the timing of routes. Tackling is even made more difficult on our linebackers and secondary because of this. You can’t expect to allow shifty backs and wide receivers to get the ball in empty space like that and not make a man or two miss. Need more man coverage from our secondary and bigger guys collapsing the pocket.

  • Michael Martin

    Griping done. Thanks, Alex! Good stuff.

  • RickM

    Kelly, right now the Steelers are 27th in the league in yards allowed with 407 yards per game and we have one sack in 3 games. I respect that you feel we have the necessary pieces to be dominant, but we clearly don’t right now and the stats support that. I know you will say, ‘well these players will develop and be good’ and I’m glad you feel that way. But neither of us knows how the youngsters will work out long-term. We’ll just agree to disagree on this one.

  • Kelly A

    I think I’ve noted why this team’s defense is not where it is right now. May I suggest reading Steelerfan4lifeinAZ post because he pinned exactly what’s going on.

  • RickM

    The Shazier comment was exactly what I’m wondering. Can the guy ever be fully healthy? He missed 11 games in the first two seasons and here we go again. We have brutal luck sometimes. We find a great QB for our defense for years to come and season after season he’s banged up.

  • RickM

    Or you will change yours. And remember, your prediction is dominant, not just good.

  • Daniel

    And also play the secondary with less cushiom too

  • Kelly A

    You don’t know me that well, I never deviate on what I believe in and I always believe in this team, especially after a loss. Have a great day Rick. PS: Please read what Steelerfan4lifeinAZ, you can learn something from him.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    Exactly my thoughts too. I think if they are only going to rush 4, it should be from a 34 look, just for the added beef on the line.

  • k33ger

    while the statistics look good, and I’d be for seeing more 5 man rush next week, I do wonder though. Is it successful because it’s not as common? As predictable?

  • nitch19

    Exactly with Shazier, said in a different post, the dude’s as tough as balsa wood.

  • Mark

    Four man rush works……for quality defenses. Quality, this D is lacking. Big time.

  • AndyR34

    This is a good analysis of what’s going on, but they have no one in the secondary with even decent man-to-man skills with the possible exception of Cockrell. So…they are going to lose most of those man-to-man battles…thus they need to maintain the concept of tackle-the-catch. Except their new DB’s (Burns, Davis, even Gilbert), who were drafted with more man-to-man potential, can’t tackle. In trying to switch to Tomlin’s beloved Tampa 2, they are caught between a rock and a hard place with personnel…especially with a lack of quality rushers…edge or otherwise.

  • Steelerfan4lifeinAZ

    I agree, but i do like what i see in Burns, he is long and has the ability to cover man to man like he did in college. I would rather have some one with his size playing outside man to man and bring Gay inside as a slot guy and pressure and we have Mitchell and Golston to help out on the outside if need be..

  • Alex Kozora

    Look at last year’s numbers and it’ll tell you that isn’t the issue.

  • AndyR34

    Well…he is long, but he didn’t cover well enough in college to secure a starting position…nor was he a standout. He was very athletic and I believe the Steelers drafted on potential, not performance. That potential is not likely to be truly realized this year.

  • SilverSteel

    I think I have seen schemes where there is some personnel playing zone and others playing press/man on the same play. Is it strictly one or the other? Is that possible for us or am I not understanding that correctly? Have zone scheme for (Gay, Davis, Golden, Mitchell) with Gilbert, Burns and Cockrell playing man/press when they are on the field.

  • AndyR34

    I think that Ike would occasionally play man…Cortez initially made his name playing Gronk man, I believe, and I think that Cockrell played man on Green, but I don’t think it happens too often.

  • David Paul

    Seems to me someone is living in their fears.

  • David Paul

    Are we supposed to be singing that post?

  • David Paul

    It’s up to the coaches to adjust at halftime. Maybe before. The Steelers are on the short end of the coaching battle on most Sundays, sadly.

  • David Paul

    Unfortunately, these coaches are stubbornly married to their schemes.

  • David Paul

    The one that said we have Golston [sic] and Mitchell to help on the outside?

  • David Paul

    If they have the talent to dominate, it’s certainly not in this current scheme. Probably not even playing. If Gilbert and Burns could play up to their pedigree on the outside, it would be a great start.

    If Hargrave would be allowed to rush the passer with Tuitt and Heyward, and Deebo as a 4th, the 4-man rush could improve.

    If we start sending five more, it could help disrupt things.

  • Wil Masisak

    and those people who said it was the secondary were basically dead wrong

    I don’t know what to think of their OLB coaching– ask me once Bud returns, because he’s the only one of them under 35 who has raw talent.

  • Wil Masisak

    Burns is a pretty solid man to man defender. I think he can tackle; think the NFL speed is something to which he will eventually adjust.

  • RickM

    I agree that all sorts of “ifs” would be required, and realistically even if they did become reality we would need to draft a good young OLB, Shazier would need to stay healthy, Dupree would need to improves, a replacement for Timmons would be needed, etc. If this team can have a good defense two years from now that would be great. And yes the development of Davis and Burns would be a great start.

    I would never debate someone who said we could have a dominant offense somewhere down the road. It’s not guaranteed, but possible if we get all the pieces back for next year. A dominant defense? There are way too many holes, future challenges and current ‘ifs’.

  • RickM

    People can learn from anyone, if they make logical arguments. That’s not a knock on you, or anyone else, But part of learning is having an open mind and understanding that your opinion, while genuine, may be clouded by biases. And that applies to anyone, including me lol. But I will definite read what he says. You have a good day as well

  • David Paul

    Late in the season last year Ryan Mallett was 28-41 for 278 and a TD against Butler’s defense, a few days after being signed off the street.

  • cencalsteeler


  • Dshoff

    Alex, I totally agree, and posted the same thing a few days ago. Unfortunately we have never been able to get to the qb with 4 guys for many years. We have had to rely on scheme but it’s worked. Anything to get the opposing OL and qb THINKING instead of just playing like its a practice, just pitch and catch.

  • Steely Edge

    Man-handled by a rookie head coach and rookie QB. This was a team loss (Offense, Defense, and Special Teams) that showed no preparation the week before the game. Why is it that we look far too sluggish and weak in tackling and getting to the ball carrier compared to other teams that show a lot more hustle and much harder hitting! We used to be the intimidators on the field…teams feared us. No more!
    Tackling is horrendous! Get back to the basics of the game.
    Remember the object of the game: Score when we have the ball – Stop them when they have the ball.

  • k33ger

    i see 200 rushes from last year that were 5 man. out of how many? divide 200 by 16, and that’s 12.5 per game. Looking at Gay’s snapcount from last year, he played 1065 snaps. Assuming pro football reference limited the count to regular season, that’s 66 snaps a game on defense. so 12.5 out of 66 snaps a game is like 18%.

    My point is not that it doesn’t work, but rather, if he ups the usage to say, 30% of the time, will it become less effective?

  • Kelly A

    Like I said Rick, this Steelers defense has the potential to dominate as you saw tonight against the Chiefs. It was simply a matter of Butler making adjustments, and whether you believe it or not, they can only get better from here. Thank you