Keith Butler Picked Wrong Time For Right Approach To Brady

I’ve finally been able to start to sift through our charting from the AFC Title loss. It’s always something we lean on for creating some quantifiable clarity for how the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense functioned under Keith Butler.

Shortly after the game, Dave Bryan had a couple of solid tweets about Butler’s lack of aggression against Tom Brady. Here’s the big one.

The results?

Ouch.

But there are actually times where dropping eight into coverage, rushing three, is a good and predictable decision by Butler. We’ve written about when it happens and it’s legitimate effectiveness. From back in early December. 

Though it may be frustrating to see Keith Butler send only three on certain downs, there’s usually a good reason behind it. It’s run against unathletic quarterbacks, ones who prefer to hang in the pocket, lessening the issue in having strong rush lane integrity. And he’s run it in the red zone to tighten up already difficult throws, restricted by the back of the end zone, to force the quarterback to be perfect. 

It worked against the Indianapolis Colts last year, a Jarvis Jones interception. And again versus the New York Giants this season, a Lawrence Timmons pick. You see both in the article linked above.

And against Brady, it actually worked. In the red zone, just as it did in those other games.

It’s admittedly a small sample size but three times in the Title Game, Butler dropped eight in the red zone versus Brady. Brady went 2/3 for 6 yards, no first downs, and one failed down conversion.

They dropped three another time, forcing Brady to scramble and eventually was sacked by Sean Davis but because of the quirks of our chart, it ends up counting as a four man rush.

Bottom line: in the red zone, rushing three even slowed down Tom Terrific.

Where Butler went wrong was applying that strategy to the rest of the field. Based on my charting (numbers differ from Dave slightly but results are the same), outside of the red zone, Brady went 10-14 for for 127 yards, no sacks,  and 2/3 on third down when the Steelers rushed three.

Bottom line: outside the red zone, Brady did whatever he wanted to. You, uh, probably noticed that.

The difference? In the red zone, you can tighten up every throwing window because the deep threat isn’t nearly as viable. The back of the end zone puts a lid on things, not expanding the safeties and seam defenders nearly as much as outside of it. Spot dropping becomes more effective because you basically have a player in every single possible window (deep thirds, flats, hook zones).

Here’s a look at three of these instances, including the three/four man rush sack by Davis. All zone coverage.

No windows. No easy throws. And the stuff that is open is given up underneath, short of the sticks/goal line, where the benefit of zone coverage comes into play. Vision to the football, drive on the throw, tackle the catch. Happened every time.

How does it play out outside of the red zone? Well, you probably know the results. It looks like this.

This was on 3rd and 10. Steelers go Tampa 2. Safeties and MIKE linebacker (Timmons) all expand because of the possible deep threat, allowing Edelman to settle underneath the MIKE, sit down, make the catch, and pick up the first down. There’s the problem.

Keith Butler had the right idea. But he went too extreme with it. And it did nothing to help this defense.

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.

  • Mark

    Dropping eight should look like a zone but after the receivers gets to the zone the defenders should lock onto them playing a man to man concept to at least be able to knock the ball away. We are so far away from the WR that’s an easy pitch and catch. Once a WR runs into your zone you lock on him and don’t worry about deep coverage there should be 2 safeties sitting over the top.

  • Mark

    In addition, we just need new blood on the defensive side of the ball. Being in the 50 and older category, I’m not one to age discriminate. However, Butler and Mitchell concepts are way behind the times and as a result, Lake is drowning. We need more aggressiveness on that side of the ball and drafting of athletes that can stay in the hip pockets of WRs. Butler is still running LeBeau’s 1980s defense. Please stop it!

  • RickM

    I know you are not suggesting it. But if Keith Butler chose to rush 3 so often (21 times) based on his success in dropping 8 in the confined red zone…we have a major problem. Even Brady’s lesser mobility doesn’t justify it.

    If you can Alex could you answer something for me. If Keith Butler wanted to look at past games where Brady struggled over the last two years, does he have access to this game film. Or are there certain restrictions on what games are made available to each team? I appreciate that you may not know.

  • tequila0341

    You can buy All-22 access to all games over the past 2 years as a fan on NFL Gamepass. Butler has access to all the film he wants.

    I think the problem is that we don’t have the horses to play that kind of defense. We don’t have pass rushers to the level of Denver, nor do we have DBs like Denver and Seattle.

    This defense started 3 rookies. We’re at least 2-3 years away from having a strong, seasoned defense that can stand up to Brady or any of the other elite QBs in the league. Even if it is fast and talented, it’s just not experienced enough.

  • Da Bus Driver

    If you mean that Butler still uses 3-4 concepts as his base, then you would be correct. But to say that Butler is basically LeBeau, is actually a pretty gross misstatement. I’m not sure how much you know about defensive concepts, but Butler is way more closer to a hybrid coach – than he is to the Fire Zone schemes employed faithfully by Coach LeBeau. No only in his application of the Nickel variants, but also in using some hybrid schemes that LeBeau NEVER would have used. Honestly, if I had to use some pithy sounding classification of Butler’s schemes… it would be a “Neutered 3-4 Zone hybrid.”

  • americanpatriot

    stating that a linebacker is ‘in the throwing lane’ is a misnomer when it’s 3rd and 10 and the LB drops 12-13 yards deep. The LB is BEHIND the throwing lane. The pass is completed, most of the time, the 1st down is made, YAC are gained and the opponent marches down the field eating up yardage and the clock. Why can’t/doesn’t our LB’s position themselves BETWEEN the QB and the WR? Yes, that may force 1 on 1 by our CB’s and have a S come up in case the WR gets behind the LB but damn, I’d rather that than the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ at the hands of Brady. Play passively and they nickel and dime you to death. Our soft coverage kills us every time.

  • RickM

    Thanks for the info. I don’t chart D pass rushes, but I remember earlier in the year how much our lack of aggression hurt us. Reverting back to that, especially against Tom Brady, makes little sense.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    I knew we were doomed when I saw JH dropping back in coverage. Heck of a gameplan butler!

  • Douglas Andrews

    Agreed…I gave up watching when I saw James Harrison running inside stunts.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Until the Steelers can bring legitimate QB pressure with just four, they’ll be forced to compensate for it in some way. I’d like to think that—with Tuitt, Heyward, and Dupree all healthy—the Steelers are only missing one dynamic edge rusher to make this happen.

    I guess we’ll see what the draft brings.

  • mem359

    Doesn’t the defense sometimes make adjustments to the original call, based on the offense’s formation? I’m wondering if Brady was trying different audibles/moving players until he found the defense in a scheme that he wanted (like the OLB having to cover, or zone at mid-field). I’m curious if Butler was calling these defenses, or if they were “pushed” into it by the offensive transitions.

  • Uncle Rico.

    Imo, that’s been an issue since Farrior/Foote left. Didn’t work with Timmons, and I’m not sure if using Shazier in this role is effective or practical. Many instances he’s detached from the box. Hard to both see and communicate from there. And he is the Polamalu of linebackers. Best as an unfettered wild card, rather than the conductor of all those moving parts.

    Too many blown fits, appearing after Foote went down. And persists. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. And I don’t think Timmons had the wherewithal to recognize they were in a bad defense for what the offense was showing, and then check them into something better. And Shazier isn’t there yet either.

    Butler’s first game against NE in 2015 was much more cat/mouse. And Butler was the mouse. He tried match Belichick move for move, but was always a move behind. Like BB was toying with him the whole game. Might be a reason why they came up with this gameplan and stubbornly stuck to it.

    Started in base/C3 and Brady ran the same play 3 straight times, throwing to the flat the OLB was responsible for. 40 or so easy yards, bam, bam, bam. Butler adjusted, Belichick countered, and back and forth. They’d go press, and Pats would run picks, etc. At one point Butler went literal man. Meaning you’re assigned this guy and you’re assigned that guy. Rather than having the CB man the #1, and the nickel man the #2 and LB the #3 and so on. He had Timmons on the RB and SS on Gronk, and the CBs on the wide receivers iirc. So Belichick spread them out and put the TE and RB on the outside and the WRs inside. This caused a lot of confusion, and forced Timmons and his green dot all the way out to the boundary. Clever.

    Saw that again last week. Butler didn’t respond the same way. Stuck with the original plan. Leaving mismatches o plenty inside.

  • Ralph Wagner

    I new we were doomed when at 3rd and 1 Ben throws a long pass to Coates which he drops, more often than not. Result …..Punt LOL

  • SilverSteel

    That is the reason I would like to see us use a 4-3 scheme sometimes. Hargrave Tuitt McCullers and Heyward would be stout up front and I think we could generate pressure and stop the run with that line.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Yes! I lost my mind lol. I blame Ben and the coaches more than Coates on that one. I could understand if were in the 3rd Q and attempting a comeback, but it was the first drive! Run the ball and set the tone!

  • JB Burgess

    Go to a 4-3 so you can keep Hargrave on the field more. Draft a couple of dlinemen early, or sign one or two. They have some cap space. Is Harrison/Draft pick Shazier Dupree a good match for the 3 LB’s?

  • cencalsteeler

    These bone crushing hits from Mitchell that make us go “oooh and ahhh” are misleading. It tells me he’s showing up late to the party. I’d much rather see him in on a pass break up or better yet, an int.
    He lacks closing speed, hence, why you see so many bad angles. If he does get sucked in, he doesn’t trust himself to get back there to catch up, so he plays the position cautiously. When he’s forced to play tight, the stats improve. When there’s grass behind him, the stats go the wrong way. Thats very telling. If you threw a baseball uniform on him and put him out in centerfield, his lack of quick responses would be exposed. Most fielders comfort zone is around 10-15 yards in front of the warning track. MM would play at the warning track and that is what he does on the football field, too. He subconsiously knows he can’t cover that much ground so he compensates. He’s better suited up at the line of scrimmage in a more strong safety role. To improve this D, we need a ball hawk roaming centerfield, not a security guard.

  • falconsaftey43

    No. Harrison isn’t fast enough to be a 43 LB anymore. His best assest is rushing the passer. Dupree would be a 43 DE. Going to a 43 doesn’t get Hargrave on the field more, as Heyward, Tuitt, Hargrave would DT’s in a 4-3. Dupree would be one end, and Harrison/Rookie the other. Or in other words, the nickle defense they run 70% of the time anyway.

  • Nolrog

    Considering the results, I can’t really say that whatever they did was the right approach.

  • Bill

    Assuming Brady can’t move around at all is a mistake. Since the pass rush of the Giants really hurt Brady in the Super Bowl during that 18 game win streak year, he has become more adept at moving laterally by just a couple of steps and often buying enough time. Of course Brady is not a roll out QB such as Rodgers or Newton and you don;t have to worry about containment; so you can use a 3 man rush in the red zone. Zone defense without a pass rush that gets there quickly against Tom Brady is a recipe for disaster (don’t we know that!). And it was no different when Lebeau was the coordinator.

  • Mark

    Very familiar with defensive concepts having a son that plays D-1 football as a safety and having coached defense myself. Also, LeBeau and Butler’s zone pass defense looks incredibly similar, which has led to similar results against the Patriots.

  • Mark

    Totally agree, I was like this is not the time for that. Maintaining the football is way more important than hitting a big play right off the top. It’s keeps Brady off the field. Also, not running a QB sneak from the 6 inch line and settling for a FG. Those 2 plays said to me, game over.

  • Mark

    I like the 4 3 and would go with Tuitt, Hargrave, Heyward, and Dupree as the four. We would pressure on the interior with Hargrave and Heyward.

  • Mark

    So true, we need a ball hawking fast safety. Mitchell’s reads are horrible against the best teams.

  • budabar

    Be nice to get a break down on our DB’s play as per targets vs. comp’s

  • Alex Kozora

    We’ll have that later in the week.

  • Alex Kozora

    Of course, he would have access to pretty much whatever film he wanted. But what one team does isn’t always something your team can do.

  • Alex Kozora

    It’s a good thing I never said he was “in the throwing lane” then.

  • Alex Kozora

    A lot of it has to do with the depth he has. When you’re single high, you’re not going to make it to the ball every single time. Often best chance is to play the pocket and in his version of it, that means a big hit.

  • Alex Kozora

    Ha, well, fair enough.

  • Alex Kozora

    I mean in the sense of an athletic QB who can break the LOS. Brady is one of the best at moving within the pocket, no question.

  • RickM

    True. But clearly they became far more aggressive a couple of games before the 9-game winning streak. I have a tough time believing that they couldn’t maintain some of that aggression. 21 of 45 dropback snaps with a 3-man rush seems high. But you know the comparative game stats and I don’t. I also don’t fully buy the suggestion that the rookies needed to be protected after starting 2/3 of a season.

  • Alex Kozora

    I agree and that’s sorta my point. 3 man rushes in the open field doesn’t do anything.

  • cencalsteeler

    True, Alex, and I get that. He just doesn’t have ability to cover grass the way a true free safety should. Nice article!

  • francesco

    Butler’s approach was for Brady to score 41 points all the while hoping Ben and the offense to score 42 points or more.

  • francesco

    Thank you.
    Our problem is safety. They need to play closer to the LOS.

  • francesco

    The whole point of drafting Artie Burns was to have him play man to man!
    In this draft we better find some one better to replace Cockrell, Mitchell, and Gay.
    The thought process in this draft is to focus on how to win against the Patriots.
    If you can play man to man well then you can play zone coverage. Not vice versa.

  • Robert E Lil

    Again.
    Give me a break. I’ll keep saying it – the issue is NOT Tom Brady and the Patriots. The issue is the defensive scheme just stinks. It is a 1990s approach to playing defense in the 21st century. How quickly people forget how EASY it was for Joe Flacco to drive right down the field on Christmas day. Baltimore’s only problem was that it was so easy to score that they ran across the goal line too fast! How quickly people forget how EASY it was for Dallas to drive right down the field with practically no time left. And this has been going on for years and years and years.
    It is a system problem as much as (more) a personnel problem. The defense is designed to be a top 20 defense…not top 5

  • Robert E Lil

    100% correct.

  • Alex Kozora

    That, uh, was sorta the point of the article. A system problem.

  • Doug Sawyer

    I just find it weird that we go press coverage against some of the best Wr’s in the game and shut them down but we give these Pat’s Wr’s free lanes to run to a spot because we’re terrified of giving up a big play.So Brady just takes what you give him and leaves us never getting off the field on 3rd down …Seems to me that jamming and disrupting these Wr’s and tight man coverage is how you mitigate damage they can do

  • Robert E Lil

    Uh. No. “Keith Butler had the right idea” is wrong. You can’t say he had the right idea in the red zone but should have done something else the rest of the time. Reality is, NOTHING worked. And nothing is working for many many years. It is that bad. Just because the Pats were held to a field goal one or two times in the red zone is not an indicator that there are parts of the defensive scheme that are working – there are not. Again, look how easy it was for the Ravens to score in the red zone when they had to do so.

  • Alex Kozora

    It’s just a title. The point was his approach in the red zone was correct and sound but he went too far with it outside of the 20s.

  • So we need to replace three starters in the draft. Smh. How bout a Franchise QB in round 7 to go with it

  • Charles Haines

    That play was NOT on Ben, it was a perfectly thrown ball that any WR in the NFL should have caught. If their eyes were open.

  • Robert E Lil

    My point is you can’t even call that approach successful – they’re not a good unit in the red zone, either. The reason I say that is not because I’ve watched this defense fail in the red zone for so long and for so many years. They’re just…not good. It’s awful

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    It’s 3rd and 1, why are you throwing the ball 40 yards downfield?

  • Charles Haines

    Because it was single coverage, which Coates won and had he caught it, as he should have, at worst it’s a 30 yd gain. At best the PAT team comes on the field. These are the situations in the first few games where Coates was raking up huge plays.

  • Alex Kozora

    5th best red zone defense overall this year. 3rd best on the road. I’d say that’s more than good, wouldn’t you?

  • Matt Manzo

    Where’s your kid play?!

  • Paddy

    The goal was to get Brady inside the redzone and hold him to field goals. The problem was the Patriot receivers run perfect routes between the 20s and the Steelers could catch them. Will Gay especially. They need a better pass rush for sure but they need faster secondary players more

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    I understand that, but going into the game, our emphasis the last 10 games has been running and ball control. If the coaches were smart, it should have been the emphasis coming into this game.
    It comes down to situation football, in the middle of the game, down some points I’d be fine with it, but it’s the first drive of the game and we’re already down. Perfect opportunity to establish the run and keep the drive alive, instead the coaches decide to throw, and then ben decides to throw 40 yard bomb? It’s a combination of poor decisions. If he was too open too miss I would understand, and yes, he should have caught the ball but sometimes just getting the first down has to be the priority. This was one of those times.

  • Robert E Lil

    I know I know….and their ranking for pass defense has been stellar many of the years the Tim Tebows of the world torched them. Nothing bothers me more than those sort of stats that really don’t pass the eye test nor address what’s happening on the field

  • Alex Kozora

    It’s a pretty specific stat. Unless you have some great evidence to the contrary, specifically about the red zone (the point you made, not about the whole defense), I don’t see how your eye test gives a better indication than the actual facts.

  • popsiclesticks

    I would have been more ok with it if it made Brady beat them deep as opposed to short. He didn’t show that he could throw deep all that well against Houston and while he looked sharp as all hell v. us, you know he’ll always tear you up underneath if you let him.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Alex – you have to stir the pot every once in awhile or the stew will get burnt.

  • popsiclesticks

    Gay’s struggles when they went man were quite evident and were generally my response when people asked why they didn’t just “man up and shut Brady down!”.

  • Da Bus Driver

    Well, I actually have coached at a D-1 school myself, and I can tell you that your above statement just isn’t correct. Butler is NOT running the 1980’s version of LeBeau’s Defense. Oh, of course there are similarities, as they both stem from the 3-4 base. But Butler has been one-gapping more than LeBeau ever did. LeBeau was known in this latest Steeler incarnation, to use the classic Okie, a ton. Where Smith, Hampton, and Keisel, would be essentially head up on their man, and were all 3 two-gappers. With the Buck to the strong-side and the Mack to the Weak. Butler has had them in Eagle often, where he uses Heyward and Tuitt in a one gap position and sometimes switches the roles of his Buck and Mack. This base difference is considered fairly minute for some, but it a difference. Though it’s often used against the same personnel, usually 21 (2RB and 1TE) or 12 (1 RB and 2TE’s) .

    The Nickel variants are even MORE different than LeBeau often ran. And I’ve seen Butler break out diff “multiple” looks more than I ever saw from LeBeau. Heck, Butler has even employed several 4-3 looks into his gameplan as well. Where he’ll play Heyward and Tuiit, Harrison and Dupree, all at the line. Shaz and Timmons then take on Mike and Sam roles. And he was using Will Allen as the Will. Acting like a 4-3 would. And as we all know, Butler has us in Nickel now about 70% of the time. Sometimes, a little less. But sometimes,even a little more than that! Versus 11 and 10 personnel, Butler likes to use the 2-4 Nickel and the Alt Nickel. He even has experimented with Perles old Stunt 4-3.

    LeBeau’s genius was his exotic blitzes and the timing of those blitzes. Butler has relied less on blitzing and more on beating the guys up front. But at the end of the day, even Butler himself has been quoted as saying the following things like… ” The 3-4 is becoming almost obsolete” and “With what offenses are doing nowadays in the National Football League, they’re playing a lot of three wide receivers and a tight end and a running back, for the most part. In those situations, we’re going to be in kind of a 4-3 anyway, but we’re still going to be able to run the 3-4 also. It gives you a little bit more versatility, I think.”

    Point being, Butler has added quite a few wrinkles that LeBeau never did or would have. And he’s had some real success and some real failures so far with them. He’s been a little bit of a mad scientist so far, which is what many people had been calling/hoping for when we made the transition. But I stand by the fact that he isn’t nearly as aggressive or as blitz happy as LeBeau was. Not even close really. He stays too conservative too often for a guy like me who loved the different fire zone blitz concepts that Dick would throw at teams.

  • ATL96STEELER

    “after the receivers gets to the zone the defenders should lock…”

    Spot on…in their heyday, that’s how the Seahawks zone was played. Basically zone with man principle.

    The one thing I really disagree with is rushing 3 as an effective defense vs a pocket passer, or any experienced NFL QB.

  • popsiclesticks

    And let’s not forget that NE’s WRs are a lightning quick guy like Edelman, a freak athlete who basically learned to play WR as an NFL rookie in Hogan, and an athletic projection WR in Mitchell. People keep acting like these guys were scrubs. Yeah, I would have liked to see some more aggressive calls from time to time, but Cockrell and especially Gay are going to have problems following those guys around.

    I hope Gilbert learns enough to get on the field next season. And/or is given the chance. Unless he just completely sucks.

  • popsiclesticks

    JH has always been sneaky good in coverage, IMO, and I don’t mind it a time or two. How many times did he drop?

  • popsiclesticks

    I’d rather score a 60 yard TD and set the tone, if the WR just catches the ball.

  • popsiclesticks

    Because that’s when you get man coverage with no safety over the top because the defense is primarily concerned with not allowing you the short throw or run.

  • popsiclesticks

    You aren’t guaranteed to convert on 3rd and 1, and you certainly aren’t guaranteed to convert the next 3 or 4 first downs equivalent to one big play to an open WR in single coverage. I feel like people act as if it’s guaranteed they’d just march down the field if only they wanted to.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Way more than he should have lol. Him along with Dupree. Why stop our two best and pretty much only pass-rushers from rushing the passer?

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Situation

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Yes, on a 3rd and 4 later in the game.

  • ATL96STEELER

    DBD…obviously you know scheme, but at the end of the day, the results were mostly the same though and I think that’s his point.

    I’ve never been a coach on any level…but one thing was clear to me…whatever Butler ran out there in the AFCCG, McDaniels and Brady were pretty comfortable with what the Steelers were doing both pre-snap and post snap….there wasn’t a whole lot of checking out of play calls.

  • popsiclesticks

    There was some attention paid to one particular time where Brady completely changed the play with 5 left on the play clock. I know it sucks watching them wreck us and they seem to do it more easily than to most teams, but they’ve been in the last 6 AFCCGs and like 4 of the past 6 SBs or whatever. Without a great defense, Brady is gonna dice you up.

    Hell, he ripped Seattle apart when nobody except…well, except Ben had done it in like two years.

    Ben also tore Denver apart. I really think Martavis Bryant coming back if their only great hope here.

  • Robert E Lil

    Take, for example, a blow out win by the Steelers over KC early in the year. The Chiefs went for TD’s rather than kick a field goal later in the game inflating the red zone “greatness” of the Steelers. That zero (in lieu of a field goal) skews how great their supposed red zone d is.
    It’s not clear (at best) that red zone defense at the end of games when they needed a stop is any good. In fact we saw in the KC playoff game the defense could not make a stop at the end of game when they needed it.
    I’d love to see a stat that looks at red zone defense in close games or a the end of games….sort of like “clutch hitting” in baseball

  • Hypo Cycloid

    I knew we were in trouble on the Pats 1st offensive play. We rushed 3 and played off the receivers in our zone. Nothing like giving Brady all day and an entire field ahead of him.

  • popsiclesticks

    They play so much nickel that they basically are in a 4-3 as far as the front is concerned. Hargrave was on the field for 70% of the snaps in this game.

    Shazier seemed to struggle in zone as he often had in his rookie and 2nd year. As noted by falconsaftey, Harrison is slower and older so you wouldn’t think he’d be a great fit to drop into coverage routinely but I disagree and kinda like seeing Bud in space and closing on the ball.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    I hate rushing 3 at all. You RARELY get any pressure on the QB. He essentially has all day to eventually find a receiver work open. If you would be willing to drop 8, why not drop 9? Worried about Brady running? Too bad. Better than giving up massive gains through the air. On occasion in the red zone, fine. But that was an amateur move by Butler doing this throughout the game. Casual fans can tell you that won’t work against Brady, because it never has!

  • Da Bus Driver

    A HA! You bring up another excellent point. Did you know that LeBeau was famous for having so many calls/checks that it was mind numbing to many guys. I heard he had as many as 30 or 40 in total. Like an insane amount. And that he had the largest and most voluminous Defensive playbook in the history of the NFL.
    That was another part of the whole idea to go to Butler. Which was to “simplify” the D so that the young guys could learn it quickly. Well, an unintended consequence of an easier to understand scheme for OUR guys is that it becomes a much easier scheme to decipher for THEIR guys. Especially when you go against a combo like Brady and Belicheat.

  • popsiclesticks

    Preach. Sorry Alex…I know you and a lot of people rush to defend Mitch and don’t think I’m crushing him or anything…I don’t think he’s always late, but I do think (and it’s just an opinion since there’s no way I can get in his head and find out) that he’s so obsessed with making the big hit that he passes up many opportunities to make a play on the ball.

    I do think he was better about that this year, but I’m so tired of watching him decapitate our secondary guys. I thought he was gonna kill Cockrell in the WC game.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Maybe I was not paying very good attention, but imo to get out of the 4 game losing streak and starting what became a 9 game winning streak, Butler got a lot more aggressive going after QBs.

    I agree the young CBs may not be on the level with Denver and Seattle, but in the biggest game of the year, he pulled back. That was the most depressing part about watching the game to me. They didn’t play like the to get there. Hindsight is 20/20, but I would have much preferred to see them go down swinging for the opening snap.

  • Alex Kozora

    It worked both ways that game.The Chiefs scored on the last play of the game, a red zone touchdown, pushing the numbers down (after the Steelers stopped theme earlier)..

    That’s all stuff that happens to every team during the year. They all get help/hurt by that stuff.

    I’d love that stat too. But for you to assert your point outside of limited, single-game evidence, you’re going to have to come up with that one.

  • Robert E Lil

    Here’s Paul Zeise from the PPG after that incredible OT win against…the Browns! He said it better than I am sayin it:
    “the Pittsburgh defense, even with plenty of starters, looked over-matched at times by RG III and the Browns’ offense. The defense has played better in recent weeks, but Sunday marked the THIRD WEEK IN A ROW that it had to be bailed out by late offensive heroics. And the last two weeks — against the Ravens and the Browns — the unit was lucky the opposing teams made mistakes that killed scoring chances.”

    So everyone can cherry pick whatever stat they want to convince themselves that the defense is better but – it’s not. It is a joke and has been for a long, long time

  • ATL96STEELER

    Youth…I live in ATL and watch the Falcons every week much like I watch the Steelers every week. The Falcons start 4 rookies (MLB, OLB, CB3, SS) and 3 2nd yr guys (DT, CB2, DE/OLB) on DEF. Granted Quinn plays the 4-3 base but the backend functions a lot like the Steelers.

    The Falcons DEF sucked for the 1st 5 or 6 games…youth mistakes, missed assignments etc…much like Butler did, coming out of the bye Quinn pulled the training wheels off…sending 5 (and more sometimes) after the QB and letting the young

    From where I sat…it really felt like Butler put the training wheels back on early in that game and it played into the Patriots hands. Yeah, he tried to change it up in the 3rd Q, but you’re 2-3 scores down on the road now…too late.

    That made the game much tougher to watch…I would rather have seen them up in press coverage, forcing the action and going after Brady early…if you lose, you lose playing a style that won you 9 game in a row.

  • Uncle Rico.

    RZ% is RZ TD/RZ Opportunities. Whether a team kicks a field goal, turns it over on downs, or turns it over doesn’t really matter. It all counts as a failed opportunity. Or success, depending on which side of the ball. Going for TDs rather than electing to kick a FG will not make a defense’s RZ% any better. It can only make it worse.

  • Robert E Lil

    Let’s put it this way, Rico
    Would you feel confident in the Steelers defense at the end of a game with the outcome in the balance? From anywhere on the field?

  • dennisdoubleday

    But you have to consider that Coates had shown no indication he could do that over the past 10 weeks since his injury to his hand. Very low percentage play given that.

  • SteelerMike

    Great post. Go Falcons.

  • Alex Kozora

    I’m not the one cherry picking. You are.

  • francesco

    I totally agree with all your points. I would say that the defense is horrible against a hurry up offense. When the game is ticking fast Butler cannot react quickly and the players seem lost and clueless.

  • Robert E Lil

    That’s exactly right Francesco and it’s a copy cat league

  • Robert E Lil

    Alex, you seem to be making the argument Butler’s defense wasn’t very good between the 20’s but alas, the red zone defense is just fine. I think that’s bologna because when the red zone defense has failed it’s done so at the most critical junctures of the game (Baltimore and KC playoff game examples).

    The 2011 Steelers defense was ranked number 1 overall and number 1 vs the pass. But as a fan I (and many others) knew that was not true. It didn’t pass the eye test The 2011 #1 defense was torched by Tim Tebow.

  • Alex Kozora

    I’m not really commenting on how good/bad the defense was outside the 20s. That’s a whole ‘nother thing to delve into. I am saying they were strong in the red zone which they were, and that really isn’t debatable because we have the data to back it up.

    Were they perfect? No. But you could apply a couple breakdowns to any team. Instead of sampling just one or two games or moments, I am looking at the entire picture. Sample size matters. And when you use the correct sample size, you get a better representation.

    Your example of a #1 pass defense doesn’t work the same. It’s a much more vague stat. And #1 pass defense is only yards…it’s a silly stat to begin with. Red zone defense looks at one specific thing. Much different.

  • Robert E Lil

    Just couldn’t disagree with you more. Once more I’d love to see what that RZD looked like over the final say…5 games of the season. As Paul Zeise pointed out the defense was getting worse not better at the end of the year. We aren’t going to agree – maybe if Brady and the Pats hadn’t scored so easily so fast there’d have been more red zone opportunities…for NE to illustrate how poor that defense really is

  • Alex Kozora

    Feel free to point out the data and I’m all ears.

  • Kevin Artis

    A reason why Lebeau always played veterans over rookies because of his voluminous defensive playbook. My two cents.

  • Robert E Lil

    Wouldn’t be a bad way to enjoy a beer tonight ! Not trying to be disrespectful Alex. I do enjoy the blog and your article. I’m just of the belief that Butler should be out and the defense needs to be completely 100% reworked to better challenge the athletes

  • Kevin Artis

    Coates haven’t caught a long ball in like 10 games. Why on god’s green earth are you even throwing to him. I would at least tried someone else. I still wouldn’t have like the call because Ben has always been impatience and not taking what the defense gives them. A simple play of a role out to the fullback or the TE for one yard would keep the chains moving and Brady off the field.

  • Alex Kozora

    All good man, I certainly am not holding a grudge. Always up for the discussion! Enjoy that beer. And those numbers.

  • americanpatriot

    My apologies Alex. I truly thought I remembered that phrase. I must have just remembered the idea of it. That’s the price of growing old. I still hate the ultra soft coverage that the Steeler’s D uses all too often. I realize it’s to limit long splash plays, but I’d rather that than 9- 10 yarders. Takes time and wears out the D.

    Again, I apologize.

  • Charles Haines

    I feel you, but when Ben looks over there and sees single coverage on a fast WR he’s going deep. He’s not looking over there and seeing a WR that can’t catch. Love the call, the failure to execute is on Coates.

  • Charles Haines

    well there’s that.