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Steelers Failed To Succeed In Key Defensive Philosophy For 2016

Please check out this updated post at the link here. 


We’ve leaned pretty heavily on old Dick LeBeau playbooks throughout each season. Keith Butler has carried over concepts and philosophies from him, the man who worked under for more than a decade, many of which we’ve discussed after games in our film review.

To the latter, a key philosophy, Butler’s defense failed in 2016. And in alarming fashion.

Open up LeBeau’s playbook and you’ll quickly see the first point in his defensive philosophy.

The first letter, the first point, is holding offenses to three yards or less on first down. With thanks to our charting, we can compare how successful the Steelers have been in that regard since 2014.

Here is their “success” rate in each of those three seasons. That is, the percentage of the time the Steelers’ defense held the opponent to three or fewer yards on first down.

2014 – 53.5%
2015 – 52.7%
2016 – 29.7%

Based on our charting, opposing offenses gain 4+ yards on 70.3% of first down snaps in 2016. It’s an alarming, and sorta unexplainable, rise. Knowing the past two years worth of data, you can’t even argue that LeBeau’s philosophy was antiquated (it’s from his 2002 playbook) and unattainable because of the evolution of offenses. The rest of this article is going to be super short because honestly, I don’t know what the fix is.

Pittsburgh had no problem in 2014 and 2015, which includes Butler’s first year, obviously. Even relatively speaking, last year was bad.

We’re just looking at the numbers here and the stark contrast makes it even tougher to explain the sharp decrease. In a lot of regards, the Steelers’ defense was more successful this year and has a promising future. Broadly speaking, the Steelers have created a strong red zone defense – 5th in the NFL this season – but still struggle between the 20s. It’s something Butler will have to put up on the bulletin board in 2017 and an area we’ll definitely monitor.

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