Keith Butler Explains Why He Rushes Three

It’s arguably the biggest source of frustration for Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans. Anytime Keith Butler sends three, check Twitter out and you’ll see a sea of hate. It’s something he did a ton in the last game against the Detroit Lions, constantly rushing just three against Matthew Stafford, to mixed results. Speaking with reporters yesterday, Butler explained why and when he likes to rush the minimum.

“If our coverage is good enough to make him hold the ball, where he gets to his back step, what we call a three step, five step, seven step drop by the quarterback, when he hits his back foot and lets the ball go, there’s not much you can do,” Butler said via Steelers.com. “So sometimes we rush three in that situation. And tighten the windows down in terms of zone defense to make the quarterback a little more limited. If he’s used to throwing on time or at a certain time, then that will mess him up.”

To sum up, it’s a change up to get the quarterback flustered. And while it’s been frustrating in pockets, like Butler’s insistence of using it on nearly the entire Lions’ final drive, it’s been extremely effective in the red zone. The windows that Butler spoke about are inherently tight without the threat of anything vertical and dropping eight makes it that much tougher.

The results, in the red zone at least, have been excellent. The Steelers stopped the Lions on their final drive, forcing a 4th down incompletion (on a play where they rushed three), one in a long line of similar results. Back in 2015, Jarvis Jones picked off Matt Hasselbeck on the goal line on a three man rush and last year, Lawrence Timmons did the same to Eli Manning. Both huge plays.

Butler was then asked if this week’s QB, Jacoby Brissett, is an “on-time” passer.

“He’s well-versed on third down, I think. They’ve done a good job in terms of handling pressure on third down. He’s probably better on third down than any other down in terms of his completion rate, I think. We gotta win on every down.”

For the record, Butler’s comments about the completion rate are incorrect. Brissett has his worst percentage on third down, just 54.8%, compared to 65% on first down and 63% on second down. Either way, the Colts aren’t doing a horrible job on third down, they’re middle of the pack. So this isn’t a layup for the Steelers though if you’ve been following this team, you know they never are.

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.

  • PaeperCup

    “If our coverage is good enough to make him hold the ball”

    That’s a big “IF”

    I don’t like it, but I guess a saving grace is the fact that it’s Hargrave and Heyward and sometimes Tuitt rushing.

    I can see why QBs like Brady pick apart defense like this.

  • TroymanianDevil

    I’m not as upset as most people about this.
    Blitzing has weaknesses too, good QBs know exactly where to go and good QBs will usually take advantage. It’s mixing it up and being unpredictable that I think is most important, that’s when I get frustrated

  • falconsaftey43

    I largely agree. Not to mention our blitz was getting stonewalled in the Lions game.

  • Rick McClelland

    I’m of the opinion that Keith should go all crazy on his thinking once in a while go crazy big for the first pass play of a game and send all 11 and bury a QB like Brady. Try it in practice and see if you can literally get to the QB in 3 seconds or less (Landry Jones has to take the hit in practice. LOL.) Call it the “Nuke”. All stops pulled out, full on. If the QB can beat you in 1 or 2 seconds then chalk it up and go back to the 3 man rinky dink rush. I’m betting even if he gets the ball off, he still takes a mean hit.

  • PaeperCup

    What’s the worse that will happen? They will score on a big play, on a drive that the likelyhood of them scoring was high anyways. ONly now you get the ball back sooner.

  • Stairway7

    “He’s probably better on third down than any other down in terms of his completion rate, I think.” So Butler doesn’t know how this QB performs on 3rd down? Is that unusual? I would think a DC would know those stats/tendancies. Am I wrong here?

  • falconsaftey43

    Could just be he mis-spoke. Or might have just been his impression from the tape. Maybe a lot of his early down stuff is check downs and “gimmy” type throws. Doing a lot more difficult throws on 3rd downs? It does look kind of bad though that the stats are the exact opposite of what he said. Really, it’s no big deal though IMO.

  • Alex Kozora

    Yeah I think it’s just an overall feel thing. Brissett does have 4 TDs on third down.

  • FATCAT716

    I agree. I would like to believe coaches get majority of there info from tape not so much numbers.

  • dennisdoubleday

    It works for non-elite QBs. Given enough time, top end QBs find those holes. I subscribe to the Buddy/Rex Ryan school, it’s best not to give the QB time. Choke off the play at the source and you don’t have to cover very long.

  • Charles Mullins

    Usually the numbers are broken out for the consumption of the coaches to tease out tendencies. To be fair to Butler I am sure they get a lot of numbers and speaking without facts/numbers in front of you is hard. I am sure if you asked Mike Mitchell or Shazier they would know the tendencies. Completion % isnt something I think they would worry much about though.

  • Steve Johnson

    Some how, I think this team will screw it up Sunday. Rushing 3 D/L? I can just see Butler trying that cap against Brady and the Patriots.

  • Steve Johnson

    And the horrible thing is this, everybody in Steeler Nation can see that except Tomlin and Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler. What a dumb _SS Philosophy. In order to have a chance of beating Brady, they will have to get pressure on him, put a few hits on him, make him think about it.

  • falconsaftey43

    You guys have any numbers for the Lions game on how often they sent 3, 4, 5+ and what the results of those plays looked like?

  • Steve Johnson

    Has Butler ever made any adjustments during the game? I think Hargrave should be in there on passing downs.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    I am with you brother!!
    Butler DID bring up a good point though – if the QB takes a short drop (or alternatively releases quickly like TB12) then you could send 11 and it wouldn’t matter.
    One other point related to this.
    I have NEVER been a big fan of Matt Stafford but he REALLY impressed me not only against us but in his subsequent game. He has really matured (which he should given that he has been in the league now like 7 years!!).

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Great point on the unpredictability. I think having that man coverage AND zone coverage ability is valuable to make even the most capable QBs have to consider its possibility pre-snap.

  • falconsaftey43

    Oh course he has, that’s a pretty silly question.

  • NW86

    It’s not that big of an IF this year. The Steelers coverage has been very good for the majority of the season. Stafford managed a lot of yards, but he did that with some stellar throws into tight windows, and they still never scored a TD.

    Rushing 3, blitzing 7, and everything in between all have their place. It just needs to be mixed up throughout the game to keep the offenses guessing and out of rhythm.

  • NW86

    Exactly. I have no issues with either, as long as it is mixed up to keep offenses guessing. I just said largely the same thing above, before I read this. 😉

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Steve –

    Thank you. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes (but in reverse) where EVERYBODY can see the truth except Butler and Tomlin.

  • Generic Steelers Fan

    Cowher and Lebeau didn’t see it either! It’s almost hard to believe that Steelers Nation knows more about football than those four people but that’s definitely the case.

    It’s unfortunate they’ve never thought about it the way we have on message boards before.

  • Rob

    God i love this

  • PaeperCup

    I like Tomin and Butler, and my hope is that they will go into the NE game with a completely different look. You do have to play your strengths, but sometimes you might want to consider playing your opponents weakness. If the Patriots do have one, it definitely is not a three rush zone defense.

  • Matt Manzo

    Where are Butler and Muchak getting their info from?!

  • LHW

    Brady makes quick throws – how will stacking the line make things any better? How would a 5 man pass rush fix that? Then there would be those screaming for Butler to drop extra guys into coverage and only rush 3. Brady is the best for a reason. Knowing there is no easy way to defend against Brady, I would think it would be best to rush 3, bump the receivers at the line, and play the box against short passes. Despite my own solution, I don’t pretend to know how to even begin to scheme against an NFL caliber team, especially Bill Belichick and company!

  • Alex Kozora

    We charted it. I don’t have it all tallied up though. Sent three a lot, I know that.

  • Steve Johnson

    Agreed. Maybe Tomlin and Butler are keeping their Ace in their pocket, the element of surprise is always a good thing as well. But if they make it to week #15 and play the same ole Defense that Brady torches them each time they play, I may have to check myself into a Mental Institution.

  • Steve Johnson

    Agreed, the only other elite QB the Steelers will face the next eight games is Brady. Brady isn’t as quick and fast as Stafford, but he’s as smart as Joe Montana if not smarter.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    If they’re gonna bring three in those cases, I’d love to see Tuit, Gravedigger and Heyward.

  • PaeperCup

    Brady is near invinceable…i just threw up a little. But if there’s anything proven to rattle him even just a little bit, it is pressure, specifically up the middle. The Broncos didn’t dominate him two years ago by dropping 8, I know that much

  • NinjaMountie

    Would I like to see more sacks? Sure. More pressure? Absolutely. Are they doing something right? Ummmm…their record seems to imply that they are. As a matter of fact, their record says that they’ve been making good decisions for a very long time.

  • NinjaMountie

    The Patriots have lost, on average, 3 games the last few years. They’ve won 2 SBs and been to the CCG every year. Everyone else in the league must be as ignorant as the Steelers.
    As big of fans as we are and as much as we may know about football, or think we know, we are not professional level coordinators.
    They’ve obviously been doing something right as they’ve won a lot of games.

  • treeher

    Brady isn’t bothered by pressure. He gets the ball out. Teams have had some success with man to man coverage, bumping at the line, throwing off the timing. If I see the Steelers let another tight end free off the line again, my foot is going through my new smart TV.

  • will

    Coach Butts just explained why Brady will carve the Steelers’ secondary up!

  • Dshoff

    I wouldn’t go all crazy, but teams like the Broncos and Eagles send 7 guys a LOT! We never send 6.

  • Dshoff

    I just saw some replays of Brissets(sp?) throws and he hits the wr in the hole in the cover 2 on the sideline a lot. I hope that we have done some work on that for this game.

  • Rick McClelland

    The key is to do it, execute it well, and then make the offense wonder when you will do it again. There also has to be multiple looks with this scheme so they never get used to seeing just one.

  • Michael James

    Part of the thing why the Patriots are so successful is that they literally sh*t on old narratives. They approach every game with the best gameplan to win (even if it’s a very strange one) and don’t care if an old-school expert on TV says that they have to establish the run or whatever. When one single passing concept works, they don’t shy away from calling the exact same play up to ten times in a row (!) until the opponent can stop it (happened exactly like this against Baltimore one or two years ago).
    I bet that Haley or any other coordinator in the league wouldn’t have dared to do this, becuase “well, nobody does that!”. The Pats did it, because it brought them the most success. Other coordinators might be good, too, but many of them stick to the “classic way” of calling games and therefore fail to exploit certain weaknesses like the Pats do.

  • Yuckmouf

    Just maybe, they don’t do it that way against Brady! Besides in the past they said they didn’t have the personnel to do some of the things that they would have liked to do. Maybe we do now, so, stay tuned!!

  • Yuckmouf

    You think maybe the Rooney’s should be out with Tomlin and Butler and hire “Steelers Nation”?

  • Yuckmouf

    Amen and er uh, Amen..

  • francesco

    Rushing only 3 in the redzone that is 10 yards and in makes sense because you have stuffed the playing field…but i would not recommend rushing 3 only between the 20’s.

  • francesco

    Pressure up the middle against Brady is the answer. Except that Andrews the center plays lights out. We are going to need TJ rush the middle.

  • #beatthepats

    Omg I hope butler reads your post, Joe Haden basically eliminates a reciever in man coverage , there is no need for a prevent dimed zone defense in th 4 th quarter. Just watched last 56 seconds of 95 championship game rushing 3 , harbaugh drove 50 yards in 4 plays, 2 inches from a choke , bengals superbowl against niners- lebeau prevent – lost the game – cardinals superbowl – less than a minute -td , brady every year, almost gave the chief game up after not giving up a first down, stafford shredded it, Front 7 is your strenghth , why constantly comprimise it. Put the qb on his ass , stop trying to confuse

  • disqus_6VWOvIAZzr

    I’d want to see the healthier of either Tuit or Harrison as the third. If Brady is doing 3 step drops, mix in McCullers.

    We at least, should have seen more 4 man rush playing man underneath. If a reporter challenged the coaches on that, they’d use tackling as an excuse.

  • disqus_6VWOvIAZzr

    I’ve always been more confident in the pass defense when they’ve had a strong matchup corner like Ike or a HOFer like Rod. Those guys make coordinators smarter.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    theyve also been in the weakest division in football for many many many years.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    big dan is pretty much done here.

  • disqus_6VWOvIAZzr

    I agree overall. Though, I’m in favor of using him situationally with a low snap count. He can push the middle or get his hands up.

  • NinjaMountie

    I’ve used that excuse before, too. Admittedly, it’s just that…an excuse.
    One of the biggest reasons the division is so weak is because they’ve beat it into submission.
    They’ve beat up on every one else, have the best record in the NFL, and have won 6 SBs.
    They’re great simply because they’re great.

  • The Dumpmaster

    Duh. Obviously a bunch of armchair experts know at least as much as career scouting, schematic, and coaching pros. Because durr, Stillers, durr Tomlin, durr jagoffs.

  • disqus_6VWOvIAZzr

    I’m okay with a wee bit of hyperbole. People would do well to value thinking over submitting their mind to authority. The argument against this teams’ championship potential has grown to where benefit of the doubt is gone anymore.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    yet if you think about it. yes they beat up on everyone. but essentially getting 4-6 easy wins a year because of weak teams helps.
    ive said it for a long time now. if pats were in afc north instead of browns then pats would have had much more competition on ways to division championships.

  • NinjaMountie

    Yet, if you actually research it, you realize they wouldn’t have more competition.
    Belichick doesn’t have a losing record against ANY team as of the last full season.
    Against the AFCE his record is Miami (22-11), NYJ (24-11), Buffalo (29-5).
    Against theh AFCN, Balt. (8-3), Cin. (7-2), Cle. (6-2), Pitt. (9-3).
    Take into account he faces the AFCN most often when the teams are good and not every year then it makes his record against us more impressive. Look at his record vs Pitt and Balt, perennial playoff teams, and he still whoops us.
    What do you think would happen if he was whipping us twice a year, every year? Do you think Tomlin would have kept his job? Harbaugh? Nope.
    We would have been busy making changes to find a way to beat the Patriots and that would have led to instability.
    That is how you MAKE a division look weak. You own it. That’s what the Patriots have done.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    interesting.