Film Room: Keith Butler Busts Out Brand New Defense

You can question how effective Keith Butler has been, Sunday night certainly won’t go in his resume, but he’s definitely been adding new wrinkles to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. Against the Green Bay Packers, we wrote how Butler brought back the amoeba defense. Against the Baltimore Ravens, he did something totally new.

Three times, Butler ran a 3-2-6 dime package. Three defensive linemen, two linebackers – both OLBs – and six defensive backs as part of their dime package. Here’s a look at each one.

The Steelers solution to replace Ryan Shazier was…don’t. There wasn’t a good option on third downs. Not Arthur Moats, not Sean Spence. L.J. Fort did get some reps in dime but the Steelers did their best to limit his exposure.

Pittsburgh forced incompletions on two of the three plays. The other, the first one, was a 22 yard gain to Danny Woodhead on third down, the one where Javon Hargrave tried to cover him.

It’s another wrinkle to try to get the Steelers’ best players on the field and their best pass rush. It wasn’t just a personnel response; twice it was against 11 personnel. And twice they rushed their standard four (the other was a three man rush).

Will they use it moving forward? Maybe. It’s not a bad switch-up. It’s one solution to getting Hargrave pass rushing snaps he definitely deserves and helps compensate for outside linebackers who haven’t been good enough. And like I said, a solution to replace Shazier without actually replacing him.

The best way to beat a team like New England isn’t to do *one* thing. That’s the worst thing you can do. Predictability is how the Patriots thrive. From a personnel standpoint, Butler and the Steelers have a ton of options. Base defense, nickel, dime, amoeba, and now whatever you want to call this new look. It’s a Rolodex that can only help keep Tom Brady guessing. And that’s the best way to win.

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.
  • ThePointe

    If the goal was to get the best pass rushers on the field in a dime defense, why is Bud Dupree one of the OLBs? Look, I’m not down on Dupree nearly as much as some people. He covers well, but he has been getting his @ss handed to him on runs to his side, and he has been invisible when it comes to rushing the passer. Take him out of this defense, move Watt over to his spot and bring in Harrison, then he will have his best pass rushers on the field.

  • disqus_WrRvUyG2DA

    Play the opposite defense scheme they used last year vs them. The blue print is what the dolphins did last night. Man defense most of the game. Don’t let there wr’s run where they want and hit them at the line of scrimmage.

  • Joseph Nerges

    I absolutely agree. Dupree is a liability on defense and should be on the bench for most of the game.

  • jconeoone C

    Was about to type the same thing….you beat me to it

  • Hubert Parker

    Dupree is one of the reasons opposing TEs havent been killing us

  • Putting this “Big” dime and amoeba defenses on tape for 3 to 4 plays each has been preparation for this week. Giving Brady and McDaniels new things to think about when we face them.

  • falconsaftey43

    which TEs are those…? 3rd fewest receptions and 7th fewest yards allowed to TEs. Fewest TDs allowed to TEs. seems like you’re wrong on this one.

    EDIT: sorry, miss-read you as “have”. Yes, Steelers have defended TEs well.


    Isn’t that what they did for the sack on the last play?

    Steelers going to the Super Bowl!

  • Sam Clonch

    Stat burn. Niiiice….

  • Steeldog22

    Yeah. Can’t be tentative. Got to take the risk of being beat over the top and be aggressive at the line. It’s not like we can tackle, so if we play zone and they catch it in space, it’s likely a TD anyhow.

  • Bill

    Looking at the Dolphins game, their excellent man coverage jumped out at you! Of course the best Patriot receivers were not on the field and this game had no meaning to the Patriots if they beat the Steelers. We sure as heck can’t play man coverage like the Dolphins did last night. We have a better chance if Haden returns and Butler can devise coverage on Gronk that’s effective maybe half the time. And we need to do better on the run stoppage for sure! One key to slowing Tom Terrific is quick pressure up the middle; maybe Spence/Moats can provide some of that and use Deebo on the outside.

  • John Pennington

    The only way to win Sunday is to tackle better know where to be in coverage cover better and dont give up the big play.Put pressure on Bradey from different directions.But the secondary acts like they have no idea where to be or what they are doing.Give them a written test and who ever cant pass it bench them.

  • Bill

    I think you may have misinterpreted what he said; check out the word “havent”.

  • Ray Istenes

    Thanks, so I was not seeing things. I thought I saw it and have been screaming for it all year.

    Plus this is a defense that can work against New England. You just have to push the pocket and Brady will throw it away. Plus you leave your two best coverage LB’s on the field. You can have either Dupree or TJ tick with Gronk (and shadow him in the seam with Gay).

  • Stairway7

    Totally agree. The excuse I keep hearing about Debo is he can’t cover but he can rush and tackle a lot better than Dupree.

  • Bill

    Somebody has to inform Burns what he’s is supposed to do on every play.

  • Ray Istenes

    The Dolphins also tackled well. It will be interesting to see how our CB’s hold up on the deep balls (the post and seam routes scare me to death).

  • falconsaftey43

    Good catch. I must have read it too fast. Sorry for that Hubert Parker.

  • Chris92021

    We are so conditioned to criticize Dupree that anything positive he might do is surprising.

  • treeher

    Yes, but if/when we show this defense, Brady will kill it.

  • treeher

    Alex: Why the news blackout on matakev injury? Hope Tomlin addresses it today.

  • nutty32

    Gronk. Can tiny Hilton handle him? Bust out Sutton inside? Yikes.

  • pittfan

    Good catch on that bill, i was scratching my head there too…
    BTW, I’ve been meaning to ask about Dupree’s coverage skills since he’s taking so much heat on his pass rushing. He’s gotta be out there for a reason…we’ll need speed out there sunday to track the 3 headed monster coming out of bradys backfield.

  • pittfan

    i like Gay in the field for his brains.

  • pittfan

    just man him up and let it fly.

  • You can also put Watt in the middle with Deebo on the edge.

  • steelburg

    We have corners who are just as good as Miami’s but we need to clean up the mental mistakes like leaving guys wide open deep and we need to tackle way better then we have been. We also need to get more pressure on the QB If we can clean some if those things up we will have a really good chance. I don’t know that we can get rid of all the mental mistakes. But we can clean up the tackling and with the right combination of guys get more pressure.

  • Renohightower

    I know a squealer when I see one. Tom Brady will find Coty Sensabaugh and make him squeal.

  • StillerzHaterzAmuseMe

    We got trolls about?

  • Just like he killed a below average defense last night? Brady was missing wide open guys all night. He has a bad foot and it affected his throws last night.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Make no mistake, Miami’s TIGHT press coverage is what made Brady look average. You don’t get the latter without the former, so the Steelers have their work cut out for them.

  • EdJHJr

    How to beat Brady, hit him about 10 times. He will complain like there is no tomorrow, and they will then fire an offensive coach

  • EdJHJr

    Yes it’s the have and have nots

  • Cwallace

    Yo mama squeals

  • PittShawnC

    Thanks Alex, interesting stuff. I kinda like this. I think our best chance at pressure vs Brady will be ST, JH and CH coming from the middle. Maybe try and have Watt run with Gronk on this?

  • mem359

    The Dolphins plan was also to have one of the best Patriot players be suspended for a game, so the TE wasn’t available on the 0-for third downs. Not something the Steelers can use.

  • mem359

    Why soooo serious?

  • Doug Miller

    The pats didn’t have Gronk last night, he was suspended.

  • No his bad foot had absolutely nothing to do with it…

  • Vic

    Totally agree!

  • Cwallace

    Exactly. He’s not stupid …just gameplan iliterate or
    concept goofy. Honestly…he looks lost half the time before the ball is snapped and after its snapped i pray the quarterback goes elsewhere.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    The pats beat us repeatedly because they play –for the most part–mistake free and smart they capitalize off our mistakes and turnovers and they design plays that’s on both sides of the ball thats not on video for us to game plan against (which is everything we should be doing this yr which I think we are by the way)it may be the same plays but with different personnel grouping on the field with adding a guy in motion and reverse sides and that my friends is how you play chess not checkers in football in my opinion I think tomlin finally figured it out so when we do play the pats your going to see a lot of man coverage and Bryant having a breakout game

  • Renohightower

    Been a Steelers fan since 1982. I don’t wear black and gold glasses if someone is bad im going to say they are bad. Plain and simple.

  • Renohightower

    Opposing Qbs have been too busy throwing deep touchdown passes

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Agree better tackling Limit penalties and turnovers basically just play smart

  • Kevin78

    They need to get Hargraves on Andrews as much as possible.

  • Truth Dispensary

    The best way to win is too not be playing both the opposing team’s players & the refs. Last year, the NFL went above & beyond in helping the Patriots go to & win the Super Bowl. And this week, the refs allowed the Ravens’ players to hold on both the line & the secondary all night, helping them stay close. Last night, the Refs let the Dolphins hold all of the Patriots receivers all night long, which we know they won’t let the Steelers get away with. No, they will throw every flag possible & them some that just don’t make sense…

  • Charles Haines

    Hopefully Butler’s gameplay vs Pats does NOT include a 3 man rush. In the last few years the teams that have given Brady fits rushed 4 DL. Not 2 DL and 2 LB, 4 big dudes, Steelers have four big guys why not try it? Surely, Tuitt, Alualu, Hargrave and Heyward with Watt and Dupree behind them would be better than what they ran out there in the AFCCG?

  • StrengthOfVictory

    With one caveat: I think certain red zone defensive looks could feature only three rushers. I seem to remember the Steelers defending the end zone a few times with this look in the AFC Championship Game (one of the few things that worked).

  • John A Stewart

    Sad too say but Dupree looks worst than Jarvis Jones.It’s like he’s scare to tackle also he doesn’t give up his body when they run right at him.

  • cencalsteeler

    Someone on here called this scheme out here a few months ago, Alex! 😉

  • walter

    I misread it too.

  • Charles Haines

    I’ll give you that but they HAVE to come up with a way to pressure Brady the rest of the time. He looked average last night and Dolphins simply made him move a little in the pocket.

  • walter

    Yea in some ways Dupree reminds me of JJ. He makes tackles from behind and his sacks are from the play breaking down. He sometimes gets close but doesnt finish. But the guy has speed to chase down the play.. I wonder if he can play ILB or would he always be blocked out of the play?

  • Ed Smith

    YES! When Brady struggles it is a combination of:
    – defense schemes being unpredictable
    – pressure in his FACE, keeping him from stepping up in the pocket and dumping a 3-5 yd pass to an outlet that becomes an 8-15 yd gain.
    Pressure from OLBs is not what beats Brady/Pats, it is up the middle. Others teams have shown the way, we have to use it. Grave Digger HAS to get to Brady…

  • Alex Kozora

    Ha, I tip my hat.

  • Thomas

    I still don’t understand the logic behind believing a guy is good enough to play on the most critical passing plays at the end of the game but not trusting him enough to be the 2nd linebacker in base.

    Fort’s weight is within 5 pounds of Shazier’s and an inch shorter it’s not like he’s too small to play the run. Most importantly, he can actually run!

  • Kevin Reich

    I want to see MCcullers active. Drive the center right on top of Brady maybe step on some toes or hit his hand on a helmet.

  • Axel

    The giants have shown how to beat the patriots, the dolphins proved it again last night. It’s all about pressure from the front four. If u do not get pressure on Brady he wil carve any defense to pieces, man or zone. U have to hit him or get his feet moving if u don’t. Hell he dropped to the ground 2 or 3 times last night when he wasn’t even hit. The reason he has been so successful vs the Steelers is lack of pressure from the d-line. It will not matter who is playing olb or cb or anything else. If there is no pressure from the front 4, the pats will win. You can not blitz Brady repeatedly, he picks that up better then any qb and again will carve up the defense. Sadly “ cheap shot gronk” will be back on Sunday. The key to the game will be the Steelers offense, they can not go out and score 17 points and expect to win. The most points the Steelers have scored in the last 5 games vs the pats is 21. That’s not good enough…….they need 35-45 points to beat the pats.

  • ayub

    A Dark Knight reference gets an up vote.

  • LucasY59

    only issue I had with that D was the one time where they dropped Hargave, he needs to be creating interior pressure, if they drop a DL it should be Cam or Steph and use their long arms to disrupt passing lanes (none of the 3 are going to cover well, but like I said the longer guys will make it harder to complete the passes)

  • Bradys_Dad

    Very much in agreement. I will say it loud and often this week -Brady and Gronk will exploit the middle of the field all day long – they’ve done it over and over and over again to us and I see no reason (especially with RS now gone) that they won’t hammer away between the stripes again. It kills me to see this happen to our D repeatedly but it is what is.

  • LucasY59

    I think on some plays TJ could be effective against Gronk, but the best way to eliminate the pats passing game is pressure on Shady and that means Watt needs to be rushing quite a bit as well

    one other thing they could possibly do is have Allen play (I know he is a rookie, but) he has the best size in the secondary so if he is only in to cover Gronk it makes it less likely he makes a coverage mistake (not doing the right coverage assignment) and make sure that whoever is covering Gronk has help as well, single coverage will be a bad thing

  • Bradys_Dad

    So true. The look on his face at times is pretty darned scary.

  • Bradys_Dad

    I like this idea too. Now if only Bud would get in to the backfield once in a while ….. (sigh)

  • Bradys_Dad

    I wouldn’t be completely opposed to Big Dan accidentally stepping on the GOAT’s foot 😉

  • Jim Foles

    Well.. A Miami defender slapped Brady in the shoulder pad. 15 yard roughing… You know the league controls games with those calls.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    I would tell Steeles DBs to clutch, hold and do whatever to slow them and get them off their timing as that ruins Brady as well. He expects his guys there on time

  • Joseph Nerges

    Butler will play a soft zone D and Brady will pick it apart in almost no time flat. Get ready for a repeat of last year AFC playoff game come Sunday.

  • Renohightower

    and hand it to yourself

  • TroymanianDevil

    Alex is this really the first time all year we’ve used this?
    I’ve been clamoring for this formation since training camp, I still think Hargrave isn’t getting on the field as much as he should be. And I remember correctly, I think you’re of a fan of using this personnel too?

    I’d also be ok subbing out Dupree more for a 7th DB as an added package, b/c like you said, you need variety when beat that team up north. Thoughts on this 3-1-7? ( btw what would you call it? super dime, half dollar? )

  • SilverSteel

    Sounds savvy to me. Can’t believe I’m sayin that about Butler. I’m not his biggest fan.

  • capehouse

    Shouldn’t have taken an injury to Shazier to finally run a 3-2-6. They should try running a 3-3-5 too.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    Harrison can’t cover. Perhaps Anthony Chick deserves more playing time.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    Not sure the Steelers play enough man coverage to make the comparison. However, we do know that our corners do not tackle well.

  • Conserv_58

    Alex, have you any information as to how many snaps Dan McCullers has logged this season? I ask because in every televised game, photo or video I’ve seen, McCullers is seen standing on the sideline. Maybe I simply over looked him, but I can not remember seeing him play any significant snaps. I was going through the post ravens game photos on the Steelers official site and when I got to the photo of the DL players posing there stood McCullers in the background, the only one without his uniform on, his hands in the pockets of his sweat pants with a look on his face that said, “I really don’t want to be here.” He looked like he was embarrassed to be in that situation. Talk about a player that has been invisible, McCullers is that guy. I think it’s safe to say that his Steelers’ career is over. Maybe even his NFL career.

  • Conserv_58

    McCullers is a waste of space.

  • Conserv_58

    Fort’s measurables do not make up for his lack of elite ability and a keen understanding of where he needs to be at all times. Those are a couple of reasons why he’s not a starter.

  • Conserv_58

    We all know what Brady’s Achilles Heel is. That being he has a melt down when there is a relentless and consistent pass rush in his face. It really comes down to that simple fact as to how the Steelers can win the game. Shutting down their run game and successfully pass rushing the heck out of Brady is everything. Getting him on the ground and hitting him often disrupts his timing with his receivers, especially Gronk. It goes without saying that a good pass rush will also go a long way in helping out the DB’s.

    As for their defense miami showed that their DB’s are not good a covering crossing routes against man coverage. They also struggled, big time, against the run. The left side of their OL was getting dominated by miami’s DL.

    In last season’s AFCCG the Steelers offensive and defensive lines were not winning the battle of attrition against what the patriots’ lines were doing to them. The Steelers were without Cam Heyward in that game. Cam, Hargrave and Tuitt have to dominate the LOS to help cover for the loss of Ryan and whom ever is playing in his spot at the time.

    Coach, Butler has a tall task ahead of him trying to cover for the deficiencies at the LILB and DB spots. Having Haden back will go a long way in alleviating some of that stress. IMO, two defensive players, Mike Hilton and Sean Davis will be key in disrupting the patriots’ short passing game. If Sensabaugh ends up starting in place of Haden, Brady will attack him relentlessly.