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Steelers Plan To Rebuild Defense Without LeBeau

In a surprising turn of events, we learned last evening, of course, that the Pittsburgh Steelers and longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau ‘mutually agreed’ to the latter’s resignation, leaving open the possibility that the 77-year-old Hall of Famer could coach elsewhere in 2015.

In truth, there has been a minority following—one that has grown over the past few years—suggesting that it was time for a change, to move on from LeBeau and his system, believing that he was stuck in his ways.

Evidently, over a period of days discussing the direction of the team’s future, the Steelers finally felt the same way—but that doesn’t mean there will be any radical changes.

In all likelihood, of course, it will be longtime linebackers coach Keith Butler that will take over for LeBeau as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator, which is a strategy that has been in place for many years. The organization has blocked him from interviewing elsewhere and has kept him happy by paying him well, with the assumption that he would eventually lead their defense.

They will likely not have to look far to find a replacement linebacker coach, either, as former Steelers linebacker Jerry Olsavsky is already on the coaching staff. Another former Steelers linebacker, Joey Porter, joined the staff in 2014.

So what, if anything, changes? We have no reason to believe that the Steelers have any interest in dumping LeBeau’s system altogether, which has produced a slew of top-ranked defenses over the past decade and a half.

We have seen that the system can work elsewhere already. Former Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton led successful defenses for the Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals after accepting defensive coordinator positions with those teams.

Clearly, the Steelers have had a host of personnel issues over the past few seasons. They no longer have the pass rushing ability that they once had, which allowed them to mask some less than stellar talent at cornerback.

As the pass rushing prowess has declined, the number of big plays that the team has allowed through the air has gone up, which is no coincidence. Of course, that also has to do with the play in the secondary, and they have had to make do with spare parts for the past couple of seasons.

Perhaps the Steelers believe that Butler is better equipped to succeed with the defense that they are attempting to build. LeBeau’s philosophy was predicated on not giving up the big play while disguising blitzes, but maybe this defense can’t afford to be so passive any longer.

Whoever the next coordinator will be, he will have to solve the pass rushing problem, which I have written about recently already. While this issue would seem to be largely centered on personnel, there are changes that can be made, such as relying on dropping their outside linebackers in coverage less often, which they do more than just about any other team that runs a 3-4 system.

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