Keith Butler’s Defense Will Bring Slightly New Philosophy

That is not exactly a sexy headline. But it shouldn’t surprise any level-headed fan in the least.

Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator Keith Butler made his first public comments to the media since being hired as the heir to Dick LeBeau. Dave Bryan has the details of almost everything Butler said, which you can check out here.

While Butler was tight-lipped about what changes could be brought to the 2015 unit, answering with a wryly grin to ask the New England Patriots, some of his answers may have hinted at what will – and won’t – change.

Of course, we’ll never know for sure until the regular season starts. The team isn’t going to tip their hand much if at all until the games count.

In the interest of speculation, we’ll try to read between the lines of his comments and at the least, give a couple general areas of interest to look out for come September.

We know the defense is not going to see a massive shift. He’s a 3-4 guy, like LeBeau. Played in it during his career with the Seattle Seahawks and spent 11 years under the zone blitz’s father. By his admission, we know he’ll have the same control over the defense that LeBeau was granted and though Butler was quick to point out he’ll always seek out the advice of Mike Tomlin, this is clearly Butler’s defense and no one elses.

Arthur Moats supported the notion in a recent article.

“I know for me, my history playing in Buffalo, I have had different coordinators pretty much every year so I have always had to have that learning curve, learning a new defense, learning a new spot. So for me to have that continuity it’s a breath of fresh air. I am able to communicate and be more of a vocal leader this year and I definitely feel like my play is showing in OTAs.”

Technically, Moats has a new coordinator this year. His positional coach but still, with Moats saying how easy it was to come in this spring and pick up where he left off, it should assure any skeptic this defense isn’t vastly different.

So what could be different?

Butler gave the media a slightly different mindset when it comes to how the defensive line is used.

“We can’t let them always take up for the linebackers, or try to take people on for the linebackers, we have to let them play football, too. So, hopefully we can employ everybody in this defense, especially the front seven.”

To me, that sounds like putting even more of an emphasis on one-gapping than the traditional two-gap philosophy the team has typically employed.

The Dallas Cowboys are a prime example of a defense that has run this hybrid scheme, the non-traditional nose tackles like Jay Ratliff getting upfield and penetrating. From 2008-2009, Ratliff racked up 13.5 sacks. He finished his Cowboys career with a total of 27.

It only makes sense to modify the scheme with a bonafide star in Cameron Heyward and second-year end Stephon Tuitt hopefully following suit. It’s a waste of a skillset to treat them like big-lugs, run-stuffers incapable of getting upfield and causing havoc. Gone are the days of being able to sit back on your laurels, convert a DT to DE (something I remember seeing talked about all the time on message boards), and feel confident

With the large increase in nickel, defensive lineman must be able to do everything. Hold their own against the run, a difficult challenge in two-down fronts, while being capable of getting after the quarterback on a regular basis. That increases their financially value, as the recent contracts of guys like Cameron Jordan and Corey Liuget, and in terms of draft stock. Heyward was a first round pick and Tuitt would’ve been too had an injury his final year at Notre Dame dropped his stock.

The immediate downside means the linebackers are going to have stack and shed more often. Lawrence Timmons can do that well, but Ryan Shazier? That remains to be seen.

That was the best clue Butler would offer the media. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake noted Butler is “trying to make some adjustments,” but failed to specify further. I could only guess as to what those will be.

Infusing the defense with Shamarko Thomas’ fresh legs may allow the team to play more two high safety coverages. Troy Polamalu became limited last season, playing in the box for the majority of his snaps. The Steelers played man coverage on third and long but on early downs, were primarily a zone team. That’s something that could see adjusted.

Just as any defense coordinator has, Butler will roll out some specific blitz packages unique to him. What those are, and how different they will be from LeBeau, is anyone’s guess and not even worth speculating sitting here in June.

Apologies if you were expecting a huge revelation or an off-the-wall idea. Knowing Butler and the comments made, the changes made will be nuanced, not exclamatory.

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