Keith Butler’s Defensive Changes Will Hopefully Include Wade Phillips-Like Aggressiveness

If you’ve listened to the last several episodes of The Terrible Podcast, you’ve heard Alex Kozora and I talking a lot about one-gap, 3-4 defense principles being as that we are expecting to see a lot more of this season now that Keith Butler is the defensive coordinator.

A few times you have heard us talk about how we expect Butler’s defense to start more resembling the one that Wade Phillips has run during his career while keeping a lot of the principles that former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau ran during his time in Pittsburgh.

I came across a recent instructional video that Phillips did and in it he talks about alignment assignments and responsibilities in his one-gap system. Pay close attention, however, to Phillips talking about how he tries to match what a certain player does well to his defense while still keeping the scheme in tact. This is exactly what I expect Butler will be attempting to do more of going forward.

Phillips’ system is one that has a reputation for being a lot more aggressive in nature and I think you’ll see that this upcoming season with Butler’s unit. The new Denver Broncos defensive coordinator talked about that aggressiveness back when he was hired.

“We’re aggressive,’’ Phillips said, according to Jeff Legwold of “Defensive players, they’re aggressive by nature. I think you take something away from them when you don’t let them be. And aggressive doesn’t mean blitzing all the time, but it does mean coming off the football — everybody coming off the football. You won’t see a square stance from a defensive lineman, so to speak for people who know football, where you’re reading. This is an attack defense, and that’s the way players like to play. You get the best results out of that and I think you play the best that way so we’ll be that way.’’

During that same interview, Phillips also talked properly using the talents of his players.

“Anytime you’ve got great players, that’s what you’re looking for: difference makers. That’s what you look for,” Phillips said. “You’ve got to utilize their talents and that’s what we’ll try to do with those guys. DeMarcus, obviously has been a great talent and tremendous player and I was lucky to have him at the time we had him in Dallas.”

In 2012, Phillips was the defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans and after the start of that regular season he gave some excellent answers to great questions during his weekly talk with the media.

(on getting creative to get DE J.J. Watt in one-on-one situations) “We try to get our best players one on one as much as we can. You’re not going to get guys free all the time. You try to get matchups. Pro football is matchups where there are receivers, cornerbacks or d-linemen and offensive linemen and pass rushers, put them on guys that you think they match up well with. (DE) J.J. (Watt) if we can just keep somebody else off of him, he’s got a chance to make plays as do some of our other guys.”

(on the 3-4 defensive end) “First of all we play a different 3-4 than everybody else or most other people, although several of them play it the same one we do now because those guys have coached with me. When I started out it was a two-gap defense, the defensive ends had to play two-gap and be able to rush the passer. Well that’s a hard thing to do. We had a guy here with the Houston Oilers named Elvin Bethea. We said, ‘Wait a minute. We don’t want to do that with that guy.’ We started stunting the guys and moving them and let them do what they do well, playing a 3-4, but playing a different way, Phillips 3-4 if you want to call it that. I had another guy named Bruce Smith that wasn’t bad at in a 3-4. You can do it with guys, if they have the abilities, then you let them go more. If they don’t then you play a two-gap and just hold your ground all you can and let the linebackers make the plays. It’s all about what kind of players you have and let them do what they do best.”

The Steelers have talented and athletic players on their defensive line in Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon and Stephon Tuitt in addition to one of the best strong-inside 3-4 linebackers in the form of Lawrence Timmons. Heyward tied for the team-lead in sacks last season with 7.5, so it’s obvious that he can get after the quarterback. Much like Phillips did in Houston with J.J. Watt, expect Butler to try and attempt to get Heyward matched up one-on-one as often as possible in order to maximize his talents.

While LeBeau had very few faults, he did lack overall aggressiveness as he relied more on predictability and percentages based on down and distances. I think Butler will be different in that regard and especially on early downs and against the run.

There are some great stories about Phillips that include several great quotes right here if  you are interested in reading them.

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