Add Keith Butler to the building list of names of members of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense who believe something must be done to cut down on the sheer quantity of passing yardage that the unit has allowed this season, ranking 28th in the league in terms of passing yardage against per game.
During the Steelers’ practice yesterday, it was coordinator Thursday, and Butler was asked about where his defense stands coming out of the late bye week. The first-year defensive coordinator had plenty good to say about his unit, but he had to acknowledge the weakness.
“We’re keeping people out of the end zone for the most part”, he said, mentioning the team’s success in getting sacks and turnovers and stopping the run.
When it came to the passing game, however, “we’ve got to stop the passing game a little better than we have been”, he conceded, an utterance that much of the fan base will no doubt regard as a major understatement.
“We have to be a little bit more consistent”, he said. “The week before [the Browns game] we gave up five touchdowns [against Oakland], that kind of got our attention a little bit”.
Still, Johnny Manziel managed to put up 327 yards through the air, in spite of the fact that Cleveland rushed for just 15 yard and scored nine points. But Butler had a suggestion to explain why that might have been, beyond the fact that the Browns spent the game coming from behind.
Like the Ravens game earlier this year in which the Steelers focused on taking away the play action game, which resulted in a big game on the ground, Butler’s defense came into this meeting with the Browns singularly focused on taking care of the ball on the ground, after Cleveland ripped them in the rushing game in both meetings last season.
Because the defense was geared toward stopping the run—and Cleveland’s defense was geared toward stopping Pittsburgh’s running game, both of which were success in their efforts—that opened some things up in the passing game, though Manziel’s maneuverability also deserves some of the credit.
Earlier this week, we learned that Steelers safety Will Allen challenged his defensive teammates to step up during the home stretch, urging his teammates to hold opponents to between 200 and 250 passing yards per game through the final six games. Only the Broncos average less than 200 passing yards allowed per game this season.
Pittsburgh is currently nowhere near that, and are in fact much closer to allowing 300 yards per game than 200. They have only held opponents to less than 250 yards four times thus far this year, and under 200 yards only twice. In two of those games, they averaged 165 yards on the ground per game allowed.
Butler recognizes that his passing defense this season has been something less than stellar, though there is not much that he can do in terms of personnel to affect any kind of meaningful change this late in to the season. But knowing is half the battle, as they say.