Steelers Film Room: Keith Butler’s Fire Zones

Keith Butler said if he had to blitz more, he would.

And oh boy, did he ever. Butler ran almost every Fire Zone in the playbook yesterday, and it paid huge dividends. Austin Davis was harassed to the tune of seven sacks, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first such game since 2009.

We’re going to break down four different ones that all ended with the same result: a sack. Unfortunately, coaches film is not out yet, so we’re working off the broadcast feed on these. But you should still be able to clearly see the concepts.

The first is a variation on a Dick LeBeau staple, the Fire X. We’ve covered that a hundred times over the season. The inside linebackers stunt and trade A gaps, hoping to cause enough confusion along the offensive line to get one of them freed up. Butler adds the wrinkle of bringing a safety behind the twist. Really attacking the A gap, overwhelm it to the point where the Browns aren’t going to enough guys to block it. Still a “safe” pressure, as all Fire Zones are designed to be, a five man rush with six in coverage.


An important part to this is Arthur Moats. He needs to draw the eyes of the right tackle. Influence a blitz. So he’s going to take his initial steps like he’s rushing before bailing out. That leaves the right tackle blocking no one, taking him out of the protection, while right guard Cameron Erving is forced to pick up Stephon Tuitt, even though Tuitt is just acting as the away side contain rush.

ButlerFireZone2 ButlerFireZone3

The Browns do a nice job of picking up the inside linebackers’ stunt but there’s no one to address Will Allen. He runs in scot free and bowls over Davis.


The next Fire Zone is one we’ve written about before. Butler’s Scar blitz. Again, a look at it from Dick LeBeau’s 2002 Cincinnati Bengals’ playbook.


Nickel blitz off the edge, the end – or in this case, outside linebacker – crashing the B gap, with the linebacker scraping over the top behind. The blitz side defensive tackle crosses the center’s face into the away side A gap.


It works perfectly. Tuitt shooting into the away side A gap draws right guard Erving’s eyes while the tackle fans out wide to take Brandon Boykin off the edge. The B gap is wide open and Moats shoots through untouched.


Down goes Davis.

The next is a variation on the same concept. His SAM Fire Zone where the nickel corner and outside linebacker essentially just trade roles. The OLB becomes the upfield contain rush while the corner blitzes off his inside hip.


It’s Boykin and Moats again. It’s recognized and schematically picked up well but Lawrence Timmons puts a nasty spin move on Erving (Browns’ or acute Steelers’ fans are sensing a pattern here) to beat him inside and take Davis down.



And a GIF of the play.

Our final blitz is one we actually haven’t covered once this year. This is LeBeau’s Frisco Zone with the outside linebacker crashing, an off-line linebacker shifted and coming off the edge, and safety shooting the B gap.



That’s the concept in a general sense. But like any blitz, it is tweaked based on offensive formation. Here is how it’s drawn up for a 3×1 set, as the Browns line up in when the Steelers run this.


You can see instead of rolling the coverage to the blitz, it’s away from it. In this play, Bud Dupree is the hook defender whileTimmons carries the Y, tight end Gary Barnidge, down the seam.

Quick coaching point according to LeBeau’s playbook. The gap the safety hits depends on how the tackle blocks it.



Actually think Mike Mitchell screwed up and went into James Harrison’s gap. With the tackle down blocking, Mitchell needs to run off his outside hip.


But the perception of pressure works all the same, causing Davis to drift away from it. Right into Tuitt’s contain rush.


Tuitt strong-arms the quarterback and brings him down. William Gay would pick off the ensuing 4th down pass, essentially ending the game.

Even against a lowly Browns’ offense, Butler did a masterful job to send every pressure in the book at him, all while dropping seven and rushing a conventional four at times. Not only did it earn the team a win and a trip into the playoffs, but it serves as a very clear reminder to the Bengals – and rest of the AFC – of the variety of pressures you have to gameplan for. Forces the offensive line to be perfect. One miscue and everything falls apart.

These plays, frankly, are just the tip of the iceberg of what Butler accomplished. So much we’ll delve into throughout the week. But a gameball goes to him for creating much of the havoc the Browns encountered yesterday afternoon.

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