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Keith Butler Admits Team Played Too Much Zone In 2016

Keith Butler addressed the media after today’s minicamp practice to discuss the changes the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense will make this upcoming year.

Honestly? It’s hard to get a straight answer out of a normally candid, good ‘ol Southern boy.

Butler did admit the Steelers spot dropped too much in zone coverage last year.

“We knew at the end of last year we needed to develop more than just spot-drop and play zone,” he told reporters via Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com. “We knew that going into the end of the season, but we felt like, hey, that was the best opportunity that we had to try to get to the Super Bowl.”

Spot dropping, for those who don’t know, is traditional zone coverage where defenders are responsible for areas/windows on the field, matching receivers only when they enter their window.

That’s not exactly comforting to hear. It sounds like Butler knew the defense had some key philosophical problems and didn’t do much to change it. To be fair, that may be because it was a young secondary and playing more complex coverages present their own challenges, especially late in the season with so much on the line. The gamble appeared to be to play what they did throughout the year and had repped the most. What the players were most comfortable with.

It worked against lesser quarterbacks, Matt Moore and Alex Smith, but was predictably ripped to shreds by Tom Brady in the AFC Title game. You already know all that though.

Changes for 2017 include playing more man coverage, which Butler confirmed after being hinted at for months.

“Right now we’re going into training camp and it’s going to help, I think, on both sides of the ball if we play a little bit more man.”

Pittsburgh drafted Cam Sutton essentially because they viewed him as a talented man cover corner. Ditto with Brian Allen, though he’s more of a long-term prospect.

Beyond that, he reiterated the need to establish a four man rush, something he and Mike Tomlin have talked about for approximately six billion years. Finally, Butler said a lot of word salad that I can’t figure out.

“This year we have to be able to play conventional coverages with conventional people playing those coverages with conventional people rushing the passer. We have to be able to do that in order to advance defensively.”

I guess this means blitzing less and not disguising coverages as often (the quote before has him talking about the false-blitz looks they ran in 2016). Much like his overall defensive philosophy of simplifying the game, Butler appears to want to simplify his coverages and overall scheme.

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