Lot of talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers blitzing today. The NFL Matchup’s Twitter account always posts good nuggets of information that would be hard to know otherwise. Thursday morning, they tweeted out this graphic, showing the most blitz-happy teams in the NFL through six weeks.
These defenses like to BRING THE HEAT!
Also: Get ready to see some blitzing tonight in the #DENvsAZ game…#BeRedSeeRed #Browns #RavensFlock #TitanUp #Jets #HereWeGo #BroncosCountry #Colts #ChiefsKingdom #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/Kkc11OYOcV
— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) October 18, 2018
That places the Steelers tied for the 6th highest rate at 30.1%.
Of course, if you’ve followed this site, you would already know Keith Butler’s blitz rates have spiked in 2018. Here’s what we wrote two weeks ago.
“– Keith Butler’s blitz rate is an interesting one. Through the first month, he’s spiked all the way up to 42.9% of the time. All of last year, he blitzed at a 33.2% clip. His career high is 39.7% in 2016 and last year was his career low, though only barely.
He’s sent 5+ rushers 49 times this year. That’s 28%, nearly ten percent higher than 2017 (19.5%). Butler’s career high is 33.6%, set back in his first year in 2015. A number that had steadily come down with Butler and Mike Tomlin adamant about getting home with four. For now, it’s gone up to try and help out a pass rush that isn’t having as much success.”
There are two elements of context that need to be included in the NFL Matchup tweet. One, we don’t know with certainty what their definition of a “blitz” is. For some, it’s any five man pressure. For others, it could be any “non pass rusher” like a defensive back rushing in, even if it’s only a four man rush total. That’s one reason why we track both so we can tackle the numbers from both ends and not feel like we’re missing anything.
The other aspect is schematic. Take a look again at the top and bottom teams. It’d no coincidence the teams at the top are largely 3-4 fronts: Pittsburgh, Houston, Denver, and the Jets while teams like Cleveland, Baltimore, and Tennessee are hybrid fronts. Others like the Arizona Cardinals are new 4-3 fronts and have some holdovers from previous schemes.
At the bottom of the list are the Colts, Eagles, and Lions, all even fronts. There are some exceptions, Chicago and Kansas City, but those are teams with studs at outside linebacker.
Given the struggles of the Steelers’ pass rush from their main sources, the defensive line and outside linebackers, Butler has felt more compelled to blitz this season. Not so much of a desire to do so but a need. He’s always wanted to rush four and drop seven, every DC wants to do so ideally, but the production of last year (where Butler blitzed a career low) hasn’t carried over. So the blitz numbers increase.
Expect that to continue until the front stabilizes. Though a heads up, as you may have read already, the secondary hasn’t been very helpful in applying pressure.