It’s hard to remember the last time we started an NFL season in which we weren’t talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ communication on the defensive side of the ball needing to get better. It was probably the last time James Farrior was the mouthpiece of the unit. Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu were still here. Guys who’ve played together for a long time.
While a lot of fingers are being pointed at Keith Butler, the successor to Dick LeBeau at defensive coordinator, for many of the shortcomings that have been evident in this department over the course of the last several years—and he certainly owns some of the blame—a lot of it is on the field, as well.
There was some movement toward stability when Ryan Shazier was in the role of the mouthpiece, but even he had some growing pains. At least then, the big plays were because of individual losses, and not simply blown assignments.
2019 has presented another occasion to highlight the defensive miscommunication the Steelers have suffered through. It was still an issue last week against the Seattle Seahawks, but a borderline disaster against the New England Patriots in Week One, when all three touchdown passes came on plays that featured a clear miscommunication.
“There’s a lot more room for growth, but yes, it was better, and it’s gotta become better each week”, Butler told reporters Thursday when asked about that facet of the game, via a transcript from the team’s media department. “The guys that are doing it will become used to doing it a little bit more. They’ll understand how fast they’ve got to get that communication done, because the NFL doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to communicate. They try to hurry up a little bit. So we’ve got to be ready for it”.
While T.J. Watt wore the green dot in the season opener, the Steelers gave it to rookie first-round inside linebacker Devin Bush on Sunday, and the assumption is that he will continue to be the signal-caller defensively unless it proves to be too much of a burden during the early part of his career.
The team is looking to simplify some calls this week, not just to aid Bush, but also to more comfortably acclimate newly-acquired starting free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick into the fold. Traded for on Tuesday, he is going to start on Sunday in a road game against the San Francisco 49ers.
This will be the third different safety tandem to start a game this year. While Terrell Edmunds has been a consistent presence, first-year Kameron Kelly started the opener for the injured Sean Davis. The latter returned to start the second game before suffering a potentially season-ending torn labrum.