Keith Butler blitzed a career high in 2018, sending a non-defensive linemen/outside linebacker on 44% of pass rushes. He’s scaled things back dramatically in 2019 but with the loss of Stephon Tuitt, a move that will obviously hurt the Steelers’ pass rush, he’ll likely be forced to ramp things up at least a little bit.
For the year, Butler’s dropped his blitz rate to 28.9%. Based on our charting, it would make for the lowest mark since becoming defensive coordinator in 2015 and rivaling what Dick LeBeau did in his final year as DC (2014, 28%).
Over the last two weeks, those numbers have dipped even more. Just over 16% in Weeks 5 and 6 against the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers.
And there was nothing wrong with that. I could fill a notebook full of criticisms directed Butler’s way but that isn’t one of them. The front four was winning up front, allowing the Steelers to drop seven into coverage and clog throwing lanes.
With Tuitt out and depth compromised a bit along the defensive line and outside linebacker, Butler will have to be more creative. With Tuitt, Cam Heyward, and TJ Watt on the field, you can comfortably line them and believe they’re going to win their matchup. Less confidence when you have LT Walton, Ola Adeniyi, and the other backups. Butler and DL coach Karl Dunbar will have to be smart with their rotations from having too many backups in the game, too.
But when the backups are in, Butler is going to have to scheme pressure. More stunts, more games, and bringing different people whether that’s off ball linebackers or defensive backs. An idea Mike Tomlin felt comfortable in doing when asked about it during his Tuesday presser.
“Vince Williams is a guy that’s distinguished himself in terms of blitz and rushing the passer,” Tomlin told reporters Tuesday. “So what we need is consistent pressure on the quarterback. Our words and our actions have always indicated that we are a group that doesn’t care where that comes from, whether it’s defensive line, outside linebackers, inside linebackers…we pride ourselves in having a versatile rush and bringing a multitude of people from a number of positions and thus might be the case as we work to minimize the absence of, of Stephon Tuitt.”
Statistically, Williams has been the best off ball pass rushing player in football. Since 2017, his 13.5 sacks are tops in football for players who fit that category. And Mike Hilton ranks in the top five among all DBs in sacks and first in QB hits over that same time-frame despite playing roughly half the snaps at his nickel spot.
In spite of all of Butler’s many, many (many, many) flaws, the best thing he does as a coach is scheme up pressure. Making this adjustment in his wheelhouse though one that comes with clear downsides. Namely, less players dropping back, making coverages less diverse, and meaning missed tackles are all the more costly.