Avert your eyes, naysayers. According to Pro Football Focus, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator, Keith Butler, is one of the best playcallers in the game on that side of the ball. The outlet published an article listing the four best in that role around the league, and he was among them.
The Steelers did not get any help from their offense in 2019, but they rode their defense to eight wins during the middle 10 games of the season. The highest-graded pass-rushing unit and the fifth-best coverage unit forced turnovers on 19.0% of opponent’s drives (best in the NFL). And after earning less than zero wins above replacement in over 1,000 snaps in Miami, Minkah Fitzpatrick was worth over half of a win across his 930 snaps under Butler’s tutelage in Pittsburgh.
It’s funny how much a coach and his abilities can be judged solely by the talent that he has. And there is no denying that Butler’s unit in 2019 was more talented than any other he has had the opportunity to coach since he was promoted to the role of defensive coordinator several years ago.
The in-season acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick accounts for just one of them, and, by the way, the ability to get him to play so well under those circumstances is also a credit to him and his getting him up and running so quickly. Fitzpatrick, of course, deserves the bulk of the credit for processing and executing it.
But then again, that’s half of my point. You can call the plays, but it’s your players that will make you look good or bad. And sure, he’s had Cameron Heyward before, but not Steven Nelson and Devin Bush. Not T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree and Joe Haden all playing at this level at the same time.
The other four coaches who were included on the list were Todd Bowles for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bill Belichick for the New England Patriots, and Leslie Frazier of the Buffalo Bills. None of them can boast having led the league in both takeaways and sacks. In fact, the Steelers are the only team to ever do that.
Many people were calling for Butler to be fired every offseason up until now. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve heard from any of those people in half a year, or, at least, they haven’t been singing the same tune. Now, I’m not out here advocating for him being some kind of guru, and he’s certainly got his flaws, but we should know by now that they could do a lot worse.