Truth be told, never before in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ relatively brief history with Keith Butler at defensive coordinator has his unit even been known to be synonymous with discipline and a high level of execution. In fact, his early years were plagued by communication gaffes, even if that can’t be wholly placed at the foot of the man calling the plays.
For the most part, however, last season both looked and felt different, especially from Week Three on following the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick, who came in via trade and immediately stepped in to become their stalwart free safety, locking down that position for, presumably, as long as he feels like playing.
Fitzpatrick spoke to the local media yesterday, with the video being posted through the team’s official platforms, and he fielded a number of questions. Early in the session, he was asked to assess the team’s talent level on defense, but while he praised the talent that have, he said it was their ability to perform that separates the from other teams.
“I think we’re one of the best. I think that was reflected last year in how well we played, and in the stats at the end of the season as a defense”, he said in terms of how they performed. “We were top three, top five in almost every single category”.
“I think we’re one of the best in terms of talent level”, he went on, “and our execution level, because a lot of guys have got talent. It’s the NFL. But I think our execution level alongside our talent level is what kind of sets us apart, and is what is gonna continue to set us apart”.
At least the statistics make it hard to argue against his point. The Steelers had one of the most efficient defensive units in the NFL from Week Three to the close of the year, and that generally strongly correlates with quality execution.
That more than anything is what the team needs to retain from last season to the next, and that can be difficult under the current circumstances, but Fitzpatrick also sees a group that is largely intact, and he believes that will also be an advantage compared to other teams who have undergone greater change this offseason.
“There are other teams that half their roster, secondary or linebacker corps, is gone. We are lucky enough not to have that”, he said. “I think it would definitely give us an advantage because we all have a year under our belt, or some guys more than that. I think it’s definitely an advantage for us”.
While that is true, it is also true that they have every reason to expect continued internal growth from the likes of Devin Bush, Terrell Edmunds, and yes, Fitzpatrick himself, even coming off of a first-team All-Pro season.