The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Keith Butler has now established himself as a credible defensive coordinator.
Explanation: Originally taking over in that post—previously as linebacker coach—from Dick LeBeau in 2015, Butler’s defense has seen steady annual improvement, resulting in three straight seasons of leading the league in sacks, among other things, though he has also had a steady supply of talent.
The results speak for themselves, and the Steelers have one of the best defenses in the league. That fact can’t be argued. Sure, they have talent, and plenty of first-round picks, but they’re not just going to run around and talent their way to success. Somebody has to coach them into a unit. Dream teams don’t work in the NFL, not by themselves.
The Steelers have one of the best defensive lines in the league. They have one of the best pass rushes in the league. They have one of the best secondaries in the league. And with Devin Bush, they have one of the most promising young inside linebackers in the league, who was able to quickly contribute last year, which wouldn’t be possible without at least competent coaching.
Butler had some growing pains working his way into a coordinator role, that much is fair, but he’s heading into year six now. He knows what he’s doing. Everyone will make mistakes, but he’s fit to lead this group, and they trust him enough that he’s even coaching the outside linebackers now.
While the notion that Mike Tomlin is ‘running the defense’ has been debunked multiple times, the fact is that Tomlin’s imprint on the unit is there, as are all of the coaches. The defense has become a communal effort, including Teryl Austin as a senior defensive assistant, brought in last year. At this point, they can slip anybody in there who knows the job and they should be able to get similar success if they just keep the system intact. This is a driven unit that runs itself, by and large.
And yes, talent needs coaching, but one can’t deny the immense talent this unit has, from Cameron Heyward to T.J. Watt to Minkah Fitzatrick to Devin Bush to the cornerbacks and Bud Dupree and beyond. Speaking of Dupree, it took him five years to get a strong season out of a first-round pick?