The trend’s been obvious for years. In 2020, it’s more pronounced. Bud Dupree and TJ Watt are pass rushers first, second, and third, and the Steelers are smartly acting accordingly. Through three weeks, both of the Steelers’ top EDGE rushers are dropping into coverage as little as ever. Here are their drop percentages so far.
Bud Dupree: 5.4%
TJ Watt: 4.8%
Dupree has dropped just six times on 112 pass rush opportunities. Watt just five times on 105 chances. Here’s how it stacks up for both players year-by-year. The trend is obvious.
It’s crazy to view the stark contrast between those numbers. His rookie year, Watt dropped more than one-third of the time. This year? Fewer than one out of every 20 rushes. Dupree’s in a similar boat. Over a quarter of the time his sophomore year down to five percent.
Those numbers may come up a little but the rest of the season, three games isn’t a large sample size, but not by much. The Steelers have wise up. Watt and Dupree are much more useful going forward than they are backwards. Watt is a leading Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Dupree’s taken big steps forward since last year. They make up one of the most potent EDGE rush duos in the game.
These numbers are also a sign of the team moving away from Dick LeBeau’s fire zone principles. You probably already knew that by now. The Steelers play a lot more man coverage instead of LeBeau’s Cover 3 and have for years. Under LeBeau, he’d send overload blitzes to one side, dropping the backside rusher to an overhang role, jumping any “hot” throws by quarterbacks away from the rush. That happens less often today under Butler. Hence, fewer designed coverage snaps for Watt and Dupree.
At this point, Watt and Dupree are defensive ends. Watt rushes with his hand down 51.4% of the time. Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar works as closely with them as anyone else on the staff. Both drop five percent of the time, their role going forward and getting after the quarterback. This may come one year too late for Dupree’s pending grievance (though someone should really pass along this article to his agent, just in case) but it’s certainly today’s reality.