As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Our X Factor for tomorrow’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
X Factor: Keith Butler
The biggest person determining the Steelers’ success tomorrow won’t be wearing a jersey. It’s DC Keith Butler, who has to reach into his bag of tricks with a revolving gameplan at ILB to slow down Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ potent offense.
Few teams handled Lamar Jackson as well as the Steelers’ defense did last season. And in the Week 17 finale, a rainy, forgettable game, Butler utilized a “mesh charge” to attack the Ravens’ option game. We wrote about it at the time; as a refresher, it was the idea of going after the QB on every option play, even if he handed the ball off to the back. Essentially, there would be one player responsible for the QB and another responsible for the RB.
That way, the defender isn’t “read” and the quarterback can’t make a decision based off what he’s doing. It worked well enough in the finale though Baltimore still went on to win the game.
It’s possible the Steelers still do it but of course, it’s now on tape. Something the Ravens have to anticipate seeing. What different wrinkle could Butler throw in this time? The possibilities are endless, making speculating pretty pointless (as much as we love to do so). As close as well-known as these two teams are with each other, surprising the other with something new is important.
That job will be all the harder without Devin Bush and now Ulysees Gilbert III, ruled out Friday due to a back injury. Gilbert was the plan B in sub-packages as the athletic coverage linebacker. That would’ve come in handy against Lamar Jackson and speedy rookie back JK Dobbins. UG3 wouldn’t have solved all those problems but now the Steelers will turn to Plan C. Is that Marcus Allen? Sean Davis? Keeping Robert Spillane on the field? Butler’s approach here will be key. And it won’t be easy.
These games are always a chess match. The Ravens have great coaching, brilliant minds in OC Greg Roman and DC Wink Martindale, the latter doing a tremendous job of scheming up pressure. Butler is capable of doing the same, his off-ball linebacker schemes are excellent, but he’ll have to match wits with the Ravens and solve Jackson and company to keep their offense in check. Easier said than done.