One of the most critical moments in Sunday’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders was the 3-and-10 dagger touchdown from quarterback Derek Carr to wide receiver Henry Ruggs for 61 yards. The Pittsburgh Steelers had just made it a two-point game with more than 10 minutes to play, but from this they would not rebound.
There were multiple things that went wrong on that play. Tre Norwood was sent on a blitz, unblocked, and he didn’t get home. Minkah Fitzpatrick was drawn in by the threat of Darren Waller, left otherwise one-on-one with James Pierre. But on the other side was Ahkello Witherspoon, who was quickly trailing behind the speedster, with Fitzpatrick too far upfield to get back in time.
So who is to blame? Was Norwood’s failure to get home the ultimate culprit, when he failed to take the maximal angle? That is what defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked yesterday, via transcript. “You want them to get there, but I’m not gonna blame the players for that”, he told reporters. “Maybe I shouldn’t have called that dadgum defense. But we felt like we could get to him, and he was free. He was free, and we didn’t get there”.
“We’ve got to do a lot of things. I’ve got to do a better job of defensive calling in that situation, number one”, he continued. “Number two, we’ve got to get to the post safety if we’re playing post safety. Number three, if we’ve got a guy rushing, he’s got to get there if he doesn’t have anybody on him”.
Norwood, the rookie seventh-round defensive back, has played quite a bit as the primary slot defender through the first two weeks, and has also played safety when Fitzpatrick comes up in the box. He’s certainly had some rookie moments, though, and wasn’t known as a blitzer coming out of college.
Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, took the full blame for the play on himself, getting drawn in by the underneath threat and not trusting his guys, to the point where he took away his ability to get back and serve as the last line of defense.
It was “all that stuff” on the play, Butler said, “but at the same time, it’s not one guy’s fault on that. It’s a lot on me. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have called that dadgum defense at that particular time with those particular people in the game”.
I’m sure few will ever balk at Butler volunteering blame on himself, but there’s no question that the players on this particular play should have executed better. It’s not on the coaching that Norwood took a bad angle on his blitz. It’s not on the coaching that Fitzpatrick, a two-time All-Pro, bit on a decoy route to prevent him from getting back in time. But it is ultimately how the play that Butler called was executed, and any coordinator worth talking about is going to take the blame publicly.