In a move that was perhaps somewhat out of character for him, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt shared his criticism with the officiating during Monday night’s game, specifically about how the referees, from his perspective, consistently allowed the Chicago Bears’ offensive tackles to jump out of their stance early, which should be flagged as a false start. His defensive coordinator, Keith Butler, doesn’t necessarily disagree, but also understands that you can’t fight it.
“They’re not going to call things like that. I wish they would. I wish they would. And if it’s obvious, they will call it, but if it’s not obvious, they’re not”, he told reporters earlier today when he was asked about Watt’s concerns, via the team’s media department. “They’re trying to get the jump. This is an offensive league”.
Specifically, Watt was asked on Monday night after the game—during which he had three sacks—about the Bears seeming to have better control of the Steelers’ pass rush in the second half. It was in response to that that he sounded off on how much easier it makes the line’s job when they can get away with jumping half a step early. Butler understands the frustration, though.
“If you’re an outside edge rusher, you don’t want to see that mess. You think it’s unfair”, he said. “There’s a lot of things that go on offensively that I think is unfair, but I keep my mouth shut about it, because it’s the way the league is. It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. We’ve got to play within the rules, and if they keep jumping, they’ll call ‘em. They’ll call ‘em. We’ve got to count on them to call ‘em”.
Butler himself played in the league for a decade as a starting inside linebacker, making over 130 starts in his career from 1978 through 1987, so he knows a little something about how the officiating has swung in the favor of the offense over the course of the past several decades, having also been a coach in the NFL since 1999.
“If you look at what’s happened over the years, you know, how far can you block downfield? Well, it seems like it’s getting more and more every year”, he said. “We can’t do nothing about that. The referees have got to decide whether they’re off or on, and they’re automatically right, so there’s nothing we can do about it”.
Butler has been with the Steelers since 2003, signing on as the linebackers coach. He has been the defensive coordinator since the 2015 season, and he has helped turn the defense once again into one of the best pass-rushing teams in the entire NFL, leading the league in sacks for several years running.
Of course, it helps to have a guy like Watt at your disposal. Even if he has to contend with tackles getting the jump on him. You can probably bet that the Steelers will have a pre-game discussion with officials next week about keeping an eye out for early jumps, though.