The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense didn’t exactly play great, per se. They allowed the Baltimore Ravens to rush for 249 yards, after all, which is awful, and they did so on just 36 carries, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt. That included a 46-yard rushing touchdown run by Latavius Murray, who himself had 150 on only 16 attempts on the day.
But they did hold the Ravens to 13 points. They held the Ravens’ passing game to only 132 net yards, and they created three takeaways. They did that without their defensive coordinator, Keith Butler, who was unavailable for the game due to COVID-19.
Prior to the game, head coach Mike Tomlin alluded to the notion that he and Senior Defensive Assistant Teryl Austin were splitting up Butler’s duties. Austin has had prior experience as defensive coordinator. However, Tomlin would not divulge after the game exactly how they managed things on the day.
“I’m not gonna peel back that curtain”, he said. “I’m appreciative of all the defensive coaches. It was a big-time collective effort in terms of minimizing the absence of Keith Butler. We appreciate their efforts, and we look forward to getting back Keith and getting him back in the fold ASAP”.
Butler has been the Steelers’ defensive coordinator since the 2015 season; prior to that, he had been their linebackers coach going back to 2003. However, his contract will expire after this season is over, and many have speculated that this will be the time Tomlin uses the opportunity to make a change.
The final numbers are not in yet, of course, but the Steelers entered the final week of the season ranked 22nd in scoring defense, 21st in yards, and 31st in rushing yards, as well as 18th in takeaways. They certainly didn’t help their run defense in the finale, though they did take the ball away three times, and limited the passing game.
Of course, this unit has missed some important players during the year. Stephon Tuitt did not play all season. Tyson Alualu was injured in the second week of the season, as well. Joe Haden missed several games. T.J. Watt battled injury pretty much all year, and missed two starts.
Still, this unit, with their many, many warts, will most likely be heading to the postseason. The only thing that could derail that path at this point would be an unlikely tie between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers tonight. Conspiracy-minded readers will point out that both will make the playoffs in a tie, but not if one loses.
In other words, Butler is likely going to be coaching at least one more game in Pittsburgh. But will it be his last? If so, who will they bring in for next season, and how much of an imprint will Tomlin insist on having in the minutiae?