It’s time. Enough is enough. No mas. The mismatch that is Keith Butler’s defense against a Bill Belichick coached team always ends in a bloodbath. The AFC Championship was no different as Tom Brady carved the Steelers up to the tune of 32 of 42, 384 yards passing, and 3 touchdowns. Pittsburgh looked as if they had never seen the Patriots play before. It’s not just against New England that the defense struggled. Both the Dolphins and the Chiefs had opportunities for big plays during the playoffs, but were unable to take advantage because of sub par quarterbacking. This kind of failure at game planning can’t be tolerated if this team expects to compete for a Super Bowl.
Basically the 3-4 defense that Pittsburgh employs is a dying scheme. It leaves them vulnerable against the run, especially when teams spread them out in three and four wide receiver sets. Having only three defensive lineman instead of four puts them at a disadvantage when they play good running teams. On the flip side, when teams pass they are also at a disadvantage. Teams often scheme to get one of the linebackers caught in coverage, particularly Lawrence Timmons. Pittsburgh hesitates to take Timmons out because it makes them even more vulnerable to the run. It’s a catch 22 that Keith Butler has not been able to solve in his two years as defensive coordinator. He will not commit to blitzing in order to get pressure, leaving the defensive backs and linebackers in soft zones for far too long. It’s a recipe for disaster that we saw played out right before our eyes.
Going beyond just the scheme of the defense, Butler’s defenses often seems to be in a state of confusion pre snap. Blown coverages have been an all too common occurrence for Pittsburgh over the last two seasons. This problem came to a head during the AFC Championship when the Steelers seemed not to be aware that Patriots receiver Chris Hogan was even on the field. Hogan was wide open most of the night, and no adjustments appeared to be made to fix the problem. A closer look at the Chiefs game shows the same problem, the only difference being Alex Smith couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities he had. In fact the so called resurgence in the second half by the Steelers defense can mostly contributed to playing below average offenses, not some great all around improvement in their play. Since the first Patriots game in week 7, Pittsburgh only faced one quarterback in the top 10 for yardage. Joe Flacco was 7th in the league, and he’s far from what can be considered an elite quarterback.
The lack of a consistent pass rush is what ultimately doomed the Steelers. Part of that is clearly on GM Kevin Colbert, and his inability to acquire a proven edge rusher. Ultimately it’s on Keith Butler to devise a successful scheme around the players he has. There’s not a complete lack of talent on his side of the ball. Where are the exotic blitzes, or schemes to take the best opposing players away? You don’t have to look any further then the Patriots to find a defense that get’s it done without a top notch pass rusher. New England is successful on defense because of coaching, where as Pittsburgh is completely talent driven.
This group of young players may be the best the Steelers have had in some time. Now they need a new plan, and a new coach to implement that plan. It’s not the Rooney’s way to fire coaches after such a short period of time. Their patience has paid dividends for them in the past, but may cost them if they choose to stick with Butler. Someone preferably outside the organization with fresh ideas, and a new approach would be a welcome addition. Anything but the same old same old would do, nobody wants to see the a repeat of what happened in Foxboro ever again.