The first quarter of the exhibition game versus the Atlanta Falcons looked eerily similar to the last time we saw this defense on the field. A top-notch quarterback shredding the starting defense apart with ease. A defense seemingly helpless to stop the opposing passing game. Predictable blitzes being snuffed out while wide receivers run free on an overmatched secondary. It’s a scene no one in the Steelers organization wants to see repeated. Now it must be mentioned that the defense was without three key contributors in Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, and Mike Mitchell. Unfortunatley though, all three on the field for the drubbing in the AFC Championship game.
This season is supposed to be different though right? TJ Watt and Cam Sutton were high draft picks brought into a defense already loaded with top round talent. As mentioned in an earlier post, Have the Steelers built the next Steel Curtain? the Steelers have invested a ton of early draft capital on rebuilding this defense. After watching Matt Ryan and his backups tear through the starting defense without star receiver Julio Jones, one has to wonder if anything has changed at all. If this continues into the regular season, it will leave Steeler’s brass no choice other than to make changes in the coaching staff.
The two coaches in most danger would have to be Joey Porter and CarnellLake. Outside linebackers coach Joey Porter has failed to develop any pass rushers since his arrival with the team. Combine that with his off-field incidents, and, many would argue he should be gone already. As secondary coach Carnell Lake has headed the weakest group on the team with no real signs of improvement. It would be hard to get a true judgement of his coaching ability however, given the absolute lack of talent he’s had to work with. Ultimately if this defense struggles in 2017, it will most likely spell the end of defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s tenure.
The Steelers badly need a transition from the old 3-4 schemes of the past, to a more modern defense. Is Keith Butler the right man for this transition? All he’s ever known in his NFL career is that system having been an assistant to Dick LeBeau for so long. Changing over to more man coverage is sure to lead to early growing pains. Will Butler resort back to safer zone coverage if too many big plays happen early in the season? The other important question is do the Steelers have the right personnel to play more man coverage? At the very least it would force Butler to use the younger corners like Sutton, Allen, and possibly even Mike Hilton who would be more suited for that style. Veterans like Ross Cockrell and WilliamGay will have a difficult time playing man coverage for any extended period of time. This will prove to be the biggest challenge of Keith Butler’s career. One that might ultimately cost him his job.
Kevin Colbert has too much invested in this defense for it to fail in 2017. That fact has several coaches on the hot seat this season. The defense must show marked improvement over what they showed in the AFC Champoinship game. No one on the staff would be safe if the defense causes them to miss another chance at a Super Bowl.