The Pittsburgh Steelers did what they had to do. They spent major resources during the off-season to plug the holes on defense. Kevin Colbert gave out his richest free agent contract ever to bring in cornerback Steven Nelson. The team also spent considerable money on linebacker Mark Barron formerly of the Rams. And it didn’t stop there. Next came the draft, and the biggest move the team has made since trading up for Troy Polamalu in 2003. Kevin Colbert traded away the team’s second round pick, and a third round pick in 2020 to get Michigan linebacker Devin Bush. He also went on to select four more defensive players in the draft in order to solidify that side of the ball.
What does this all mean? It means there are no more excuses for defensive coordinator Keith Butler. Butler has struggled to improve the Steelers defense over the years despite the team spending major draft capital on that side of the ball every year since he was hired. Pittsburgh has drafted a defensive player in the first round every year since 2014, yet the defense remains the weak spot on this team. There are several reasons for this other than just Keith Butler. The team’s inability to draft any capable defensive back over the years is a major one. Perhaps the biggest set back was the injury to Pro-Bowl linebacker Ryan Shazier. Kevin Colbert has failed to obtain an adequate replacement for Shazier over the past two years. Player like Jon Bostic and Sean Spence have been outright disasters trying to fill in for the injured superstar.
Those excuses are over now. The Steelers made their moves to rectify these issues. By drafting Devin Bush, the team now has the athletic sideline to sideline linebacker they have been missing. There may never be a better athlete at linebacker than Ryan Shazier, but Devin Bush is awfully close. In fact, this should be the best most talented set of 3/4 linebackers the Steelers have trotted out since the team last reached the Super Bowl. TJ Watt and Bud Dupree make for an outstanding duo of outside linebackers, while Bush and veteran Vince Williams make for a very good combination on the inside. As far as the secondary goes, this may indeed be the best pair of corners the Steelers have had in over a decade. Joe Haden may be slightly past his prime, but he is still a solid number one corner. There is some debate on how good free agent acquisition Steven Nelson is. It’s hard to evaluate him coming from such a terrible defense in Kansas City. One thing is for sure, he is a major upgrade over Artie Burns and Coty Sensabaugh. Safety continues to be a bit of a weak spot, but the team has spent high draft choices in Terell Edmunds and Sean Davis to address that position.
So there it is. No more excuses. No more blaming injuries or talent. It’s all on Keith Butler now. The focus now will be squarely on the inconsistent play calling, and his sometimes head scratching game plans. With all the talent now in place on defense, there must be a major improvement on that side of the ball. There can not be another up and down season where sometimes the defense looks great, while other times they look clueless. Butler is entering the final year of his contract in 2019. Even an extremely patient team like the Pittsburgh Steelers will not bring back Butler if the defense flounders again. Some of us have been calling for a new coordinator for years, we may finally get our wish after this season.