The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has begun to get quite a bit of praise as of late. With all the injuries on offense, the team has had to lean on the other side of the ball to help win games. In past years, this would have been a complete disaster. The defense has long been the weak link, holding back the potent offense from winning championships. Not this year however. The 2019 version of the Steelers defense has become the strength of the team. So what’s happened? Has Keith Butler finally figured it all out? Do we now have to take back all the negative things said about him, and begin heaping praise on Butler??
Well not so fast. This group may be much improved, but the reasons why are not solely due to Keith Buter’s game planning or play calling. In fact, one could argue the unit is successful despite him as much as because of him. First off, lets look at the investment the Pittsburgh Steelers have made into their defense. There is perhaps no team in the NFL who has put more into improving the talent on defense than this team. By now we all know the how many first round picks in a row Kevin Colbert has used on that side of the ball. For those of you who don’t, here’s the list:
2013 – Jarvis Jones (17th overall)
2014 – Ryan Shazier ( 15th overall)
2015 – Bud Dupree (22nd overall)
2016 – Artie Burns (25th overall)
2017 – TJ Watt (30th overall)
2018 – Terrell Edmunds (28th overall)
2019 – Devin Bush (10th overall)
2020 – Minkah Fitzpatrick (1st round pick traded to acquire)
This by itself is impressive, but that only begins to tell the story. To go along with 9 out of the last 10 first round picks on defense, the Steelers have used 12 of a possible 18 top three picks on defense. But wait there’s more. The two richest free agents ever given out by Kevin Colbert have gone to….. you guessed it a defensive player. Those two being Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. This squad boasts ten former first round picks among the its ranks.
All this talent has culminated into a team that produces plenty of sacks, and finally plenty of turnovers as well. The Steelers are currently second in the NFL in takeaways with 15, and third in the league with sacks at 20. This would lead you to believe the group would rank highly in overall defense as well. In fact though, the team is pretty average when it comes to team defense. Pittsburgh is 15th in yards per game and 16th in points allowed through six games. So what gives?
The truth of the matter is this is the same old Keith Butler running the same old Keith Butler defense. They are still getting gashed by tight ends in the middle of the field. The secondary is still blowing coverages. Linebackers are still routinely left to cover wide receivers. Butler can still be woefully out-coached as we saw in the opening game versus New England. The only difference is this unit is so loaded with talent to the point where it is nearly impossible not to be good. This shows up particularly when they play teams with bad offensive lines. The front four of Watt, Tuitt, Heyward, and Dupree is truly special. They are too much to handle against subpar lines like the Bengals and Chargers put out there.
Don’t be fooled by the results so far with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Keith Butler did not suddenly have an epiphany on how to scheme up a defense. He did not take classes at the Bill Belichick school of strategy over the summer. What’s happened is after years of using any means necessary to bolster the defense, Kevin Colbert has made it nearly fool proof. This team has excellent veteran corners, a top notch free safety, a defensive rookie of the year favorite at linebacker, and one of the most fearsome pass rushes in the league. This is a collection that could make even a bad coordinator look good, in fact it has.