Keith Butler...I am gonna have to talk to you about this, friend. The Steelers had just tied the game with the Chargers off a Jaylen Samuels touchdown, and then, all of the sudden, Keith Butler schemes one of the worst drives I have ever seen. For some reason, he had a prevalence of concepts and personnel that should have never been used on that drive, period.
Let us break down how Keith Butler never set up his guys to succeed on this drive. To start the drive, they only got a two-yard gain, but from there on out, it was a straight disaster for the Steelers.
Fam, Joe Haden, you have played real well, but why do you never press anyone? Literally, all he needs to do here is press to Allen's inside shoulder to force him outside, and he takes this out away. But instead, he virtually gives inside leverage right off the snap. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/OUDV0lE8vz— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) December 4, 2018
The Steelers come out in what looks to be off-man coverage. By virtue, off-man is designed to stop things in front of guys, so, I have no clue why the defense is playing hands-off here, especially when any of the CBs can be beat by a simple slant. With that in mind, it does take away a big play, but the middle of the field looks to be open, especially with that weird stunt with Bud Dupree and Vince Williams that quite honestly has not worked all year long, but Butler keeps using it.
Regardless, you cannot ask these guys to play off-man, not give them help over the middle, and then expect them to not give up 10-12 yards on an in-breaking route. Haden obviously is selling out for the out breaking route and by virtue of that, he gives up inside leverage, which is an easy completion for Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen.
That was only the start of the drive, but it was equally the most perplexing of them all. Aggressive press-man with blitzes is how your defense has thrived all year, so why not use it? They simply never did that, and part of the passivity of Butler’s blitzing schemes has caused this defense to regress. The past two games, the Steelers have had their lowest percentage of designed blitzes, and I don’t know why.
Sure, T.J. Watt and Javon Hargrave were near a sack just about every play this game, but that really is no excuse to paint this as a good schematic decision. Those stunts have gotten you the pressure you have needed all year, and going away from it is questionable at best.
When your defense is getting toasted, you need to be aggressive and bring +6 man blitzes, and I mean that. That is how you get your splash plays, and honestly, Butler’s defensive passivity is to blame just as much as Ben Roethlisberger’s missed opportunities for this loss.
Take a look at this:
LJ Fort has to get off of Gates there. Ekeler was gonna be wide open on the other side and Edmunds had Gates on the drag right there. Good play design by LAC, but also, Fort has to process that possibility. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/aqiB3ac6sE— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) December 4, 2018
This really doesn’t look all too bad at first. They just caught the middle of the field when it was weak, and the dump off was wide open. Classic Patriots-like influence that has spread around the league, right? Sure, maybe, but here is why Keith Butler really messed up here. This, at best, should have been a 4 yard gain.
Let’s call this play Cover 3 Williams fire. There really is no stunt here on the blitz, Vince just comes down and blitzes over the LG. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt crash in on the A gaps, so be that hopefully that LG goes after Heyward and gives Williams an opening, and if the LT goes after Vince, Bud Dupree has a one-on-one matchup with Austin Ekeler who is blocking before releasing on a short release route. I get that. That is smart scheming.
So, the coverage is a cover-3 based coverage on a 5-man blitz. Okay, fine, Sean Davis, Joe Haden, and Coty Sensabaugh each take one-third of the field. L.J. Fort, Mike Hilton, and Terrell Edmunds all cover the underneath stuff. Now, what we have to understand about Cover 3 is that it is incredibly passive and easily recognizable. You simply cannot go out there and not disguise anything. Davis or Edmunds need to cheat down to show a blitz, or even better, Hilton should do it. There are a few reasons why this is just scheming, but the lack of disguising is huge. Vince Williams lines up right over the LG and he just blocks him. Why would you not disguise that? It defeats the purpose of the blitz, and I will tell you this, defensive players do not cheat up to the line like that without it being told to them.
Rivers can see the whole thing, and just in case, for some reason, Hilton comes on a delayed blitz (his outward facing hip would indicate against that), he simply gives Gates a key read, and Ekeler is audibled to stay in. Phillip Rivers audibled out of his initial look to this play, and it, in all ways, is a cover-3 beater, and the Steelers have no answer for it. Double comeback routes and a streak are all notorious cover 3 beaters.
As for Gates, he just has to read the coverage and delayed blitz. If it is a delayed blitz, he simply chips Hilton, and breaks off from there. Now, as he reads the middle of the field, his key read is Fort. If Fort drops into a zone in the middle, he runs that drag, if he drops further back to the boundary, the short fade is money, because Edmunds isn’t getting there. Sure, Fort could have gotten off Edmunds sooner, but this was a schematic mess that left Ekeler has a completely open option.
Butler offers no flexibility or disguising on this. The blitz is explicit and so is the coverage, something you never want. The most egregious part of this might not even be that, however, as theoretically, Butler can give keys for Williams to flip this play (towards the strong side). Theoretically, that is exactly what he should have done. Fort and Williams should have switched and Williams should have crashed down over the RG, with Hilton have the opportunity to fake a blitz, thus causing Gates to get out of his route later than anticipated, while Hilton can still go out and cover the streak in the slot. That, my friends, is good scheming. Keith Butler did none of those things.
Biggest play of the game, LJ Fort and Marcus Allen have been great. WHO CARES LETS TAKE THEM OFF THE FIELD FOR JON BOSTIC AND VINCE WILLIAMS. Keith Butler is schematic disaster. He should be fired after this season, I don't care what improvement you've seen. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/iGmrBAafJe— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) December 3, 2018
I wish I didn’t have to talk about this, but could they not have used Marcus Allen instead of Jon Bostic? I mean, seriously, I would much rather have had Allen on Allen than Bostic there, and I gotta say, the rookie played darn well in his first action ever. Schematically, this is just a disaster by Butler. Why is Bostic lined up on the inside of Allen? You are just giving up outside leverage, and sure, Bostic isn’t very agile, but if that is your issue, just use Marcus Allen.
Personnel wise, this makes no sense for Butler to use Bostic, and honestly, I can’t even blame Bostic. He was not set up for success here, at all.
So, if you are not looking at the refs, Big Ben, or anyone else, the chief loser of this game is Keith Butler. His lack of schematic competence lost the Steelers this one, straight up. It would be nice to see the Steelers know how to scheme properly, and if they did, this defense would not be nearly as suspect as it is now, but alas, Keith Butler is at the helm.
All I can say is, please take over all personnel and play calling decisions, Mike Tomlin. Thanks.