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The Steelers’ defensive philosophy remains the same, but execution needs to improve

Is it scheme, execution, or both?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is not the strength of their team.

That’s hardly breaking news, and any Black-and-gold fan would gladly tell you exactly why the defense isn’t measuring up to the example set by the team’s star-studded offense. But after a season which had many highs (e.g. setting a new franchise record for sacks in a season), and many lows (e.g. Ryan Shazier’s injury and surrendering big plays at every turn), you have to think some significant adjustments will be made by the coaching staff.

After all, you can’t expect to do the same things and get a different result, can you?

This is when you get down to the discussion of which is more important — the game plan or the execution of said plan.

Depending on who you ask, the answer will vary. Anyone who’s had any significant coaching experience will tell you even the best laid plan will fall flat if the players on the field don’t follow the plan to a ‘T’. On the flip side, if the plan itself isn’t sufficient, there’s no need to even talk about execution, because, in this case, players would be executing a flawed plan.

This debate will go on and on, but when it comes to the 2018 Steelers’ defense, and when you listen to Keith Butler’s remarks, it seems that the philosophy of the defense won’t change. They’re just hoping for better execution from the players.

Check out what Butler said to the Steelers’ official website regarding the defensive plan for the upcoming season:

STOPPING THE RUN IS JOB ONE: “Same remedy we always try to use on defense, try to stop the run and get ’em in position where we know they’re going to throw the ball, and then try to rush the passer.”

RUN TO THE BALL: “What we always try to do and talk about it in meetings and stuff like that is make sure they’re running to the ball, everybody runs to the ball. Because we’re going to miss tackles, that happens. Hopefully we won’t miss too many tackles. If somebody misses a tackle, hopefully, we can run it down.”

MIX UP THE PASS RUSH: “I don’t think you can do the same thing all the time, you’ve heard me say that many, many times, or they’ll catch up with you and burn your butt. We gotta make sure we switch it up and give ourselves a chance to be successful.”

GET PRESSURE WITH FOUR WHENEVER POSSIBLE: “You can’t always blitz all the time. If you blitz all the time, they’re going pick it up and hurt you. You have to change it up. And you have to have a good enough four-man rush to be effective before your blitzing is effective. It’s a lot more effective if you can rush four, put pressure on the quarterback and play good coverage, and then every now and then blitz.”

GET SACKS FROM EVERYWHERE: “The only thing that matters to me is we get pressure on the quarterback. It really doesn’t matter to me who does it. We’re not looking to try to get anybody more sacks than the other. We’re just looking to try to put pressure on the quarterback the best way we can put pressure on the quarterback.”

WORK IN CONCERT: “Like I’ve always said, coverage and rush, they have to go together.”

NO BIG PLAYS ALLOWED: “We’re not going to win a world championships doing that. We have to take care of the splash plays, the chunk plays on the other side.”

While you can’t expect Butler to wax poetic about all the changes the Steelers will be implementing this preseason, you have to think fans won’t see any drastic changes, but essentially maintaining the status quo in 2018. If this is the case, you’ll get to see whether the problem is Butler’s system/philosophy, or the players execution of that system/philosophy.

With only a few pieces missing from the 2017 defense, Shazier, Robert Golden, Mike Mitchell and William Gay, there will still be room for improvement. Some debate which is more important, the plan or the play on the field. But it’ll need to be some combination of these factors if the Steelers want to return this season to the vaunted defense they once possessed — a defense which was feared, and one that did the intimidating, rather than the other way around.