When it comes to fan narratives, there are plenty surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacking corps. Anyone remember what the general story line was throughout the team’s 4-game preseason?
How bad Robert Spillane was/is.
The team acknowledges this in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars for Joe Schobert, and the narrative quickly turns to whether Schobert or Devin Bush will wear the green dot. As it turns out, there was a shift in the story line and now it has become are the Steelers inside linebackers the weakest part of the defense?
All three players, Bush, Spillane and Schobert, have struggled in their own way this season, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler knows this better than anyone at this time. Throughout the past two games, games the Steelers have won, the defense has utilized Robert Spillane more and more, taking either Bush or Schobert off the field. During bye week availability, Butler talked about why the team has been trending in that direction.
“Spillane has done a good job for us in third-down situations. A lot of times when we want to run some stunts up front with him, he does a good job with that. He’s got a good feel for the timing of when we want him to blitz and faking blitzing sometimes. He’s been around here as long as any of those guys, so he knows a little bit more about it.” Butler told the media. “At some things, he’s a little bit better than they are. And some things, they’re a little bit better at than he is. We try to fit him here and there, but not necessarily run the same defenses with the same guys all the time because you put a guy in, everybody says, “Oh, they’re going to be in this, they’re going to be in that.” So, we can’t do that. Spillane does a good job and gives us a breather a little bit.”
Speaking of Spillane, there is a common thought of how he is the predominant run defender of the inside linebackers, but Butler believes that might be based solely on Spillane’s legendary tackle on Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans last year.
“Well, you would think that because he knocked the crap out of [Derrick] Henry down in Tennessee. I’m sitting there going, “Yeah, yeah. Okay.” But he does, at times. At other times, the other two guys are pretty good players too. Both of them. All three of them have different talent levels that we like all three of them.”
Generally, this all comes down to the Steelers defense showing the ability to stop the run. Making a team one-dimensional. The team has done a decent job at that this season, but are far from perfect. Butler warns fans though, stopping the run doesn’t fall solely on the inside linebackers’ shoulders.
“Sometimes they were, but sometimes the front wasn’t in the right place too.” Butler said of the inside linebackers being blocked often during the third quarter of the game vs. the Seattle Seahawks. “It wasn’t just them. There are some things we need to shore up and make sure we can play in certain situations. They ran up the middle on us a couple times. That wasn’t exactly the dadgum inside linebackers’ fault or both of them. We have to be a little bit better in terms of what we’re doing there. Not just the inside linebackers, but the defensive line and the way we coordinate the secondary and stuff like that.”
The recent usage of Spillane shouldn’t be seen as a negative, but absolutely raises some red flags regarding the team’s defensive approach moving forward. Entering Week 8, you would think Joe Schobert’s comfort level with the defense should have become solidified. Likewise, the hope is Devin Bush’s groin injury, and knee, are at the point where he can play freely, trusting his body to do what is necessary.
Spillane looks to be in the mix moving forward, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the team can use players to maximize their potential/ability, that is the name of the game.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they head into the bye week.