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Steelers ILB Devin Bush showed signs of improvement vs. the Vikings

Did Devin Bush just play a good game in Minnesota?

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Steelers lost on Thursday night in Minnesota, and again Devin Bush received a lot of criticism from fans, he followed that with an unpopular press conference. But in spite of all the negativity surrounding him (most of it deserved), Devin Bush put a good game on tape against the Vikings.

Really, I’m not kidding. I didn’t cherry pick plays either. I was honestly surprised. Let’s start with the run game where I may first need to convince you that Devin Bush isn’t the reason the Steelers run defense is struggling.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 1st quarter, 13:51

Devin Bush is the linebacker on the hashmarks to the right side of the screen.

Early in the game the Steelers give up a 20 yard run through a big hole in the defense. Devin Bush is the only Steeler defender between Derek Tuszka and the hashmarks when Delvin Cook cuts upfield. Look at the defense right before Cook cuts.

Devin Bush is in the right spot, he loses the block to the fullback, but he is in the right spot. He even has outside leverage on the block, making it hard for Cook to try and run between Bush and Dereck Tuszka. The problem here is there is a wall of purple shirts at the hashmarks and no Steeler defenders in position to make a play is Cook cuts inside.

Now look at the play pre-snap:

That arrow is where Dalvin Cook is going to run. Both Chris Wormley and T.J. Watt will be driven out of that area and to the other side of the hash marks by the time Cook cuts upfield. Let’s watch that happen.

We’ll start with Montravious Adams, who does a good job holding his ground against a double team until Chris Wormley is driven into him, knocking him to the ground. T.J. Watt heads inside when he sees Wormley forcibly ejected from relevance and is driven farther inside by the tight end. Once Dereck Tuszka is blocked by the pulling guard it is down to Devin Bush to cover a huge gap in the defense. Bush does what is the smart thing and commits to stopping the more outside lane, forcing Cook back towards the rest of the defense, which sadly was not there. Bush does not challenge and win the block by the fullback. That’s a valid complaint, but Devin Bush did his job here, he filled his lane and forced Cook back inside.

You may disagree. Fortunately the Vikings decided that one good run deserved another and ran the exact same play immediately after, with different results.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 1st quarter, 13:14

Devin Bush is the linebacker on the hashmarks to the right side of the screen.

There’s some subtle personnel differences here for the Steelers. The Vikings have the same players in the same spots, but the Steelers take out Dereck Tuszka and put in Miles Killebrew, moving T.J. Watt back to his edge role and playing Terrell Edmunds as essentially a 5th linebacker.

Chris Wormley still loses, but not as badly, and T.J. Watt destroys his would be blockers, this forces the play further inside where Watt and Devin Bush make the tackle right where Wormley was driven back to, for a 4 yard gain.

Devin Bush played this the same way both times, because he played it right the first time. The primary run defenders in football are the defensive line, the linebackers support them. Devin Bush can’t cover for a defensive line playing as badly as they did in the first clip. There are a handful of linebackers in NFL history who would have made the tackle on Cook in Devin Bush’s place on that play.

That doesn’t mean Bush couldn’t have done better.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 1st quarter, 4:50

Devin Bush is the linebacker just inside the hashmarks to the left side of the screen. Joe Schobert is the linebacker to his on-screen left.

It’s not the exact same play, but you can see how Joe Schobert attacks the fullback on this play. We’d like to see more of that from Devin Bush, but that’s not really his game. Devin Bush is the backside linebacker on this play, and like Joe Schobert in the plays above, he is blocked by the guard coming off a combo block on the defensive end.

The crazy thing here is that end is Cameron Heyward. When Chris Wormley gets crushed by a double team that then gets to the linebacker it’s awful, but we expect that. This is a rare situation where Cameron Heyward not only take a loss to this double team, but fails to keep the double team and lets the guard peel off to block Bush. We all know that Cameron Heyward is mortal, but it is shocking to see this happen. That is a testament to how good Heyward is consistently, that seeing him lose like this is legitimately shocking.

It should stand out here that with Schobert attacking the fullback but the defensive end taking a loss, it’s another big run for the Vikings.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 1st quarter, 1:13

Devin Bush is the linebacker in the middle of the field.

Look at Cameron Heyward on this play, he fights the double team well, holding his ground, but more than that, neither offensive lineman gets away from Heyward, Devin bush comes unblocked from the backside of the play and tackles Cook for a short gain. Look at Taco Charlton and Joe Schobert biting on the end around threat from Justin Jefferson. With a double team on Heyward and Montravius Adams, it’s 4 blockers and Dalvin Cook against 3 Steelers, and the Steelers only give up 3 yards because the defensive line did it’s job, and Devin Bush did his.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 4th quarter, 8:56

Devin Bush is the linebacker in the middle of the field.

This time watch #72, the left guard for the Vikings. He’s trying to get to the second level and get to Devin Bush. He doesn’t get there and Devin bush makes the tackle. But why #72 fails to get there is the important part of this play. When he goes to help block Montravius Adams, Adams gives the guard a solid hip check to bounce him off without giving up much ground. That is followed up with Cameron Heyward throwing a shoulder into #72, knocking him to the ground. Joe Schobert takes on the fullback and Devin Bush is unblocked and makes the tackle.

It’s plays like this from Adams and Heyward that make a run defense. It’s a defensive end getting driven into his nose tackle that wreck a run defense. Devin Bush played his best game in run defense in a while. The problem is his execution isn’t as important as the execution on the defensive line, when the line fails, the whole defense fails.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 3rd quarter, 10:32

The Vikings overload to screen right and try to catch the Steelers adjusting with this quick screen. It doesn’t work, because Alex Highsmith and Terrell Edmunds adjust to it immediately and shut it down, trapping Justin Jefferson between them for a 4-yard loss. But notice the quickness Devin Bush shows on this play. It isn’t as impressive as what we saw in 2019 and early 2020 from Bush, but it’s a lot better than what we’ve seen most of this year. While the play was taken care of in front of him here, that recovering quickness showed up throughout the game.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 4th quarter, 5:52

Devin Bush is the linebacker in the middle of the field.

I highlighted a play just like this from the Bengals game where Devin Bush was too slow and was met upfield by the lineman, here Bush gets to the spot first, establishes outside leverage and is able to hold the line with the defensive front. That line is too far beyond the line of scrimmage, but again, that’s the state of the Steelers defensive line. It is good to see Bush able to contribute more in the efforts to fix the Steelers run defense, even if it was far too little to bring that defense back to a respectable level.

That’s enough run defense, because that isn’t where Devin Bush was at his best when he was healthy. Let’s look at two plays Devin Bush made in coverage that also show he might be on the road to bouncing back.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 3rd quarter, 2:11

Devin Bush is the linebacker in the middle of the field.

This is Devin Bush at his best, roaming the underneath zone with intelligent movement and quick burst to the ball. Bush takes a step up to handle the running back if needed, before dropping quickly to cut off slant routes, and then reacting to the throw and showing his fantastic burst to the ball that made him a top 10 pick in 2019. This is a fantastic job in coverage by Devin Bush, and it ended up causing an interception. Look at a closer view.

Devin Bush’s impressive quickness completely closes this passing window and he gets a finger on the ball, just enough to disrupt the catch and give Akhello Witherspoon a shot at his first interception as a Steeler.

Steelers vs. Vikings, 2nd quarter, 15:00

Devin Bush is the linebacker on the hashmarks to the bottom of the screen.

And here’s another example of Bush’s quickness in coverage. When Kirk Cousins thinks he has a dump off for a few easy and safe yards, Devin Bush is able to get to the catch point before the ball and swat it away. That’s impressive read and react time as well as fantastic burst and technique to get to the ball before the receiver and swat it away cleanly.

Devin Bush isn’t back to where he was in early 2020 athletically. But he’s getting closer, and in this game, looked a lot more like that Devin Bush than the one we have been watching most of this season.

Devin Bush returning to form will not solve the run defense, but that’s not a Devin Bush problem, the defensive line is just that much more crucial to run defense than the inside linebackers are. It will, however, improve the Steelers coverage and hopefully he’ll be able to continue what he started in week 14 and showed consistently when healthy in the past, and turn what has too often been safe yardage passes into risky throws for opposing quarterbacks.

And if, by some miracle, the Steelers are able to shore up the defensive line at some point this season, the resurgence of Devin Bush will be an even bigger benefit to the team.