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Keith Butler ranked as one of the NFL’s best defensive play callers

Pro Football Focused ranked the top six defensive play callers going into the 2021 season.

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Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Just when I thought all the various position rankings were over from Pro Football Focus, yet another one comes onto the scene. This time, PFF has graced us with a list involving coaches as they released their top six defensive play callers going into the 2021 NFL season.

On the list was Steelers’ defensive coordinator Keith Butler who came in at the third spot. Here is the explanation of the selection according to PFF:


The Steelers tied for second in the NFL in yards per play allowed while generating pressure and knocking down the quarterback both at a rate roughly four percentage points higher than any other defense in 2020. This was despite the fact that Bud Dupree and Devin Bush were injured for much of the season.

The Steelers were the NFL’s best team in terms of limiting positive expected points added plays, and they stayed among the league’s top units despite a turnover rate that decreased by roughly one-third from their absurd 2019 season to 2020.

When looking at the success metric of these teams, it’s difficult to tell if it’s exactly from the play calling. Regardless, it was still good to see the Steelers being represented.

Something which Pro Football Focus may not have taken into account, which is also something Steelers fans would like to know themselves, is if defensive coordinator Keith Butler is the person calling the defensive plays. It has been reported that at times head coach Mike Tomlin takes over the play calling duties. Exactly who is making the calls on defense is not exactly known and could vary from game to game.

Looking at how the list shaped up, five of the six teams on the list came from the AFC. The only NFC team represented on the list was Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fifth spot. The Steelers were not the top team in the AFC North as Baltimore’s Don “Wink” Martindale came in at the second position behind Brandon Staley of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Whether it be Coach Butler or Coach Tomlin who is making the calls on defense, there is little argument as to the Steelers having a successful defensive unit during the 2020 regular season. Hopefully the defensive play calling can help keep the Steelers defense at or above the same level as the previous year despite the loss of some 2020 starters.