Keith Butler has a plan: He's going to show multiple fronts on defense.
Quite frankly, it couldn't be simpler. While the Steelers have been running a 3-4 defensive scheme for what seems like the past 90 years, Butler has plainly stated he hopes to incorporate some looks in a 4-3 base set as well.
And Steelers fans should be elated.
Of the four teams remaining the in NFL playoffs, both of the respective No. 1 seeds for the AFC and NFC, the Patriots and Seahawks, run a Hybrid-Multiple Front defense. The Seahawks defense, without question, is the best unit in the NFL while the Patriots had a very satisfactory year on their way to a No. 6 ranking in points allowed while consistently forcing turnovers.
While Butler may not go with a full-blown hybrid front, per se, incorporating both fronts in his defensive schemes allow the Steelers more flexibility to match up with the ever-evolving NFL offenses. Really, positions are getting to be somewhat meaningless.
Allow me to clarify that statement; certain defenses are devolving to the point where some of the best players in the NFL aren't playing a strict, defined position anymore. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner, an All-Pro linebacker, for example, played in only 67% of Seattle's defensive snaps this season. Gerald McCoy, an All-Pro defensive tackle who was just rewarded with a $90 million contract extension, played in only 59% of Tampa Bay's snaps.
Meanwhile, J.J. Watt, the menacing Texans defender, is approaching a point where he can't even qualify for a position, as his multiple looks on defense and overall dominance allowed him to secure All-Pro votes for both defensive end and defensive tackle (he also could've gotten some love at tight end).
As the NFL evolves, so do the players. Robert Quinn, for example, was used on just three-quarters of the Rams defensive plays. This demonstrates Quinn's partial use as a situational player and is where terms like 'pass rusher' or 'run stopper' come into play. By running multiple defenses, it allows players to remain fresh, maximize their ability to matchup on an opponent and allow coaches to insert play-makers into the game.
With a multiple front defense, individual stats aren't as important. The Chiefs, for example, needed every one of Justin Houston's 22 sacks to be a top flight defense, while Michael Bennett, the Seahawks sacks leader, collected only seven takedowns, half a sack fewer than Jason Worilds. The Seahawks, however, had the best pass defense in the NFL, while Pittsburgh was stuck at 26th.
Obviously, teams won't stick to a base defensive set the entire game, as changing formations mean defenses must adjust, and the Steelers can even stick to their base 3-4 system, but as long as hybrid fronts are incorporated, the Steelers defense could make some big strides in the future. Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Wagner, three of the best defenders in the NFL, were drafted in the second round of later. Sherman was taken in the fifth. Great defensive players can be found, and if their abilities are optimized with the right system, then their stars can shine ever bright.