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Steelers lack of blitzing out of necessity, not game plan

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t blitzing anywhere close as much as they did even in 2015. The answer to why is based on the personnel, not the game plan by Keith Butler.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is in a bad place. Not just with injuries, but ultimately the lack of pressure they are getting on opposing quarterbacks. This has led to some very intricate discussions among fans regarding the team’s sub packages, coverage schemes, zone defense or man defense and a multitude of other options which could explain the lack of pressure, but maybe it is simpler than that.

When defensive coordinator Keith Butler spoke to the media prior to the bye week he discussed how their lack of blitzing isn’t because it is left out of the game plan, but because of the young players in the secondary.

“It’s easy to say blitzing solves your problems, but you still have people in the secondary who have to stand up,” Butler told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Not that our secondary couldn’t. It’s just that we have a young secondary and we have to try to win football games. We’re doing what we think is best to win football games with the people we got.”

With Artie Burns and Sean Davis, both rookies, seeing significant playing time in their first season, the defensive coordinator has been hesitant to dial up pressures for fear of being exposed on the back end.

“They’re still learning,” Butler said of his rookies. “We have to bring them along because the further they go the further we’ll be able to go. They’re high-round draft choices, and the reason we drafted them high is because we’ve got some faith in them and think they’re pretty good players.

“But there’s a lot to learn in the NFL. You don’t just come off playing at Miami or Maryland and all of a sudden become a great player in the NFL. If you look at most of the guys who become stars in this league, it’s in their second, third or even fourth year sometimes.”

The Steelers are hoping their dynamic duo of rookie defensive backs turn into stars, but in the meantime the team is going to have to find a way to get pressure on the quarterback, even with the two rookies in the secondary.

“We’re counting on them to play a bigger role as time goes on and to contribute more,” Lake said. “But we don’t want to push it too much where, first of all, it hurts the team, and secondly, they can’t handle it. We want to give them exposure but give them exposure in a way that can help us.”

Coming off the bye week, and heading into Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens, you would expect the learning curve for Burns and Davis would slowly start to decrease, and it would open up the defensive playbook for Butler in regards to blitzes.

Either way, the Steelers will have to prove they can get pressure on the quarterback with more regularity than they have in the first 7 games of the season, where they rank dead last in the NFL in such category. Cameron Heyward’s return, and the eventual return of Bud Dupree will help, but it won’t matter if the Steelers are vulnerable in the defensive secondary.

Only time will tell, but it looks as if the Steelers defense, especially blitzing, will all be based on how well the rookies get acclimated to the NFL game. Hopefully that acclimatization happens sooner than later.