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Under Keith Butler, Steelers defense will continue its physical ways

It's not your father's NFL anymore, an NFL where violence was just a part of the game. While that element of football is mostly gone, teams can still be physical with an opponent, something that's not lost on Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Wendell Tyler needed medical assistance in the first half of Super Bowl XIV.

By the end of their 31-19 loss to the Steelers, most of Tyler's teammates needed it, too.

Los Angeles had the lead and all the momentum heading into the fourth quarter. After two deep bombs from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth sandwiched between a key interception by Jack Lambert, the Rams' spunk had all but evaporated into the Pasadena night sky.

With a double-digit late, the Steelers defense piled on, and all of a sudden, all of those hard hits that had been levied on the Rams all game were beginning to show. Near the end of each play at game's end, the Rams looked physically defeated, moving slowly, their will eviscerated by the talent and the relentless physicality of the Steelers defense.

That tradition of physicality had been passed from George Perles defenses of the 70s to Dick LeBeau's Steelers defensive units of the 1990s. Greg Lloyd was as imposing as he was physical, with teammates Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson joining in on the beatings. Like the Steel Curtain that proceeded them, this Steelers defense had a violent element to them, knocking Dan Marino out of a game in 1995 and leaving Jim Harbaugh bloody in a playoff game the following year.

This violent brand of football has become about as foreign as the drop kick. New rules governing player safety have been integrated into the game, especially after the league dealt with a slew of concussion ordeals at the end of the 2000s. These rules have been strongly enforced by commissioner Roger Goodell as he looks to improve football's public image while trying to soothe the NFLPA's pleas for more financial support for former players suffering to pay for and/or live with their post football ailments.

The new rules have surely made the NFL a different game. Legal hits from the 90s and 70s would be flagged as personal fouls today. Lloyd's hits on Marino and Favre back then would be grounds for fines and suspensions today. The Steel Curtain's hits on the Rams would have had to come with less force as to avoid a different outcome.

While the rules changed defenses forever, LeBeau and the Steelers did what great coaches and units do: they adapted to the changes. While not as violent (save some of James Harrison's bone-jarring hits on AFC North foes over the years), LeBaeu's defenses have in large maintained a physical level of football that produced top-tier units. His defense was one of the best in NFL history in 2008, were top-5 units in 2009 and '10, and were ranked No.1 in the league in 2011 and 2012. The mentality might have changed a little, but the results had stayed the same.

With LeBaeu for over the past decade has been Keith Butler, who was the team's linebacker coach now defensive coordinator. The decision by Mike Tomlin to keep the defensive coordinator in house should mean that the Steelers successful defensive philosophy is still in tact. Surely Butler will mix things up schematically; there's a reason why he was promoted to defensive coordinator, but in large, the Steelers attitude on defense will not be any different.

Last season, Pittsburgh's physically made emphatic statements in big wins. They forced three pivotal turnovers in a 30-23 win over Houston in Week 7. A week later, constant pressure on Andrew Luck led to two interceptions and a pick-six by William Gay in a double-digit win over the Colts. While they weren't the dominant unit of old, the Steelers commitment to playing a physical brand of defense played a key role in the team's AFC North title.

How well the Steelers defense will perform in 2015 is anyone's guess, but it's safe to say that it will continue to be one of the NFL's most physical units. The mentor is gone, but the protege will keep his defensive mindset alive, for this year and beyond.

You can take the violence out of the game, but you can't take the physicality out of a Pittsburgh defense.