Already a month has passed since the Steelers’ dream season got put on ice. Minority owners around Art Rooney II tried to persuade him to start looking elsewhere and move on from Mike Tomlin. Even the defensive coaching has come to question.
Keith Butler, the Defensive Coordinator for the past three years, has slowly turned the defensive unit around. He replaced one of the most iconic figures in the organization at that time, Dick LeBeau. His first stint in Pittsburgh began as linebackers coach for 11 seasons. Following another playoff disappointment back in 2014, Keith Butler gets promoted in the off-season and, with him, brought back a familiar face, “who ride, we ride,” Joey Porter. Since then, Butler has kept the legendary 3-4 Defense that LeBeau mastered, but also wasn’t afraid to mix up play-calling styles.
As time went on, and they continued to grow with their youth and a few veteran players, they’ve started to pick up steam. Remember how pundits and fans used to get on Dick LeBeau, “That isn’t Steelers football. This defense is old and slow!” So far, Mike Tomlin and Keith have worked hard to change that narrative. It’s been a gradual process.
The coaching staff has elevated the play of many young players. Since Butler has taken over, he’s improved the total defense to its second highest mark in over five years. Guess what? The pass rush has continually gotten better as he’s gotten them ranked in the top-10 during his tenure with the organization.
Out of nowhere, ‘Blitzburgh,’ is reborn and back and better than ever as his defense racked up the most sacks in the history of the franchise (56), which, by the way, was No. 1. “Oh yeah, that’s right, but what about the playoffs?” some will ask. Doesn’t this sound familiar when they had their last ugly end in the playoffs three years ago to the Ravens after less than a week earlier, the players were proudly showing off their t-shirts and Championship hats on how they ran the North? Yup, ‘oh yeah, the New Blitzburgh!’ The Defense that was ready to put their stamp back on the great Steelers’ winning tradition!
Since the loss to Jaguars, many have been left scratching their heads. Many questioned if the Steelers were looking past the Jaguars. The irony of all this was, when the Steelers suffered their first lopsided loss to the Jaguars back in Week 5, it was Ben Roethlisberger and the offense that lost the game, but this time the defense melted down! Many were left dazed in Heinz Field as well as throughout Steelers Nation. Should that be reason enough to consider new assistants?
Let’s face it, Butler has done a phenomenal job seeing his challenging work pay off with a new and improved squad. What still needs to be looked at is the health and availability of their play-makers. Joe Haden went down with a fractured fibula in an eventual comeback win against the Colts in Week 10, then Shazier goes down with a severe back injury in Week 13 on Monday Night against the Bengals. He was immobilized for more than three months while he struggled to regain feeling in his legs. Bottom line: all guys under the Tomlin and Butler era have stepped up big time.
For being a linebacker’s guy, Butler has his guys continue to do the grind work at that area. Forty percent of the sacks this season was contributed by linebackers. What should fans continue to expect in the next stage of his tenure with the team? Which brings me to Joey Porter. I’ve got to believe he’s had his handprints on this, being a former player. Let’s face it, he’s been there clearly with his players from beginning to end, no matter what’s been said about him.
The only glaring problem right now for the Steelers is the health of Shazier. “Never once has he asked “why me?” Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He shows us everybody has problems, but he’s going to work to overcome his as we should ours.” He’s already been guaranteed his fifth-year option for $8.5 million this season whether he plays or not. This begs the question, what should the Steelers do about the Inside Linebacker spot in this year’s draft?
They’re still going to need a free safety who can defend the middle of the field, or can they obtain one during free agency? There also seems to be the notion floating around that the Steelers should take a shot at Malcolm Butler of the Patriots. According to Spotrac, he signed a one-year $3.91 million tender last March from NE and he’s currently about to become an Unrestricted Free Agent on March 6th at 4:00 p.m. EST. I’ve got to believe the Steelers will try to offer a similar figure as they did last year. What a huge grab this would be for the Steelers to snag away from NE if Belichick and company aren’t careful.
The reason why fans shouldn’t bail on Butler is that he’s been consistent in guiding a younger group the last three seasons. Also, he continues to shake up the play-calling and is on point with different player packages. I say give him another two more seasons and we’ll sit down and talk. Only then, should the decision be made. If there’s one thing for sure about the Steelers, is that nothing’s for sure.