The Pittsburgh Steelers defense last season thrived on red-zone stops, sacks and timely turnovers. Keith Butler proved he was a gambler willing to throw the gambit at opposing quarterback to help protect a below average secondary. A perfect illustration of this would be how last season safety Will Allen recorded 4 sacks, the most of his lengthy career.
With the 2016 season approaching, fans were waiting for more of the 'Blitzburgh' style defense they grew accustomed to seeing last year, but when the Washington Redskins had their first several offensive possessions, fans quickly saw the Steelers weren't getting pressure on the quarterback.
Even I made a comment, to anyone who would listen, how the Steelers simply aren't getting enough pressure on Kirk Cousins. When looking at the game itself, it became clear the Steelers were working their game plan to a 'T'. They wanted to pressure Cousins, but they weren't going to sell out to do so.
Instead, Butler's defense dropped back into several different, and unique, zone packages which forced the Redskins' signal caller to make throws into air tight pockets of space. As was evident last night, Cousins was unable to perform such a task with any level of consistency, and their offense sputtered the majority of the night.
The Steelers didn't record a sack in the game, something which was rarely the case in 2015 as they racked up 48 sacks on the season, but it doesn't mean the defense wasn't effective. The Pittsburgh defenders forced Washington to take the underneath routes, and when Cousins was forced to push the football down the field, in an attempt to get his team back in the game, it resulted in a timely interception by Ryan Shazier.
The most impressive aspect of this defensive performance, in my opinion, was the unit's patience. After Washington moved the ball well on their first possession, and tallied two field goals on their next two possessions, it would have been easy for Butler to say "screw it" and start dialing up corner and backside blitzes to rattle Cousins. Instead, he saw a defense which was holding firm in the red-zone, and an offense which was bound to break through at some point during the game.
The Steelers can't, and won't, deploy this same philosophy on a week-to-week basis, but it shows the maturation of Butler as a coordinator, and how comfortable the players have gotten under his system, when he trusts the communication will be there to execute such a game plan.
Was the performance perfect? Not in any stretch of the imagination. Simply watch Lawrence Timmons or Sean Davis' missed tackles and you'll know there are still lingering issues, but as a complete body of work, the Steelers defense showed plenty as they perfectly executed a game plan which held the Washington offense to 16 points.