The 2016 AFC Championship game was a text book example of what NOT to do if you want to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Steelers were handed a humiliating loss and Butler was totally ineffective in stopping Brady as they were handed a crushing 17 to 35 loss. The Steelers were never really in the game. They were out coached and outplayed in all phases of the game but Butler’s defense’s weaknesses were laid bare for all the world to see.
Last year, the Steelers ran Cover 2 Zone Under or some other zone cover package 70% to 80% of the time and repeatedly got burned. They also were very soft and gave up points in close games, late in game, which is not characteristic of a Steelers Defense. Most of these problems can be directly linked to Keith Butler and his defensive play calling. Even with his excess of caution, the Steelers still ended up 16th in the league in pass defense.
This year, under Butler, the Steelers are doing much better on Defense. They rank 6th overall, 9th against the Rush and 4th against the Pass. They have however given up a lot of deep passes, which has been attributed to ‘neck up’ errors mostly by Artie Burns and Mike Mitchell. Recent addition. Almost all of these mistakes have come from screwing up in zone coverage. Starting CB Joe Haden has been out recently and Coty Sensabaugh has been okay but has got burned in man coverage. Haden has been cleared to practice and wants to play.
The Steelers didn’t even make an effort to sign last year’s tackle leader, Lawrence Timmons. Vince Williams has taken his spot and while he does have 7 sacks, he’s also been out of position for a number of plays forcing Shazier to take up the slack. Williams needs to stay at home, play contain and the be the sideline to sideline defender along with Sean Spence. I’m sure OC Josh McDaniels and Belichick have studied Williams’ tendencies and are envisioning how nice it will be to have Gronk catching passes in the void left by Williams’ pass rushing attempts.
The loss of Ryan Shazier (Prayers) will weigh heavy but the Steelers re-signed ILB Sean Spence who was a good sub for us before he left to find the grass wasn’t greener. Also the versatile veteran, Arthur Moats can be counted on to step in and deliver quality play. They have a new pass rushing threat in T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree has also got good pressure on the QB all year round. DE Cam Heyward has stepped up this year and leads the team with 9 sacks. The Steelers are averaging 3.2 sacks a game, making them only second to the Jaguars.
Now the hope is the Steelers aren’t a paper tiger just waiting for Brady to reveal their weaknesses. What does Keith Butler need to do to Stop Brady?
- Use More Variety in his Play Calling and NOT Play Zone, EVER.
I rewatched the entire AFC Championship game recently, large parts of it in slow motion and did a tabulation of how many times the Steelers blitzed as opposed to dropping back in coverage. (Yes, I have no life) I didn’t have to tabulate Man vs. Zone because the Steelers ran virtually NO Man coverage the entire game.
I found that the Steelers rushed only the front 3, The Defensive line, with occasional help of one LB, 37 times. They blitzed, which I counted as rushing 5 or more, 7 times. The Patriots passed 44 times. That means the Steelers ran cover packages where they were getting NO pressure on the Tom Brady 84% of the time. Brady knew exactly what to expect and it made the game like a practice session against the ‘Dummy Ds’..
Butler needs to establish the Blitz as a threat and then play with Brady’s expectations. He can’t let Brady sit all comfy in the in the pocket like he did last year. I know it may be painful but he needs to watch last year’s game and not repeat those mistakes.
- Butler Needs to Disguise His Intentions.
Last year a huge problem with Butler was he NEVER disguised his intentions. If it looked like the Steelers were blitzing, they were. If they looked like they’re going to drop back in coverage, they did. He ran virtually NO cross blitzes, NO stunts, very few Safety D Gap or inside B Gap (between the Center and Guard) blitzes. If Butler blitzed it almost always came from the OLB on a C (between the Tackle and Tight End) or D (Outside the Tackle or TE) gap.
He’s been much better in that regard, this year. He needs to really mix it up against Brady. Butler has used the rookie CB, Mike Hilton, on outside blitzes and while Hilton only has one sack he has 3 pass deflections and has been very disruptive. Hilton might be one of Butler’s best tools in getting inside Brady’s head. He can show him, flash blitz and then drop him back. He can bring him kamikaze style. He can have him jump around the line and make the Patriots have to deal with him.
The key is not letting Brady get comfortable. He needs to be harassed and not know what defense he’s facing.
- Make Changes When the Game Plan Isn’t Working
Last year Butler made no halftime adjustments that made any difference. Chris Hogan was killing the Steelers in the first half. He allowed Hogan and Brady to keep shredding the Steelers’ D by allowing a pitch and catch with Hogan consistently finding the soft spot in the zone or ripping one up the seam. Hogan looked like the second coming of Jerry Rice as he caught 9 passes for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Butler needs to analyze what’s going on and make adjustments as the game goes on. He needs to man up on the hot receivers, whoever they may be. He needs to take Brady’s security blankets away from him. This year the target will probably be Gronkowski. There needs to be a man on him at all times.
- Bring the Heat Against Brady. Do Not Chicken Out.
Butler has been a little bolder this year but he still needs improvement in this area. The Blitz requires the same commitment he shows to the Cover 2. If you get burned, shrug it off and figure eventually the pressure is going to work.
Butler can NOT do what he did last year. The Steelers ran the Cover 2 Zone Under while typically rushing 3. That means at any given time ALL of the pass rushers could be double teamed and the receivers all had a yard or two cushion. This was devastating and it ended the Steelers season on a HUGE down note.
Cover 2 Man Under is a great alternative to the Zone. It allows the Steelers Corners to do what they’re best at and it doesn’t give Brady an easy way to get the ball out quick underneath. If you consistently rush 4 to 5 you can disrupt Brady’s rhythm and force him to make plays instead of playing pitch and catch.
Even with the loss of Shazier the Steelers have the talent to beat Brady and the Patriots. They will have to play a smart hard game and they can’t let Brady get comfortable. Keith Butler has shown great signs of learning from his mistakes. If he takes this new knowledge into the game most people are calling a ‘preview of the AFC Championship’ (knock wood), he has the all the tools and personnel to get the job done.
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