By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are refocusing during the bye week. While the defense has continued to improve, one area that defensive coordinator Keith Butler and his assistant coaching staff would like to see get better is pass protection. On Tuesday, the staff echoed many of the sentiments their players have pointed out recently: This defense has grown, but has areas that could be retooled in order to give the Steelers a better shot at enough wins to enter the postseason. The consensus is that the team be prepared to face the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12.
Butler has seen his role change a bit since he took over the coordinator position after many years with Dick LeBeau at the helm. As the season continues, his role is fluid as well. “I don’t get to go in there and be intricate about the details with the guys like I used to,” Butler said. “There are things that I like that we’ve done but there are things that I haven’t liked. We are still going to try to correct some of those things, get into a little better shape.”
Butler would like to see the Steelers defense be aggressive but also create more turnovers, but admitted that the ability to play well in coverage and limit passing yards has to be addressed. “Our guys have been trying to do what we’ve asked them for the most part. The more we play together the better we are going to get.”
Where the Steelers stand
Pittsburgh is only allowing an average of 93.0 yards per game rushing due to hard-fought battles by the defensive line and linebackers. The defense currently ranks 22nd in the league, largely due to their allowance of an average of 278.4 passing yards per game from their opponents. The Steelers allow the sixth-most receiving yards to opponents (of all teams in the NFL) through Week 10.
Focus on the defensive backfield
Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said that the most important thing is that his defensive backs keep opponents out of the end zone. “If we can focus on that and continue to maintain that, especially being stingy in the red zone, that will be great for us.”
The emphasis head coach Mike Tomlin put on red zone defense early has paid off. The Steelers are only allowing an average of 19.0 points per game from opponents. Where the Steelers are getting hurt the most is when teams open up their passing attack. Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to take the cover-two scheme out of their defense package due to a lack of size and speed from their safeties and the ability to play solid one-on-one from their cornerbacks. Injuries have played a part as personnel has rotated, but Lake said that he would like to see the defensive backs get more splash plays, explaining those are things like turnovers and plays that allow the defense as a whole to get off of the field.
Strong safety Mike Mitchell expressed disappointment in the defense’s inability to redirect tight ends in particular by disrupting routes at the line of scrimmage. “How many times this year are we going to play an elite tight end or a guy that’s really good at the tight end positing and let them beat us?” Mitchell asked in an explanation of where he sees a need for improvement. It is an area of concern, but the Steelers have shown they can limit guys like Cleveland’s Gary Barnidge and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce if they get a strong initial bump at the offensive line and maintain proper coverage.
Defensive line coach John Mitchell is aware that pressure up front, especially against opposing quarterbacks, has given the defensive backfield the opportunity to make better decisions. “We are playing a little bit more one technique where we are getting up the field rather than playing a two-gap,” Mitchell said. “We want a little bit more penetration.” Mitchell admitted that if his linemen play well paired with the outside linebackers the defensive backs have to make the plays at the second level. “You have to play together. You have to understand where you help is and when you don’t have any help. They’ve done a much better job. I think it is showing up on Sunday when we play now.”
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on