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Steelers Film Room: Keith Butler’s Various 3-4 Fronts Stumps Bengals

There is no question that the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is among the elite units in the NFL this season. Coming into last Sunday’s contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers defense was ranked as the #3 overall defense, while allowing the fewest passing yards than any defensive unit in the NFL; however, after their victory Sunday, they are currently the #2 defense in the NFL.

As much credit as the players are given, the genius behind their success is defensive coordinator Keith Butler. After a successful twelve-year tenure as a linebacker coach under the legendary Dick Lebeau, Butler became the Steelers’ defensive coordinator in January 2015 upon Lebeau’s resignation. Since that time, Butler has gone through great lengths to re-establish the Steelers aggressive ‘Blitzburgh’ style, with his variety of defensive fronts and various blitzes. On Sunday, Butler’s aggressive play calling was on full display, as his defense relegated Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton‘s team to only 211 total yards by the end of the game.

Joe Haden’s Interception

On this particular play, the Steelers defense is showing a 3-4 under front. In this alignment, we see 3 defensive linemen, 4 linebackers, and 4 defensive backs. The SLB (strong side linebacker) in this situation is rookie TJ Watt, shown aligned in 7-technique; generally in this case, the SLB would be responsible for containment. The WLB (weak side linebacker) is Bud Dupree, seen aligned in 6-technique and has the responsibility to control cutbacks. Nose Tackle Javon Hargrave is seen in shaded alignment, while defensive end Cameron Heyward has the two gap responsibility aligned in 3-technique; lastly on the other side, defensive end Tyson Alualu is seen 4-technique.

Generally in this case, Alualu would be rushing the B gap, while Watt would be rushing either the C or D gap, depending on the flow of the play and the gap a running back would try going through. In this case, Butler adds an interesting twist which stumps Bengals running back Andy Dalton. Instead of rushing the D gap, Watt unexpectedly drops back into coverage. Before Dalton has time to even adjust, he had already committed to the throw which is almost deflected by Watt. Bengals receiver AJ Green runs his slant route, but because of Watt’s presence, the ball is thrown behind him, in which Green tries to adjust but ends up tipping the ball into the hands of cornerback Joe Haden. Sometimes all it takes is one adjustment that can change everything. If Watt had not dropped back, this would have likely been a first down play for the Bengals.

William Gay Interception

In this sequence, the Steelers defense is seen again in a 3-4 under front, but in this case, Butler utilizes a nickel package (2 defensive linemen, 4 linebackers, 5 defensive backs). In this alignment, linebacker Ryan Shazier will have both A gap responsibility on each side. From the snap the Steelers’ defensive front show an aggressive pass rush; notice how Shazier stays home just in case anything comes in the middle. When Dalton looks downfield, he sees that all his receivers are well covered, but attempts to make the throw to Bengals receiver Josh Malone. Before Malone even has the opportunity to touch the ball, it is deflected by Steelers safety Sean Davis, and veteran cornerback William Gay is there to make the interception. All in all, this was a basic under front defense played the way it should be played.

Bud Dupree Stunt Sack

As in the previous play, the Steelers are showing a 3-4 under front using a nickel package. The key to this entire sequence is defense end Tyson Alualu seen beside outside linebacker Bud Dupree on the left. Alualu is in a shade 3-technique alignment, but it’s where he rushes that will make this play happen. From the snap, instead of engaging with the guard, he engages with the Bengals tackle. Alualu not only does a good job drawing the Bengals tackle towards him, he also manages to draw the Bengals guard as well. Dupree delays just enough time, then rushes the B gap. Before the guard can even make the adjustment, Dupree has already passed him; Dupree is able to use his speed to close in on Dalton and make the sack. The stunt on this play would have not been possibly if Alualu had not been the perfect decoy. Although it is Dupree that gets the sack, Alualu’s role in this play is very much appreciated.

Prior to the begining of the season many may have projected this year’s Steelers defense to be underwhelming as it played at times in past seasons. It appears that all the investments made in building this unit into a dominant one is now paying dividends. With the moves made in the secondary during the offseason, the addition of dynamic rookie TJ Watt and each player doing what is necessary to help each other, this Steelers defense is on the right path to becoming a championship unit.

Born and raised Ottawa, Ontario Canada, Kelly is a Steelers contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Formerly a contributor for SBNation's 'Behind the Steel Curtain'. Kelly can be reached via the Twitter handle @kanozie80

4 Comments on Steelers Film Room: Keith Butler’s Various 3-4 Fronts Stumps Bengals

  1. Burgher in California // October 27, 2017 at 12:38 PM //

    Matchup against the Lions offensive line is a great one for the Steelers on Sunday. Look for more of the same.

    • Good call. Look what the Saints did to the Lions a few weeks ago for proof. Teams are picking on them every week for big plays.

  2. mark delsignore // October 28, 2017 at 8:45 AM //

    Gonna be lots of Steeler fans in The D as well
    Kinda like a mini home away from home game
    Here we Go!

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