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Rebuilding Defense Should be Steelers Priority for 2015

Dick LeBeau is gone. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. The nature of his exit may have raised more questions than it answered, but new defensive coordinator Keith Butler has inherited plenty of black-and-gold question marks as the Steelers put playoff disappointment behind them and focus on the mountain of offseason work that lies ahead.

Butler is taking over a Steelers defense that spent the 2014 season vacillating between overmatched and adequate. Sure, there were flashes of brilliance in the form of William Gay’s trio of pick-sixes and…give me a second…seriously, I can come up with something else. Nope. Nevermind. The rest of the season on the defensive side of the ball is a blur of late-hit penalties, cornerbacks getting burned on double-moves and a pass rush that can be described as inconsistent…on a good day. Instead, old age and injuries regularly exposed a unit that’s supposed to serve as the backbone of the franchise.

Butler’s promotion seems to indicate that the Steelers will remain loyal – at least primarily – to the 3-4 front. With so many sub packages employed by opposing offenses from one play to the next – not to mention the pass-happy, video-game league the NFL has become – base defense is a somewhat outmoded concept. LeBeau’s resignation initially caused some hand-wringing among the more fickle members of Steeler Nation – myself included – that a transition to the 4-3 and the Tampa 2 zone scheme was imminent.

With the Steelers D coming off a season filled with such pedestrian statistics (18th overall in team defense, 27th against the pass), a drastic change in approach would be unwise. Instead, the weak spots must be shored up. Those who are too old and/or ineffective to help the team in 2015 should be sent packing. The players who remain – along with those added in this spring’s draft – will be charged with the daunting task of restoring the Steel Curtain to its former glory.

Kevin Ritchart joined the Steelers Gab writing staff in January 2015. He is a veteran writer and editor who has a passion for all things black and gold. In addition covering local high school and college sports for the Trib Total Media family of newspapers for more than a decade, Kevin also possesses a wealth of professional experience in the fields of marketing and advertising. Kevin earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky in 1998 and completed work on his MBA in marketing at Argosy University in 2013. He’s enjoying his current role of freelance writer and stay-at-home dad. You can follow Kevin on Facebook, Twitter @KevinRitchart and Google Plus. To see Kevin's full bio please go to our Meet Our Staff page.



  1. DrGeorge

    January 14, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    A nicely written article, Kevin, and who can disagree with your analysis. The 4-3 versus 3-4 controversy is probably overblown anyway as your comment on “subpackages” indicates. When necessary, LeBeau’s 3-4 shifted into a 4 and sometimes 5 man front and functioned much like a 4-3, when needed. And I have no heartburn about Kevin Butler as LeBeau’s replacement. But the real problem remains talent. Management must recruit defensive talent to give Butler something to work with. Except for Timmons, we have no Pro Bowl caliber players anywhere, the secondary is under-sized and slow, and Heyward is our only true pass-rusher. And if that weren’t bad enough, our schedule next year is much tougher, with New England, S.Fran, San Diego, Seattle, and Arizona peppering the mix. Our regular season is one play-off game after another. It doesn’t augur well for us.

    Our dismal defense has diverted attention from the offensive line, which is also in need of better talent. We need players who match their counterparts on the AFC’s best offensive teams, and none of ours do. Replay the last Ravens game and judge for yourself. Our line looked very ordinary.

    In short, the Steelers’ rebuilding program has a long way to go on both sides of the ball. Our improved record in 2014 was illusory; it owed more to a soft schedule than any real progress. We were little better in execution in 2014 than in 2012 and 2013. We were then and remain a mediocre football team. Until we get better talent, nothing is going to change.

  2. Dave B.

    January 14, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Totally agree . You can bring back Vince Lombardi and Chuck Noll , God rest their souls , and it wont matter . This team needs to stop living in the past . Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu were great players , but as Chuck Noll said many times , its time to move on with your lifes work . They need to retire or be released and this team needs an infusion of talent on the defensive side of the ball . In addition , it cant all be done in the draft . The Steelers need to be active in free agency , something they dont like to do but it needs to be done . Lastly , as DrGeorge stated . their is no easy schedule next year to mask all the Steelers short comings . The schedule is brutal and this team needs to start fixing things now while they can .

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