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Four score

Posted Nov 30, 2017

Blitzes not a necessity in generating pressure.

Keith Butler appreciates a blitz that’s been dialed up well enough to get home as much as the next NFL defensive coordinator.

But four-man pressures are his signature.

“You can’t always blitz all the time,” Butler maintained. “If you blitz all the time they’re going to pick it up and it hurts you. You have to change it up and you have to have a good enough four-man rush to be effective before your blitzing is effective.

“It’s a lot more effective if you can rush four, put pressure on the quarterback, play good coverage and then every now and then blitz, because they won’t be ready for it.”

The four-man pressures the Steelers have been working to perfect since Butler took over as defensive coordinator in 2015 aren’t yet delivering as consistently as Butler would prefer, but they’re getting there.

“It’s been up and down throughout the year,” he assessed. “There have been games where we blitzed well and got good pressure and there have been games where all of our sacks came off of four-man rushes. There have been a couple of games like that.

“We need to be able to do well rushing with four. We still have a little bit to do, I think. We’re not the best in the league. We’re not far from it but we’re not the best in the league.”

The Steelers’ four-man pressures were noteworthy in their effectiveness on Nov. 16 against Tennessee. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was intercepted four times, each time against a four-man rush. And he was sacked on five occasions, four of which resulted from a four-man pressure.

“The biggest thing about pressure is turnovers,” Butler emphasized.

The Steelers didn’t get a turnover last Sunday night against Green Bay but they sacked Packers quarterback Brett Hundley three times, all in the second half. The first resulted from a five-man blitz and the second a four-man pressure. On the third _ first-and-10 from the Green Bay 18-yard line with 1:20 left in regulation and the game tied at 28-28 _ the Steelers initially rushed three. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt eventually came out of zone coverage on a delayed rush, found a clear path to the quarterback and got Hundley on the ground for a loss of 6.

Watt’s sack was his fifth of the season and the Steelers’ 38th (matching last season’s total).

The Steelers are No. 4 in total defense (sixth rushing, third passing), No. 2 in sacks (Jacksonville has 41), tied for No. 12 in takeaways (16) and No. 4 in scoring defense (17.5 points per game) heading into Monday night’s visit to Cincinnati.

The Packers’ three touchdown passes came against one three-man rush (39 yards) and two four-man pressures (54, and 55 yards), so the approach is less than foolproof.

But to Butler, it’s well worth pursuing.

“The ability to have a 3-4 defense as your base defense and take your outside linebackers and make them defensive ends in that four-man front gives you the ability to do a lot of different things,” Butler said. “Whether it’s blitz, a five-man rush, a four-man rush and playing zone behind it or man (-to-man) behind it, there’s a lot more stuff you can do in terms of being versatile.

“I think we have a chance to get better. If we get better, I think we’ll be pretty good.”