PITTSBURGH -- Keith Butler starts pumping his right fist to simulate what Tom Brady was doing in Week 7 in Heinz Field. The Steelers' defensive coordinator remembers his unit switching up coverages, forcing Brady into a few pump fake attempts before eventually breaking the game open with a "triple seam with Gronk."
"He’s sitting there pumping the ball and we had a lot of opportunities to sack him and we didn’t," Butler said about the 27-16 Steelers loss. "Rush and coverage go together. If we would have gotten some pressure on him and sacked him a couple of times and get him to cuss his dadgum offensive linemen out, hey man, it's a beautiful world for us."
That's the sound of a coordinator who wants a more versatile defense against elite quarterbacks -- especially the one in New England. The 2016 Steelers finished a respectable ninth in sacks, 10th in scoring defense and 16th in passing defense.
But the mandate for 2017, according to Butler: more man coverage looks, more pass rush, and more playoff home games.
That would have been the plan last year, but the Steelers' zone coverages in the 36-17 loss to New England in the AFC title game were partly out of necessity. The Steelers schemed based on "where our defense was at the time," Butler said. They tried some man early on that didn't work, and neither did the zone.
Butler, whose defense should be deeper thanks to the past few drafts, hopes to have flexibility to play man, zone or matchup zone while getting pressure with the front four.
That's not a Brady-specific plan, but, if the plan works, a sustainable one for all opponents.
"We have to be able to develop a four-man rush and not just blitz all the time," Butler said. "This year we have to be able to play conventional coverages with conventional people playing those coverages and conventional people rushing the passer. We’ve got to be able to do that in order to advance defensively, in my opinion"
Butler doesn't know yet whether that goal is attainable. Steelers players won't wear pads until training camp. But the franchise has invested eight of its past 10 top-two-round picks on defense, including first-round pass-rusher T.J. Watt and second-year defensive backs Artie Burns and Sean Davis.
Young players must produce -- enough for the Steelers to earn home-field advantage. Ben Roethlisberger averages about three touchdown passes per game in Heinz Field, compared to one score on the road.
"We have to make a Super Bowl come through Pittsburgh," Butler said. "We have to be able to play at home. ... We’ve got to take one more step. Our young guys are going to have to help us in that regard in terms of our draft choices. The rookies last year have got to continue to develop. If they do, hopefully we’ll improve enough to take that next step."