Colts Eye Steelers LB Coach Keith Butler for Defensive Coordinator UPDATE: Butler Stays with Steelers

Reports differ regarding how certain it is that Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler will be joining the Indianapolis Colts as the team’s new defensive coordinator. ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky suggests that the deal is all but done, and that Butler merely needs to land in Indianapolis on Tuesday to go over contract details and sign on the dotted line. The NFL’s Jason LaCanfora offers a less certain prediction, saying that Butler will simply be interviewing for the spot on Tuesday.

What is known is that Butler has wanted to serve as a defensive coordinator in the NFL for some time. The only thing stopping Butler from taking over the job in Pittsburgh is the legendary Dick Lebeau, who continues to sign year-by-year contracts to retain his post. Now that Butler’s contract has also come to a close, it appears that his patience may be wearing thin.

UPDATE: Jason LaCanfora reports that Butler has chosen to stay in Pittsburgh.

Another fact that adds flame to rumors that Butler intends to sign with the Colts on Tuesday is the history he shares with new head coach Chuck Pagano and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Butler worked with Arians in Pittsburgh and with both Arians and Pagano in Cleveland. Coming with Arians would be a reunion between coaches who are all familiar with working together — and who are aware of what eachother brings to the table and expects.

While there may be differing opinions amongst Colts fans and Steelers fans regarding Bruce Arians as an offensive coordinator, there is very little to argue over concerning Butler. His departure would be almost universally seen as a blow to the future of the Steelers defensive coaching staff.

Consider Butler’s history as a coach. Once you do, it will be very clear that not only is Butler a tremendous prospect for the defensive coordinator position but that uniting Butler and Pagano together brings tremendous defensive coaching success to Indianapolis.

Butler was a part of the expansion Cleveland Browns coaching staff as linebackers coach. He developed the teams first Pro Bowler, linebacker Jamir Miller. In Pittsburgh, where he has served as linebackers coach since 2003, Butler has overseen the development of linebackers like Joey Porter, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, and James Harrison.

Harrison? He was an undrafted practice squad player who would become the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

How has the Steelers defense performed with Butler leading the linebackers in a 3-4 defense?

D Ranks Total Rush
Total DVOA Rushing DVOA Passing DVOA
2003 9th 12th 13th 7th 20th
2004 1st 1st 3rd 3rd 3rd
2005 4th 3rd 4th 1st 5th
2006 9th 3rd 12th 4th 14th
2007 1st 3rd 8th 3rd 7th
2008 1st 2nd 1st 2nd 1st
2009 5th 3rd 8th 9th 14th
2010 2nd 1st 1st 1st 2nd
2011 1st 8th 4th 15th 3rd

It is very clear that the years of Colts fans complaining about shoddy run defenses will probably be drawing to a close in short order under Butler’s oversight. It should also be even more clear that a move to a 3-4 base defense will be happen sooner rather than later.

There have been concerns regarding head coach Chuck Pagano’s mention of running and stopping the run in his introductory press conference. The move to hire Butler would seemingly add to those concerns if one didn’t also consider that Butler’s defenses were pass rushing nightmares.

Sacks Sack Rank
2003 35 17th
2004 41 7th
2005 47 3rd
2006 39 11th
2007 36 13th
2008 51 2nd
2009 47 2nd
2010 48 1st
2011 35 17th

While the Steelers defense had up and down years rushing the passer under Butler’s tutelage, the Colts out-rushed the Steelers only once over that span. If the team is able to stop the run and increase pressure generated on the quarterback, the only thing left is to lock down the passing game.

Enter head coach Chuck Pagano. How have his defenses performed against the pass during his tenure as defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator?

Pass Defense Pass DVOA
Browns 2001 10th 1st
Browns 2002 15th 10th
Browns 2003 7th 8th
Browns 2004 5th 19th
Raiders 2005 18th 27th
Raiders 2006 1st 4th
Ravens 2008 2nd 2nd
Ravens 2009 8th 8th
Ravens 2010 21st 6th
Ravens 2011 1st 1st

The two coaches together present a formidable amount of experience coaching in the NFL. A great deal of success. And a very balanced defensive focus and mindset that should create a scheme in Indianapolis that looks and acts significantly different than the fan community has experienced in the pass.

Pagano has mentioned a defense that forces offenses to react, as opposed to a defense that reacts to the offense — the Cover 2 is precisely a read and react defense. I have been calling for an aggressive defense that gets pressure in the face of the quarterback and plays tighter coverage in the secondary for some time. It’s hard to not get excited about the prospect of re-signing players like Robert Mathis and Philip Wheeler and sending them off of the edge, forcing passes into tight coverage 5-10 yards down the field.

There is much left to be done, both in completing a full coaching staff and making player personnel decisions. Still, a coaching staff with successful and experienced backgrounds, who have worked together and know eachother, seems like a positive start in this new Colts “era.”