Nov. 25—Keith Butler has been with the Steelers since the 2003 season. In those nearly two decades he's been on the coaching staff he can count on one hand the number of times an opposing quarterback shredded the Steelers the way Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert did Sunday night.

Herbert put himself in some pretty good company when the Chargers racked up 533 yards against the Steelers, 473 of which he accounted for as a passer and a runner. It was the first time in more than seven years the defense surrendered 500 yards in a game, and the previous time it happened the opposing quarterback was Tom Brady.

"It's always a learning experience for coaches," Butler, the defensive coordinator, said Thursday morning before the Steelers' Thanksgiving Day practice at the UMPC Rooney Sports Complex. "I'm 65 years old and I'm still learning. As a player, if you don't learn from experience you're not going to be in the league very long. That's just the way it is. We all make mistakes. The good players and coaches in this league learn from their mistakes and don't make them again. If you don't, you're not going to be in this league very long."

A lot of the struggles the Steelers encountered had to do with many of their star players missing the game because of illness or injury. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Joe Haden did not play in the 41-37 loss.

Fitzpatrick was activated from the COVID list and will play against the Bengals, and it's possible Watt and Haden could return to the lineup, too.

Butler played an outside linebacker rotation of Taco Charlton, Derrek Tuszka and Delontae Scott against the Chargers. None of them were with the team in training camp and joined at various points since the season started.

Scott and reserve defensive lineman Daniel Archibong made their NFL debuts and combined to play 15 snaps because of the injuries in the front seven.

"I appreciate the effort the guys put into it," Butler said. "They wanted to win. They played like they wanted to win. In the end, a couple of things hurt us here and there. As coaches, we could have done better with what we did. Hindsight is always 20-20, but looking back on it there were some things we could have done to help our guys out. When you lose a game like that the first guy I look at is me. What could I have done better?"

Butler specifically mentioned putting a spy on Herbert, who ran for 90 yards on nine carries in addition to throwing for 382 yards. He had a 36-yard run and two-18-yard runs.

"He was a good running quarterback," Butler said. "He caught us more than a couple of times. There is some stuff we could have changed and done a little better in terms of maybe spying him a little bit. We felt like the four-man rush was the best at the time. He did a good job of escaping. Every time he saw us in a certain coverage he took off. He didn't wait. It looked like it was almost a quarterback draw. It wasn't."

Defensive lineman Cam Heyward also said the linemen have to do a better job of knowing when a quarterback is going to run.

"Coordinated rushes are a lot better," Heyward said. "You have to be able to communicate what guys are going to do. You have to rush with your head up. You can't just bury your head. You have to get off blocks. In the middle, we just have to push up a little more. A couple of times, if we get more pressure up the middle there's not that big, wide lane."

Butler on Bush

Inside linebacker Devin Bush is in the midst of a trying season after a knee injury ended his season last year. On Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged Bush's play has been "spotty" and inconsistent but noted how other top players across the NFL are struggling after ACL injuries.

Butler also acknowledged Bush's knee as a possible reason for his struggles, but he indicated there are other issues that have nothing to do with his injury or recovery.

"Playing linebacker is knowing the front and knowing the coverage," Butler said. "It's a little bit more than knowing the front or knowing the secondary. He has to know them both. He has to learn more and more as time goes along. The more he knows, the quicker he'll react and the more confident he'll be."

Bush, who has started every game, is fifth on the team in tackles with 46 and has one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

"I don't know if it's his knee or not," Butler said. "Sometimes it takes a little longer for the knee to come around. Only he knows that. I don't know how he feels.

"You have to be able to run. You have to be able to run backward. You have to be able to run forward. You have to be able to run side-to-side and do everything a linebacker does. I'm not going to make excuses for him. He'll sit here and tell you sometimes he's lost his leverage in coverage.

"Do you want him tackling? Yes, you want him tackling. You want a good, wrap tackler. He has to run to the ball and get both hands on the ball carrier in practice all the time. He has to dadgum run to the ball like the rest of them do. We demand that from the rest of them. He has to do the same thing. And he does. Hopefully, he'll be better."

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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