While I was opposed to the Steelers giving Keenan Lewis “#1 cornerback money” this past offseason, the amount he received from New Orleans could have been matched or exceeded by the Steelers had they trimmed some of the veteran fat off of their roster this past spring. Instead of re-upping their second-best cornerback during the offseason though, Pittsburgh’s brass replaced him with Cortez Allen and decided to roll the dice with William Gay and Curtis Brown as the number three and number four men behind the starters.
Although veteran Ike Taylor and the up-and-coming Allen provide Pittsburgh’s defense with a solid set of starters, question marks definitely surround how effective their backups such as Gay and Brown can play when they enter the game in sub-packages or are forced to play due to an injury sustained by Taylor or Allen.
Just as they have been throughout their professional careers, Gay and Brown were victimized quite often for points and big yardage during preseason play this year. If that continues, then they will be ripe for the plundering through the air during the regular season if they cannot emerge as effective sub-package options for the Steelers.
Although Gay’s limitations and inconsistent play have been well documented throughout his career, he nevertheless has an understanding of Pittsburgh’s complex defense. Gay also forced nine takeaways during the last two years, and that is something which Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks have been unable to do on a consistent basis recently. Turnovers aside, Gay (5’10” 183 lbs.) will be and has always been a liability against bigger and stronger receivers on the outside or in the slot.
While Gay’s penchant for being picked on due to his size and his inability to man-cover well, Curtis Brown will be mercilessly abused if he has to step on the field this fall if his play during the stretch run last year and during the preseason are any indications. Brown was absolutely eaten alive against San Diego in Week 14 of last year when he was pressed into duty because of injuries. The second-year cornerback played so terribly that he was actually benched in favor of Josh Victorian midway through the game.
I am sure that Pittsburgh’s opponents know the type and quality of depth behind Taylor and Allen, and they probably know that it is in their best interests to exploit other areas of the field. Taking the Steelers out of their “base defense” by spreading them out with three and four receivers or doing whatever is necessary to get Gay and Brown on the field should be a common goal for opposing offenses this fall.
Putting the third and fourth cornerbacks means that other players have to leave the field, and Pittsburgh’s secondary will be exposed. What occurs at cornerback in sub-packages will be something that I will be keeping my eye on this fall, and I simply hope that the Steelers are ready for opponents to attack them in that particular area.
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