When the Indianapolis Colts offense took the field for the last time yesterday evening late in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the home team came out in their nickel defense with William Gay, Brice McCain, and Antwon Blake at cornerback.
That drive ended with an interception in the end zone by Blake, the young, inexperienced member of that group, for the first pick of his career.
Their heights? 5’10”, 5’9”, and 5’9”, respectively.
But the Munchkin Bunch may be their best option to ride until starting cornerback Ike Taylor is ready to return from his broken arm. The 13th-year veteran began practicing in some capacity last week, though that doesn’t necessarily suggest that his return is imminent.
The Steelers began this season with the 6’2” Taylor and the 6’1” Cortez Allen as their starting cornerback tandem. But despite the fact that the team was already down a starter, Allen was demoted to the nickel role last week in favor of McCain, a career slot corner who was just signed this year on a veteran minimum contract from the Houston Texans.
That meant that Allen had technically fallen to fourth on the depth chart as the sub-package cornerback with an injury at the position. After he was kept on the sideline for the final drive in favor of Blake, he was unofficially moved down a peg to fifth.
Whether not that was a one series exception remains to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine right now that Allen’s head is right to get back into the starting lineup after his dismal performances of late. And his benching might have come sooner had he not been riding the good graces of a couple of interceptions.
The fourth-year cornerback gave up two more touchdowns yesterday against the Colts, including a 28-yarder by T.Y. Hilton and then a 31-yard strike to rookie Donte Moncrief early in the fourth quarter.
That last score brought the Colts to within eight points of the Steelers’ 42-34 lead at the time, and it was likely then that the decision to bench Allen had already been made. But the Colts’ next possession started at the five-yard line and only lasted two plays, on both of which the Steelers played in their base defense.
By the time the Colts got the ball back, they were once again trailing by 17 and had less than seven minutes to play. Blake featured throughout that drive as the Steelers remained in their nickel package.
And truth be told, Indianapolis was able to catch a few passes while targeting Blake. But it’s important to keep in mind that the defense was playing conservatively, with Blake playing 10 and 15 yards off the ball.
And most importantly, he finished off the drive by intercepting the ball, playing the football the way Allen showed that he cannot in whatever current state of mind is preventing him from contributing effectively.
Blake may be short, but he’s got speed to burn, he can be aggressive, and he can play the ball. He should be the sub-package cornerback for now. Maybe a true benching—and deactivation—will do Allen some good. Maybe even give B.W. Webb a couple of snaps on defense. The Steelers are scrambling on defense and scraping for victories, and can’t afford to have Allen work through his issues on the job.