The Pittsburgh Steelers are being forced to call upon the legion of smurfs to help fill the void left by the injury to cornerback Ike Taylor, who, along with Cortez Allen, was the only corner over six feet tall that could match up with some of the taller receivers in the league.
When he was injured two weeks ago, the Steelers brought in Antwon Blake in the nickel package to play on the outside, moving William Gay to the slot. Head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that that would not necessarily dictate the plan going forward.
The plan last week was to leave Gay on the outside and to play free agent signee Brice McCain in the slot. As would be expected, he was met with mixed success in his first game on the field for the Steelers on defense.
Some of that success for him came early in the second quarter when he helped successfully defend wide receiver Louis Murphy out of the slot on a third and long situation. The Steelers were able to put pressure on Mike Glennon to rush the throw, but McCain was in position against Murphy to help force the incompletion.
Midway through the third quarter, McCain played the run on a second and 10 play, though he was lined up across from the receiver. You could tell that he was eying the backfield before the snap. After the snap, he rushed in and tackled running back Doug Martin from behind after a short gain.
Unfortunately for McCain, he was beaten by rookie Mike Evans on the next play, who ran 10 yards downfield before curling out to the first-down marker at the right sideline. That provided the necessary separation to make the catch, and McCain followed it up by being unable to make the tackle afterward.
McCain did rush the quarterback one time during the game, but the throw came too quickly for him to have any impact on the play. Including McCain, the Steelers rushed five, using a wide edge rush to open a gap between right guard and right tackle. McCain got his hands up, but the throw cleared him easily.
McCain was probably feeling a bit like a hero on fourth and goal with 1:49 to play when he was on one-on-one coverage against Vincent Jackson, but that’s more because the pass was incomplete than because he did an excellent job defensively.
Jackson was able to beat the 5’9” receiver off the snap, instantly gaining separation for a deep ball, but Glennon’s pass was out of range in the end zone. There’s actually very little McCain could have done if the throw were more accurate.
Of course, as it was, the Buccaneers got another possession and won the game anyway, so in the end it wouldn’t have mattered how well he played this one particular play.