Even though Cortez Allen was on the field for the first snap of the game for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Houston Texans, it was Brice McCain who was in actuality the ‘starter’ on Monday night.
It had been talked about throughout the week, but the 5’9” free agent signing played every snap against the Texans—sans one at the goal line—while Allen was taken off the field when the Steelers went to their base defense, which admittedly wasn’t very often.
Allen still played about two thirds of the team’s defensive snaps, with Cam Thomas and Daniel McCullers combining for less than 30 snaps, some of which came in the nickel or in a goal line situation.
Despite the fact that Allen still managed to log plenty of playing time in the last game, he was indeed demoted, and based on McCain’s performance, I don’t see that there is any urgent need to get the taller corner back in the starting lineup.
Allen himself didn’t play particularly well in his playing time, allowing three of five catches for 79 yards, including a 32-yarder. McCain, meanwhile, allowed two receptions for 24 yards, despite spending his time covering Andre Johnson.
Even though starting the 5’9” McCain opposite the 5’10” William Gay gives the Steelers a Smurf-like secondary, I don’t yet see why the Steelers shouldn’t continue to operate with these two as the starters for the time being.
They can always just go to the nickel to get Allen on the field, which they will likely have to frequently given their next two opponents. If after that time it seems that Allen has been able to rebound, then the conversation about his starting job could be had.
The Steelers have yet to fully see what they believed they might have in Allen when they let a valued free agent walk in part so that he could enter the starting lineup. He’s been demoted twice in the past two seasons, spending most of the 2013 season as the nickel corner.
The hope is, of course, that he plays his way back into the starting lineup, but he is technically the fourth cornerback right now, given that Ike Taylor is only out with an injury—though whether he is able to play again this season is in question.
Both Taylor and Gay had been demoted from starting roles in the past, only to regain them, so Allen does have a couple of precedents in the locker room with them. And the front office has a vested interest in getting him turned around after signing him to a long-term deal.
But in the immediate future, it’s not clear to me that a one-game ‘demotion’ in which he played over 40 snaps will have done much good. McCain seems to give the Steelers a better chance to win for the time being.