Steelers So Far Getting Away With Playing Nickel Corners Outside

The Pittsburgh Steelers officially unveiled the Munchkin Bunch of cornerbacks in earnest earlier this week in a victory over the rival Baltimore Ravens, in which each of the team’s three corners on the field stood at 5’10 or shorter.

How did this come to be, when the Steelers’ two starting cornerbacks at the beginning of the year were both taller than six foot? Of course, Ike Taylor suffered a broken forearm on a friendly fire hit.

Though he has been practicing in a limited capacity, there is no timetable for his return. This is pure speculation, but perhaps he has a chance to get back into the fray after the bye week.

The other starting cornerback, Cortez Allen, has only bruised his ego, and has already been demoted twice. Brice McCain overtook him as the nickel back to become the starter, moving to the slot in sub-packages, a few games ago. But in the last game, it was Antwon Blake playing outside in the nickel, with Allen only seeing time on special teams.

It may have been a necessary move to make, if the fourth-year cornerback has some demons to wrestle in his head that are causing him to struggle on the field. Even when he has been in position, it has been difficult for him to take the next step and actually make a play, ever since recording interceptions in back-to-back games earlier this year.

But it’s asking a bit much for McCain to play outside. In fact, both of the Steelers’ starting cornerbacks right now are primarily slot corners, though William Gay has been the team’s best corner no matter where he lines up for the past season and a half. And both of them happen to have the team’s only defensive touchdowns on pick sixes.

But I think we saw in the last game that McCain can have a hard time on the outside, and prefers to play inside. He’s not accustomed, for example, to running stride for stride with Torrey Smith on a 35-yard end zone route, for example.

It leaves me to wonder if the Steelers shouldn’t at least toy with the idea of starting Blake opposite Gay, so that when McCain comes into the game, he can concentrate solely on his interior responsibilities, where he appears to be more comfortable.

In contrast, despite being 5’9”, Blake is most comfortable on the outside, and he played a good game against the Ravens overall, including getting his hand on a deep ball in the end zone and breaking up another pass late in the game on a big hit to separate man from ball. It may be an option worth considering until the coaching staff is comfortable with putting Allen back out there on the field on regular basis.

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