The Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly looking like they will have to get by with just four cornerbacks this week, which excludes both of their top two options coming into this season.
A week ago, of course, cornerback Cortez Allen was placed on injured reserve in order to make room on the roster for outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was just activated from the short-term injured reserve list.
Allen took over the starting job last season, but injuries and struggles on the field saw him demoted to sub-package duty for the majority of the year. Even though he was rewarded with a new contract extension the day before the season started, 2014 has been much the same.
In fact, it got even worse, as Allen was demoted twice, first to sub-package work, and then to the bench as he continually struggled. Finally, he injured his thumb in practice. If the Steelers believed he could still contribute later this season, it’s not likely they would not have placed him on injured reserve.
Not with Ike Taylor also both struggling and ailing. The veteran has had a rough two games back since missing the majority of the season with a broken forearm. Since returning, he has been targeted often and beaten often, and he suffered multiple injuries in the last game that have him listed as doubtful for the team’s next contest.
So what exactly changes? In reality, not much. Over the course of most of the second half of the season thus far, it has been William Gay and Brice McCain serving as the two starting cornerbacks. That will likely be the case once again on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, although it would help quite a bit if that excludes Julio Jones.
Antwon Blake, in his second year with the team, has logged his share of snaps since the midpoint of the season, averaging around 20 or so snaps per game. He had a nice break up of a deep ball intended for A.J. Green in the last game after Taylor had been taken out of the lineup with his injuries.
Can they get by with this secondary the way it is, particularly against one of the better passing offenses in the league on their home turf? This season, it’s been up to the offense to answer that question, as the defense ranks near the top in touchdown passes allowed.
When the Steelers have played well, of course, their offense has produced, and they have been able to get some type of consistent pressure to keep the opposing quarterback uncomfortable. The Falcons’ rookie left tackle has struggled in pass protection this season, which could be something to exploit.
Either way, it certainly seems as though the defense will have to continue to figure out a way to scrape by with the diminutive cornerbacks at their disposal, with the top end of the depth chart having failed them.