If there is one thing that we can be certain about when looking back at the start of the season and speculating about this team, it’s that the Pittsburgh Steelers clearly don’t have the secondary that they thought they might have. But that tends to go without saying when you lose both of your starting cornerbacks for one reason or another.
The Steelers are 10-5 with a strong chance of finishing the year at home with a 11-5 record and finishing as the third seed in the AFC, however, securing a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2011. They’ve been able to accomplish much of this with the secondary that they have now.
But that raises the question of whether or not that secondary will be good enough for the postseason, or if it will be their downfall once they only have playoff teams to play, and in games in which it’s win or go home, when the intensity level increases.
The Steelers thought that they had their two starting cornerbacks for the year in Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, but it’s possible that neither of them play another down for the team this season. Allen, of course, has already landed on injured reserve with a hand injury, while Taylor has already missed most of the season and is battling further injuries now, unlikely to play in the season finale.
For the better part of the season now, the Steelers have relied on some veteran slot cornerbacks to play on the outside in William Gay, a longtime Pittsburgh veteran, and Brice McCain, an experienced but inexpensive free agent acquisition in the offseason.
They have supplemented that pair with Antwon Blake, the third-year speedy cornerback whom the Steelers acquired late in the preseason last year. He has seen extensive time lately as the outside cornerback in sub-packages, logging 51 snaps on Sunday and largely playing well, even if he nearly got beat deep on one occasion on an overthrown ball.
The Steelers have even managed to work in B.W. Webb, a second-year former fourth-round pick whom they acquired just before the regular season started, over the last two weeks, playing a total of four snaps on defense.
But is this a group of cornerbacks that can handle the playoff firepower of the likes of Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady? There are plenty of defensive passing metrics that readily suggest there is reason for concern.
The Steelers have given up the sixth-most yards through the air this season, as well as the fifth-most touchdown passes, giving up more than three touchdowns for every interception that they get back. Opponents are averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt against this secondary, the fifth-worst mark in the league.
They are allowing a quarterback rating of just under 100 and have surrendered 50 plays of 20 yards or more on the year, including 15 of 40 or more. As has been the case for much of the season, it seems that the Steelers’ best defense will have to be a good offense.