If you’re been following the site, you’ve surely witnessed – perhaps taken part in – the debate swelling over the likes of Markus Wheaton, and Dri Archer, and Jarvis Jones. Not since Bruce Arians has such a wrath occurred like the Jones’ discussion.
But there’s one Pittsburgh Steeler who may be more critical than any of the aforementioned and has generated considerably less discussion. It’s Cortez Allen and he’s vital to the Steelers’ success in 2015.
His career arc: potential, above average play, new contract, then collapse. Injuries have hindered him physically but his errors have been as much technique – and perhaps confidence-related – than anything else.
But that’s not the point. Ideally, Allen bounces back and plays to the potential he’s always shown moments of. The Steelers are entrusting him to be the starting left cornerback in its base packages.
He, nor the team, can afford another benching. Should he falter, there will be a severe residual effect that will have the largest impact. Should Allen get replaced altogether, as what happened in 2014, the Steelers will likely be forced to play Antwon Blake and Senquez Golson in subpackages.
Though Blake may get some work in the slot, he was strictly a left cornerback in 2014 meaning Golson moves to the slot or outside. The former will place a lot of pressure on the rookie, and it’s tough to argue a veteran like William Gay wouldn’t be better suited there. The latter produces two sub 5’10 cornerbacks on the outside and obvious matchup problems.
Roughly 50% of the team’s personnel next year will be nickel. It’s a number worth stressing. And if Allen sidelined, worth stressing over.
Brice McCain, physically, was average. On his best day. Comb through the tape and you’ll see him get burned more than what any box score would suggest. But he was a veteran, he was versatile, and won from the neck up. No matter how good Golson winds up being, those are traits that are largely learned over time, not granted right away. It’s asking a lot and won’t remedy a passing defense that ranked near the bottom of the league last season.
This domino effect would perhaps be the most crucial blow. The need to find a new, competent starter along with how imperative it is to have depth at the position that begs for it the most. Teams must be at least four deep at corner to defend multiple receiver sets and protect themselves against injury.
For his own self-preservation – it’s not inconceivable another poor season could lead to his release – and the general good of the team, all eyes will be on Allen come September.