For the last two seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers have trotted out Cortez Allen with the starting lineup on opening day, only to demote him, and then bench him, as in the case of last season, as he struggled. Instead of waiting, the coaching staff evidently demoted him to the nickel role, though playing outside, prior to the 2015 season opener.
And it would be hard to argue that his play certainly merited starter snaps, drawing multiple penalties—the only Steelers defender flagged—missing multiple tackles, and, when he did make a tackle, he was dragged forward for extra yardage.
While it wasn’t all bad for Allen, enough of it was that he figures to be benched again by the second game, as it was reported that Brandon Boykin played in the nickel with the first-team defense during practice this week.
The final play of the first quarter seemed indicative of Allen’s overall night. With the Patriots facing a second and 11, Allen, in the slot over Julian Edelman, got caught on a rub route, yielding a four-yard reception, but the diminutive receiver was able to bully the 6’1” cornerback for an extra five yards.
Allen lined up in man coverage over Edelman for the ensuing third and two play, the two isolated on the left side of the formation before the receiver motioned across the field, picking up the end around. Allen pursued, and had an opportunity to make the tackle, but Edelman required just a slight cut inside to send the cornerback flying past him.
Allen did come back two plays later to make a solid tackle on a screen pass to the running back. In fact, he did have a couple of plays scattered here and there. On a short-yardage play on the Patriots’ next drive, Allen was able to slip past a second-level block attempt from a tight end in order to help bottle up the running back short of the first down.
The simple fact of the matter was, however, that there was more bad than good, and that negative aspect of the game included a pair of defensive penalties, one of which was a pass interference call in the end zone that netted 28 yards. Playing man against Edelman on a nine route, Allen seemed to have good initial position, but he slowed as he looked back for the ball, and ultimately arm-barred the receiver.
Many have questioned the merit of the call, but Allen was the clear initiator, and he maintained his grasp of Edelman’s arm for several yards, right through the delivery of the ball, as the two stills below point out.
With the Steelers down 14 and in a bad spot after giving up an interception, the defense needed to force a turnover of their own or induce a three-and-out. Instead, Allen was called for defensive holding on second down.
Two plays later, on second down and nine, Allen had an opportunity to make the tackle on Edelman on a seven-yard reception, even knocking him out of bounds to stop the clock, but he simply whiffed through an inside spin move, and the elusive receiver pushed ahead for three more yards and a first down.
The isolated plays detailed above paint the picture of a largely negative outing for Allen in the season opener, a portrayal that is accurate to the spirit of the fifth-year cornerback’s overall performance. He may not get a chance to redeem himself next week if he is truly benched.