While there is much to be said about who ended up seeing playing time on the defensive side of the ball last night for the Pittsburgh Steelers, perhaps no matter of personnel will be discussed more than one player in particular that did not see the field, in spite of the fact that he was active for the game.
That player in question would be Brandon Boykin, a fourth-year cornerback for whom the Steelers traded a fifth-round pick to acquire in the early stages of training camp from the Eagles, a pick that can be raised to a fourth-rounder is a playing time escalator is met.
Based on opening night, there probably won’t be much concern about losing a fourth-round pick, given that Boykin played zero percent of the team’s defensive snaps on the night.
The Steelers had four cornerbacks active, and nine defensive backs in total. Boykin and special teams ace Ross Ventrone are the only two from that group that did not see playing time. In fact, four safeties received playing time during the game, for non-injury-related reasons it is worth pointing out, while only the top three cornerbacks on the depth chart were given playing time on defense.
It’s not as though there was a compelling reason to keep the top three players on the field at Boykin’s expense. Both Antwon Blake—making his first career start in a base look—and Cortez Allen—evidently demoted to the role of nickel back prior to the start of the regular season—had their struggles throughout the night.
For his part, Allen was flagged for two penalties in the secondary, one for pass interference, which was regarded as questionable, and another for holding. Both he and Blake were accountable for some of the shoddy tackling on the night, with Blake in particularly missing multiple tackles or tackle opportunities.
It was certainly a disappointing showing for both players, who several times simply through a lack of physical tackling enabled receivers, some smaller than them, to record yards after the catch that either created short-yardage opportunities on third down or outright converted third downs.
Given the vast amount of rotation at nearly every other defensive position throughout the night, I find myself a bit incredulous as to how the play of Allen and Blake did not warrant an occasional substitution from Boykin, who is a more accomplished cornerback than both.
The likely explanation is that the coaching staff was not yet comfortable with his level of understanding of the defense, given that he was only acquired about a month or so ago, and thus does not have the same level of trust afforded to Allen and Blake, both of whom are in at least their third season with the team.
It would be hard to imagine, upon reviewing the tape from last night, that the coaching staff does not elect to give Boykin playing time soon, perhaps during the home opener a week from Sunday. Otherwise there would seem to have been little reason to make the trade.