Rather than bench Antwon Blake, which is seemingly what many fans have been seeking over the past few weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers ended up promoting him into the starting lineup over Cortez Allen prior to the season opener.
Not only that, but, over the course of the first two weeks, they have been giving him opportunities to expand his versatility. The timing, surely, is odd, given his previous body of work, but learning on the fly is certainly one way of going about it.
During his first full season, including offseason, with the Steelers in 2014, Blake worked exclusively as the left outside cornerback, even though he was the nickel back, which is typically a player that enters the game and covers the slot.
During the season opener, when the Steelers went to the nickel, they allowed Blake to man the slot position in order to put him up against Julian Edelman, though, as we broke down for you after that game, the end result of that experiment was not a favorable one. But not everybody is a Julian Edelman.
On this past Sunday, the Steelers moved Blake over to the right outside cornerback position, where he remained for the duration of the game. When the Steelers moved to the nickel, the opposite starter, William Gay, having already moved from the right side to the left, switched over to the slot.
Blake found more success against the 49ers than he did in New England during the season opener, recording 10 tackles, including one for a loss against the run, as well as a pass defensed. Seven tackles came in coverage, with three against the run, one being a quarterback scramble.
Five of those seven passing plays on which he made the tackle went for at least nine yards, though none more than 14. Five also went for first downs, including four that came on either third or fourth down.
To be sure, he was not without his demerits. Generally, a cornerback with a high tackle count is a sign of having a sub-par game, but he only gave up six receptions, according to Pro Football Focus, for 54 yards, including five yards after the catch, with no scores against him.
What is difficult to make sense of is why the Steelers did not play Blake on the right side and in the slot throughout the offseason if they were going to be moving him around right from the start of the regular season, as it did nothing to promote his development as a versatile defensive back.
Back in May, in fact, Blake talked about his intention, and the defense’s intention, to play him all around the field. He was moving between sides during OTAs, but in training camp, and during the preseason, he was back to his usual staple as the left outside cornerback in all situations.
Perhaps they began moving him around once they got back to their own facilities, but it’s not like they sprung a surprise on defenses by doing so, considering that he already spoke about it in the offseason. Not giving him more reps at different spots didn’t do him, or the defense, any favors.