There has been no single player on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster taking more of a beating for his performance during the 2015 season than fourth-year cornerback Antwon Blake, who moved into the starting lineup beginning with the season opener after serving as the nickel back up to that point.
I certainly will not be the one to claim that much of it was well-deserved and self-inflicted. Blake has put the spotlight on himself more than a few times this season for what I can only imagine is a team-leading number of missed tackles, a trend that continued last night, as well as penalties that cross over from defense to special teams.
But he authored the Steelers’ biggest defensive play of the season thus far when he intercepted Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers late in the third quarter after drifting in front of a route, picking off the pass and returning it 70 yards for at the time the go-ahead touchdown.
It was the Steelers’ first touchdown of the game on a night in which the offense looked abysmal up to that point in the game, and it seemed that would be the only way for the team to be able to get into the end zone.
Even earlier in the game, the Steelers force a fumble and recovered in Chargers territory, and the offense failed to even get a field goal out of it, to provide some perspective as to how huge Blake’s touchdown felt at the time, providing a 10-7 lead to support what had been after the opening drive a very strong defensive performance.
The bottom line is that Blake made a huge, game-changing play at a time when the team needed it most, a play that helped secure a much-needed victory, even if it took two offensive touchdowns in the final 8:02 to make that happen.
But it was Blake’s play that was the catalyst, on both sides of the ball, to kick the game into gear. The Chargers scored on each of their three subsequent drives, netting two field goals and a touchdown, while the Steelers scored touchdowns on their final two possessions after a three-and-out leading into it.
That is not to say that Blake is the hero of the game, or that he even played above average. He still afflicted the game with numerous mistakes that are becoming increasingly typical of his performance, which we figure to see plenty more of, as his pick six no doubt secures his spot in the lineup for the foreseeable future.
Writing so soon after the game, it is difficult to give a full assessment of a performance, but it was obvious that Blake continued to miss tackles at a worrying rate last night. He was also flagged for holding on a punt return in the first quarter that set the offense back to the 13-yard line.
The scrappy cornerback has a number of admirable qualities that the coaching staff admires, and he had the opportunity to seize upon a poor route by a receiver and a quarterback throwing under pressure. For today, he will be celebrated for that play, but tomorrow, the concerns about his game will still be there.