The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has made strides within the front seven this season, and Mike Mitchell’s significant progress on the back end has certainly helped, but they have lacked stability at the cornerback position thus far.
The closest thing to consistency from that position on the team would be the long-time veteran William Gay, who features as the team’s top cornerback, but whom plays in the slot when they play in sub-packages, which is to say, frequently.
Gay put together a quietly solid game against the Cardinals, although I would contend that Keith Butler sent him on the blitz a few too many times getting just one notable pressure on 11 blitzes against a passing play.
Gay was defending Larry Fitzgerald on the Cardinals’ last play of their opening drive, holding him to an incompletion. After cheating up to pretend to rush, he dropped back into coverage, jammed the receiver, and then followed his release, which proved to be out of range.
The veteran also did well to keep the ball in front of him and tackle the catch, which is something that Butler pointed out as a key factor in their success after the game. As an example, late in the first, Gay did a good job of breaking on a corner route from Fitzgerald immediately as he started working to the sideline, preventing any yards after catch on an eight-yard grab that set up third and two.
Gay came on one of his nearly dozen blitzes early in the second quarter, hesitating in order to force the lineman to occupy the outside linebacker. That left open a wide lane for the blitzing defensive back, who was able to make contact with the quarterback in spite of a completion. An offensive penalty for a chop block negated the gain.
Gay came up big at the end of the drive, breaking on a Fitzgerald target as he sat down at the sticks on third and five. The defender was able to play over his back to break up the pass, though he may have gotten there a tick early without penalty.
Arizona was threatening at the 13-yard line at the end of the first half when Gay blitzed again on third and nine. Once again, he got a clear lane that forced a quick throw that was very nearly caught for the score if not for a late play on the ball by the defender in the back of the end zone.
Toward the end of the game, with the Cardinals once again threatening, this time to take the lead, Gay blitzed yet again, this time on what proved to be a running play. The veteran was quick to seize on to the running back at a tight angle and bring him down for a two-yard loss.
Gay has yet to do anything spectacular this season, and he has given up his fair share of receptions—22 on 33 targets—but he has yet to give up a score, and has recorded a couple of key pass defenses while generally keeping everything in front of him. If they could just get that out of all of their cornerbacks, this defense would be even better.