Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Seattle Seahawks on the road and while CenturyLink Field is certainly a tough place to play in against the Legion of Boom defense, that unit enters the game with several questions surrounding their secondary.
While it’s near certain that Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will spend most of his Sunday trying to contain Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, the bigger matchup in that game could come down to whichever cornerback attempts to line up against second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who is coming off of a great performance in Week 10 against the Cleveland Browns.
During his recent press conference, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll admitted that cornerback Cary Williams was benched during their game against the San Francisco 49ers in favor of DeShawn Shead, a former undrafted free agent.
“He did all right, he played solid,” said Carroll of Shead’s play in that game. “They caught a couple balls on him. He’s a real good football player. I always say that to you because he’s such a good all-around player. He’s a runner, a hitter, a playmaker—he knocked the ball out on the kickoff return—he’s our best guy at forcing fumbles in practice. He’s the most productive, consistent guy at that. If he’s on the field more, he’ll knock some more balls out, that’s just how he plays, and sure enough, he had a great clean strip on the ball that rolled out of bounds on us. So we’ll see how that goes.”
While Shead has played extensively so far this season and has yet to give up a touchdown in coverage on the 33 times he’s been targeted this year, he has allowed 72.7% of the passes thrown his way to be completed. If he starts over Williams on Sunday, the Seahawks would be foolish to let him cover Brown in that game. In other words, he might very well be tasked with the job of covering Bryant most of the game.
While the Seahawks have given up 34 passing explosive plays of 20 yards or more so far this season, the average gain on those plays has only been 26.71 yards and that’s tops in the league entering Week 12 and only twice this season have they allowed double explosive plays of 40 yards or more.
While the Seahawks pass defense has done a reasonably good job at defending against the deep pass so far this season, they haven’t taken the football away via the air as much as you would expect them to based on their reputation. In fact, heading into Week 12 they’ve only registered four interceptions and all four belong to safeties Earl Thomas (3) and Kam Chancellor (1). Additionally, they only have one interception in their last four games.
In addition to Sherman, Shead and Williams, there’s a decent chance that Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane might see some playing time Sunday for the first time this season. Lane, if you remember, suffered a broken arm and a torn ACL on an interception return in Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots. He’s been on the Seahawks Reserve/PUP list all season, but Carroll said earlier this week that he expects the cornerback to be back on their 53-man roster by this weekend.
“Jeremy’s coming back this week,” Carroll said. “He’ll be back up this week. We’ll see how far he can take it. We’re going to get him on the roster, we’re excited to get him back. I told him that this afternoon, this is his week to go for it.”
If Lane does suit up and play Sunday against the Steelers, one would think that it will be in a limited role.