When William Gay left the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012 to play for the Arizona Cardinals, he did so as a figure less than beloved in the city, having built up a reputations not entirely deserved for being a poor player, a reputation that stemmed largely from his first stint as a starter in 2009, replacing Bryant McFadden, who joined the Cardinals himself in free agency that year.
Like McFadden, Gay found himself back in Pittsburgh just a year later. In McFadden’s case, the Steelers traded a fifth-round draft pick in order to acquire him—and a sixth-round draft pick that turned into Antonio Brown—the following draft. For Gay, he was released after the first of a two-year contract, and was quickly signed back by the Steelers.
In his first two seasons back, he found himself back in the starting lineup due to injuries and ineffectiveness by midseason. In that span, he recorded two forced fumbles and intercepted four passes, all of which he returned for touchdowns.
Suddenly he became a player that the team must re-sign, the team’s best cornerback. 2015 is only the second time in his career in Pittsburgh that he is in the starting lineup by design, rather than as a result of injury.
While he does not have the statistics to support it, however, he is still having a very good season for the Steelers. He does not have any forced fumbles, no interceptions. He only has three passes defensed, one of which occurred in the last game, after recording 12 a year ago.
Why are his numbers so down this year? Largely, it’s because teams are simply not throwing the ball in his direction as much as they used to. Once upon a time he was among the most frequently targeted cornerbacks in the league. Not so anymore.
Of course, that is not entirely due to his emergence as a shutdown corner, or any such notion. The fact that he has been consistently playing on the same field as Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell, neither of whom had ever started a game in their careers before this year, certainly helps lower his target numbers.
Both Blake and Cockrell have seen a heavy number of targets this season, with some sources giving Blake the nod as the most frequently targeted player in coverage this season, which would come as no surprise to those who follow the team and are a member of the fourth-year player’s fan club.
Still, when Gay has been targeted this year, it’s not as though he has been giving up significant chunks of yardage on a regular basis. His coverage has been solid, but more than that, he has been a reliable presence in all facets of the defense, including the run.
Gay’s name may be called less on a per snap basis than at any time of his career, but don’t let the numbers throw you off. The drop off in numbers is only indicative of the fact that opposing offenses have chosen to look elsewhere against this defense.