It took most of the season, but cornerback Brandon Boykin has finally been seeing the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the last three games, playing in the slot as the third cornerback. Not that they bring him in right away during games, even though by the third or fourth drive he ends up being a mainstay.
And wouldn’t you know it, he has been playing well, too. He was able to make a handful of plays in his time on the field against the Broncos—even some against the run, which is supposedly the reason that the coaching staff has hesitated to play him.
Boykin entered the game late in the first quarter after a 61-yard touchdown on the previous drive. The Broncos managed to score on that drive, too, which they did on four consecutive drives, but late in the drive, you have to appreciate the cornerback’s recognition and speed to force Brock Osweiler to the edge and pressuring him to throw a poor pass.
Late in the half, on a second and eight play as the offense was driving, Boykin dropped into a zone coverage with two receiving options. When Emmanuel Sanders received the pass, he did well to break quickly and make a solid tackle, holding him short of the first down. Of course, the 14-yard run on third and one made his effort moot.
Early in the third quarter, he showed toughness against the run, battling well on the edge with Sanders trying to block him as the run stretched out to the perimeter. Boykin positioned himself to angle the back out of bounds for no gain, though a holding call negated the run altogether.
On the first play of the Broncos’ next drive, he nearly got his second interception in the last three games. Lined up in the slot over Sanders, he passed the receiver on after seeing Osweiler toss the screen. Boykin broke on the ball, but there was a battle for possession in the air that nobody won, so it merely went down as a pass defensed, but it shows a lot more than that.
Toward the end of the quarter, while the broadcast was too busy analyzing the punt return for a touchdown that never should have taken place to begin with after the football was clearly downed by a Steelers player prior to the return, Boykin made another tackle against the run.
On first down, he immediately saw that it was a running play and beat the wide receiver inside. As the outside linebacker got blocked out of making the tackle, Boykin was able to come in to wrap him up for a two-yard loss.
The idea that Boykin is too small to play the run in this defense is nonsense when you see the other cornerbacks on this team. Boykin is a small corner, but he knows how to tackle players that are bigger and taller than he is, which he has shown since the preseason. He should be playing in the slot from the first snap of the game.