Whether merited or not, one of the more widely discussed storyline during the 2015 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers had to do with the amount of playing time that a 5’10” cornerback acquired in a training camp trade for a fifth-round draft pick received over the course of the regular season.
Much has been made about the fact that by the end of the regular season, he had only played about a quarter of the team’s total defensive snaps, which did not give a great deal of context to what that means. One interpretation could easily be that he received about 15 to 20 snaps per game.
But the simple fact of the matter is that the Steelers never felt an overwhelmingly compelling urge to make a change in the secondary for most of the season, combined with the fact that they were not yet completely convinced of Brandon Boykin’s ability to execute what they were asking for.
But following a Week 12 offensive aerial bombardment in which the Steelers, largely due to the secondary, gave up five touchdowns on throws, head coach Mike Tomlin and the defensive coaching staff finally decided that it was time to begin searching for alternatives to what they were already doing.
That, to me, is the time during which it is most important to judge the amount of playing time that Boykin received with the Steelers. Whether or not the argument can be made that he should have been on the field for the defense sooner, the fact is that when he did finally get on the field, he played a significant amount of ball.
Including the two postseason games, for a total of seven games from Week 13 through the Divisional round, the Steelers defense was on the field for 435 plays. Boykin was on the field for 319 of those snaps, representing a figure of 73.3 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps—nearly three fourths, or roughly the amount of time that they played in their nickel defense.
That is, of course, because the Steelers inserted him as their nickel back, and all of his playing time came out of sub-package football. And it became effective virtually immediately. From the start of Week 13 to the end of the season, in fact, William Gay, the team’s starting corner who slid into the slot in sub-package, logged just 29 snaps in that role, including just four in the first game. 12 came the following week, and then 11 the week after that. Then he had just one snap in the slot in Week 16, during which Boykin was also covering the slot. For the remaining three games, it was all Boykin.
When discussing Brandon Boykin’s tenure with the Steelers, I think it’s less important to talk about the total percentage of snaps that he played than it is to focus on the workload that he received once he did play. It took him longer than most people expected to contribute, but they didn’t really leave the training wheels on once they put him out there and that led to 24 tackles, five passes defensed, an interception, and a sack in a seven-game span.