One of the worst-kept secrets in western Pennsylvania is that few people think very highly of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary, with the cornerback position under particular scrutiny in recent years. While not from the outside pressure itself, the front office has clearly been motivated to address the position in recent years, adding a first- and a second-round draft pick there in the past two draft classes.
As a team, the Steelers finished 30th in the league in terms of passing yards allowed per game, giving up a total of 4291 offensive yards through the air. They ranked 21st in completion percentage, 18th in yards per pass attempt. While they ranked tied for sixth in interceptions, they also tied for 19th in receiving touchdowns allowed. Their 90.9 quarterback rating against was 17th in the league.
As you might be able to see by some of those numbers, the sheer number of passing yards allowed only tells part of the story. The secondary wasn’t quite as bad as that one single statistic without any qualification or context might suggest. But to deny that there was plenty of bad involved would be sheer ignorance, and that is partly why they allowed two of their cornerbacks to walk in free agency this year.
With what is left, and what has been added, the Steelers are hoping to rebuild the secondary, and the cornerback position, into a unit that is worthy of a contending Super Bowl championship-caliber team. Where they currently stand, however, Pro Football Focus believes that they have a steep hill to climb.
The site published a list yesterday that ranked the cornerback groups of all 32 teams, and the Steelers ranked 24nd on that list, just on the cusp of the bottom 25th percentile of the league, where they cite, in order, Ross Cockrell, William Gay, and Artie Burns as their top three cornerbacks.
Supplying a ‘key stat’ for each team, the Steelers’ standout statistic was the fact that, last season, they did not have a cornerback on the roster who allowed under 60 percent of the passes in his target area to be completed. They are, according to the site, one of seven teams to hold that distinction last season.
PFF goes on to say that, over the course of the past three seasons, the Steelers have only had three performances by cornerbacks to post a completion percentage under 60 percent. Gay did it once. Cortez Allen did it twice—presumably not including last season, in which he only played one game.
While the site points out that there is some talent there, citing Gay’s zero touchdowns allowed last season and Cockrell’s nine passes defensed, by their statistics, their ranking makes it clear that there is much left to be desired.
They conclude by saying that “a thin cornerback group will likely press Burns into action early in his career”, noting some of the struggles that he had in his final season at Miami. The write-up makes no mention of Senquez Golson, a 2015 second-round draft pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve.