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Numbers Favor William Gay Resuming Role In The Slot

Do you have a moment to talk about Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay? Because I would like to take a moment to talk about Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay. While the veteran cornerback is certainly getting up there in age entering his 11th season, that doesn’t mean that it is time to replace him wholesale.

There is a certain narrative surrounding Gay—and frankly Ross Cockrell too—that really undersells the quality of their play during the 2016 season. It would almost seem as though the majority of the impression relies solely upon flashbacks to the AFC Championship game, in which virtually nobody looked good. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed four of five targets to be caught in that game for 75 yards, a touchdown, and a perfect passer rating.

But the fact of the matter is that he had a pretty good year in his 10th season, and his numbers are even better when he was able to line up in the slot. Frankly, I’ve been saving up some stats over the course of the summer knowing that I would write this article at some point.

I figured that the start of training camp, which for many is the hoped-for beginning of the end to his playing time, would be a good day to finally break them out and write up an article about his numbers from last season, which admittedly come from Pro Football Focus.

The first statistic that I would like to note is something that I mentioned a few days ago in an article talking about the Steelers’ secondary as a whole. Based on the site’s tracking, Gay was actually one of the least-targeted cornerbacks in the entire league last season, averaging a target once every 8.2 snaps in coverage. Only Patrick Peterson (at 8.5 snaps per target) and Nevin Lawson were targeted less frequently.

As mentioned in the aforementioned PFF article, Gay didn’t give up many yards, either, based on the number of snaps that he played in coverage. And his numbers were better when he was playing in the slot than while he was still on the outside.

Back in May, PFF posted a graphic comparing his numbers from the outside versus in the slot. His .87 yards allowed per snap in coverage on the outside is respectable, but his .61 yards allowed per snap in the slot is very good.

While he didn’t get targeted a lot, he did allow almost 78 percent of his targets to be completed, averaging 15.8 yards per target for a quarterback rating of 117.1 while lined up on the outside. There were a couple of outlier plays that were not entirely his fault that no doubt enter into this equation.

But while he was in the slot, he only allowed a 64.2 completion percentage, averaging 6.6 yards per reception with a quarterback rating below 85.

And he got better over time. He allowed just .50 yards per snap in coverage during the middle eight games of the season, according to one graphic. Another notes that he allowed .56 yards per coverage snap over the final five weeks of the season. So that works against the narrative that he got worse down the stretch.

Make of this what you will, but I have a feeling it’s not going to change many opinions anyway.

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