Lake Effect Obvious In Pittsburgh

The Steelers run defense has had its problems this season, especially in the first four games, but you can\’t help but notice how good the pass defense has been thus far. Entering the Sunday night divisional game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers are ranked first in passing yards allowed per game (171.6) and passing yards allowed per play (5.22). They also broke out a heavy press man coverage this past week against the New England Patriots and held the great Tom Brady to just 198 yards passing, 69 of which came on the Patriots last scoring drive. While they have allowed 10 touchdown passes this season, only 7 have been allowed since the week 1 loss to the Ravens.

While defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau certainly deserves quite a bit of the credit for the scheme shift and play, not getting enough perhaps is new secondary coach and former Steeler great, Carnell Lake. Lake seems to have single handily helped Keenan Lewis turn the proverbial corner and the contributions that rookie Cortez Allen has already made the last few games is pretty amazing. While Lewis is far from being classed a shut-down corner, the progress is very visible and so is his confidence.

According to the coverage stats that I keep weekly, Lewis has been targeted 25 times and has allowed 15 catches for 162 yards. He has given up 2 of the 10 touchdowns on the season however. Really the only black marks he has in my opinion. One of the two can even be debated that he did not get the safety help he was expecting. His tackling after the catch has been excellent as I have him down for allowing just 13 yards after the catch. I should note that I do not charge a defensive back for a running back screens behind the line of scrimmage. Looking at the same stats that Pro Football Focus keeps, mine are pretty close as they have him allowing 18 of 28 for 175 yards and the 2 touchdowns. Even using those it equates to just a 6.25 yards per attempt.

Allen, the Steelers 4th round draft pick this past April, was thrown into the deep end of the pool this past week against the Patriots as he was often saddled with covering tight end Rob Gronkowski in the dime sub-package. Allen gave up 4 catches on the day for 44 yards in total, but none of them were back breakers. Gronkowski, as most remember, scored 3 touchdowns in the meeting last year. The big thing about Allen is that he is getting on the field and getting great experience. He looks pretty sound doing it as well. Normally rookie Steeler corners do not get to contribute that much, but it seems like Allen will be able to from here on out. What a welcomed sight.

Back to Lewis now as he spoke highly of Lake today during interviews and Jim Wexell documented the conversation in his latest story posted this afternoon. In short Lewis credits Lake with his turn around and notes specifically the tips he has received from Lake in regards to how to improve his man coverage and bump skills. Lewis goes on to say that Lake is probably the best coach he has had in his entire life. That is certainly the type of words you want to hear from a kid that looked like he was not going to live up to his draft potential. To be honest, it was looking like Lewis was headed for the dreaded bust category. That has all changed now based on his play this year and Lake is the only new denominator.

Lewis and Allen are not the only beneficiaries of the Lake effect as both Ike Taylor and William Gay are also really playing well. Taylor has always been fairly consistent, but he is currently on course to make his first Pro Bowl this season and Gay is no longer the weekly whipping boy of Steeler Nation. LeBeau was asked today about the influence that Lake has had on Gay and Lewis this year and LeBeau said, “Well our defensive backs have always been well coached, Coach (Ray) Horton is a great coach. The reason that we wanted to get Carnell, if we could get him, is because I had personal experience with him as a player. I knew his character; I knew what kind of player he was. I knew that he was going to be an aggressive coach and I think he has done a great job. He really has done a great job in the area of not just the guys you mentioned, but Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown and our young DBs. He\’s bringing them along and he\’s doing a great job and so are they. LeBeau was asked more specifically how Lewis and Gay were getting better and LeBeau quickly fired back, “Well you can look at our pass numbers, somebody is doing something right back there.”

It should come as no surprise that Lake works well with young players and indeed is a great teacher and mentor. I documented the success he had in his one season at UCLA right before the Steelers hired him this past offseason. Young players just seem to relate to him well. He is a legend of the game and not too far removed from it either. That certainly has to help.

The Steelers have a really good chance at making back to the Super Bowl this season as we sit at the half way point and the chance also remains strong that it could be a rematch against the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers picked apart the zone coverage secondary as we well remember. If the Steelers do indeed get the rematch they so desire, Rodgers will likely see man coverage this time around. There is also another thing he or any other quarterback the Steelers face the rest season in addition to man coverage and that indeed is the Lake effect.

  • Eye-In-The-Sky

    Having Lewis and Gay playing at such a high level brings a new dimension to the steelers whole defense.

    You noted how we nearly wrote Lewis off as a bust ( I didn’t, but…) and was ready to throw Gay off the bus, before this year. It’s a good thing its coaches making those decisions and not fans. As fans we tend to form very strong opinions from a play, a game, a few games. In Lewis’ case, we hadn’t seen him…for whatever reason. In his first 2 years, had a total of less than 20 snaps. This year, he’s had 30 or 40 a game since week 2. And yeah, we have a different opinion. Gay got to be known for being in the wrong highlights. But he’s a corner…that’s an occupational hazard. So much so, we couldn’t appreciate the tough play in the slot against the run, blitz, etc. Staying out the highlights helps, but yeah we have a different opinion.

    So Steeler Nation, what have we learned here? Being up or down on a player based on their performances is legit. They’re pros and this is about “what have you done for me last week”, and I’m cool with that. But when it comes to what a player is capable off over the long term, it’s so much more than those 16 to 20 Sundays. And sometimes, as fans, we tend to miss the big picture. Coaches have a much different POV.

  • John B

    really a nice article on Lake. I was waitin for someone to start praising him but i guess we had to wait to the Patriots game to see the real test. Not only have they been playing closer, i’ve noticed that Gay has gotten better at his tackles, and Lewis has good speed. Bryant who?

  • stop the run and get some pick six, Flacco is a choker

  • Matthew Marczi

    I disagree that Lake was the only new denominator in the difference between Keenan Lewis this year and last year. To be quite honest, the main difference between him this year and last year is that this year, he was given a chance. Last year, he damned himself not with his play at his position so much as some bone-headed special teams penalties, and punching a sign in the preseason. That is not to say that Lake has not contributed to making him a better player, but it’s hard to call a player a bust when he is never given a chance to get on the field. I felt all of last year that all he needed to be given was a chance to play, and he would show that he could do it.

  • SteelersDepot

    Not going to put a player out on the field that does not earn it on the practice field first.

  • CoverCorner

    I’m not saying getting the snaps at this point in his career is a bad thing for Lewis. Its a lot to the transition to NFL corner and the resposibilities that come with that. Devloping the professionalism and maturity before taking the field can be a good thing for long term development. He’s in a better position to benefit from lesson learned on the field. I mean look at Devin McCurty in NE. looked decent as a rookie, but seems to have hit a mental wall.

    The best thing for Lewis and the others is not only Lake, but the head coach an ex-corner, the DC a HOF corner, mentors, like Woodson and Blount, teamates, like Ike and Troy, playing behind this front 7….however long it took for Lewis to get this opportunity, I think it was well worth the wait. And he gets to play for a ring.

    Being a Steeler DB is worth a little, hazing.

  • Dgh57

    This is GREAT news about our DBs!! At the start of the season I had them as the weakest part of the team. Now after the Patriots game and the above one of the strongest!! Just wish we had that a year ago or it would be the Steelers defending their Title as Champions instead of the Packers!!!

    The O-Line showed improvement also and I had them as the 2nd weakest link of the team at the start of the year! Now if we could put some consistency into the equation I see no reason why the Steelers can’t be playing for a 7th Championship this year!!!

    Third thing that needs to improve is that ugly TURNOVER RATIO!! I CAN’T think of a better time to start turning that around then this Sunday vs the hated RAVENS!!!!!

    GO STEELERS!!!!!!

  • Pete

    Excellent article on how Lake has improved the play of the secondary. I really was not sold until the New England game. There were numerous plays where Brady had plenty of time but could find nobody to throw to. Last season we would never have seen that situation.

    What I wonder now is how Lake has affected McFadden. Has he improved McFadden’s play? It seems almost incomprehensible that Gay is now considered the no.2 corner in the secondary. Last couple of seasons fans wanted to run him out of town. Has McFadden truly dropped lower on the depth chart than Cortez Allen? If Lake is truly responsible for the resurgence of the Steelers secondary, you would think it would have benefited McFadden as well.

  • Dave

    We still have Curtis Brown waiting in the wings too – looking forward to him taking a big step forward next year, like Keenan Lewis has done.

  • Eye-In-The-Sky

    Hazing, I like that…

    When you think about it, it is the perfect breeding ground for a young corner in the NFL today and offers the biggest stage. Take money out of the equation, and there is not a better situation for a corner in the NFL. Hands down.

    Its a coveted spot, lots of talent on the depth chart, hell you gotta practice against Young Money. The hazing is necessary to get you ready for what its gonna take to stay there. I like what those 3 ex-corners have done with this kid.
    I think they’re raisin’ him rigth. Keenan Lewis will be a man in this league.