A Quick Look At The Tape On Cortez Allen: The Steelers Next Nickel Cornerback?

By Cian Fahey

William Gay is officially no longer a Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback, there is a gulf that needs filling in the team\’s secondary. Gay may not have been a fan-favorite in Pittsburgh, but he did have an impressive season last year while playing a versatile role.

Gay started outside in the team\’s base defense, but moved to the slot in nickel packages as Keenan Lewis moved outside. Lewis should step into Gay\’s starting role outside, but the nickel corner position will now need to be filled by one of the team\’s rookies from last season.

Despite the fact that Curtis Brown was expected to contribute more early on, and was drafted higher, it was a development prospect from Citadel drafted in the fourth round who added a spark to the Steelers\’ secondary last year as the dime back.

Cortez Allen came out of college as a young physical corner in the mold of an Ike Taylor or Keenan Lewis but was expected to take time to adjust to being a professional. By no means has he established himself just yet, but his rookie season was full of promise which should excite the Steelers fans ahead of his second season.

Ahead of his second season, let\’s take a quick look back at the tape on Allen from last season. More specifically, lets look at the two biggest games Allen played in as a rookie:

Week 8 v. New England Patriots:

Rob Gronkowski\’s first target went straight out of bounds without an opportunity for him to catch the ball, nonetheless, Tom Brady had nowhere to throw the ball because of the excellent coverage of Allen.

Brady came back to Gronkowski only a few plays later as Gronkowski ran an eight yard out route. Gronkowski was open, but Allen was in the area and Brady overthrew his tight end.

In the third quarter, Gronkowski got his first reception. With 10 yards needed for a first down, Allen aggressively stuck to the chest of the tight end and never let him reach the sticks. Gronkwoski caught the ball and was knocked sideways by Allen to force the Patriots to punt.

While Allen wasn\’t in coverage on Gronkowski, he had his longest reception of the game, to that point, with a 19-yard sprint down the sideline.

In the fourth quarter, Gronkowski\’s first reception came when the Patriots lined up in a bunch formation to the left. The Steelers were in man coverage which allowed Gronkowski to get open in the flat. As soon as he caught the ball Allen had caught up to him however and dragged him to the ground after a 10 yard gain. Gronkowski was able to gain forward momentum with his sheer bulk, but he wasn\’t escaping Allen in coverage down the field.

Allen was giving Gronkowski the quick out. He played inside technique when Brady looked his way in the fourth quarter giving up 10 yards for a first down once again. Considering how much of a gamebreaker Gronkowski is, that is not a bad decision.

Gronkowski had an eight yard reception short of the endzone when matched up with Ryan Mundy.

The Patriots tight end, and the focal point of their offense, had seven receptions for 94 yards and no touchdowns. While Allen sometimes had safety help over the top, for the most part he was in single coverage with the tight end playing aggressive press coverage. When Allen was covering him, he had 28 yards and two first downs on three receptions.

Over 90 yards is impressive for most tight ends, but when you can hold Gronkowski to that little impact without double covering him, then that is a major reason why the Steelers were able to overcome the Patriots this past year.

Week 9 v. Baltimore Ravens:

In the first quarter, Allen showed his ability to play a vital part of the nickel cornerback\’s role in the Steelers\’ scheme. Coming from Joe Flacco\’s blindside, Allen burst inside Vonta Leach, as Taylor took the edge, to pressure Flacco. Allen didn\’t get the sack, but he forced Flacco into an excellent throw off of his back foot down the field.

Much like the Patriots game, Allen was asked to aggressively press tight ends when they were split wide.

Against Dennis Pitta, Allen gave up a first down on his first target. Allen was forced to play off coverage as the Ravens\’ receivers bunched. He was rubbed off by a streaking receiver as Pitta went across the field. No corner would have prevented him from making the first down, Allen did excellently to prevent him from gaining more yards.

In single coverage with speedy receiver from Baltimore Torrey Smith, Allen gave up 14 yards on a double move. While he did give up the first down, Allen did brilliantly to trip Smith and prevent a sure touchdown once he had passed him. Allen showed off his agility and speed in that moment. Very few corners can keep up with Smith in the open field.

The Steelers rarely used their dime package on the Ravens\’ final game winning drive. That appears like a mistake in hindsight as Flacco picked apart the defense. Allen was left on the sidelines in favor of keeping Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons on the field.

Going forward, the Steelers\’ secondary is a lot less proven than it was last year. Presuming that Lewis emerges as the starter outside, Allen has the potential to actually improve the play in the slot for the team on passing downs.

You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf

  • Steelerfanmatt1933

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the Steelers secondary is alot less proven than it was last year. Sure, Gay is gone, but the other 3 guys all have more experience now.

    Either way, let’s just hope that the young guys step up, and not back.

  • neighborhood drunk

    Brown is the nickelback. Allen and Lewis will competing to start.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I personally expect that Allen will continue to get these kind of coverage responsibilities. Brown will find a role on the field as well, meaning we may have the 4 best coverage guys we have had in a long long time.

  • Sam

    Keenan Lewis is a nickel back only

  • SteelersDepot

    what? he is an outside corner only is more like it.

  • LouPGH

    So with Gay and McFadden gone, who else do we have if one of these guys goes down?

  • Pete

    If Brown continues to improve and impress he’s going to eventually end up a starting outside corner. I like the analysis of Allen and maybe he’ll be versatile enough to play nickel and outside. But I think you’re right. Allen will play nickel. The thing I see is that Brown and Allen are really talented. Our secondary is in good hands.

  • JZ

    Young guys will have training camp this year, more practice and reps and no more football strike!

  • steelman

    I think before reserving judgement, its a few things to take into consideration. I think the younger guys have the talent to succeed, but I think before annointing them the next big thing, you have to see them covering #1 or #2 quality receivers. besides the new england game, this was not the case. allen was covering #3’s and #4’s and brown didn’t even play. the preseason will determine if they are ready to take the step.

    in year 2, keenan was the cortez allen of the group and was supposed to be starting over macfadden. let’s not forget that then, he was the most athletic and best corner on the roster outside of ike according to the fans and media.

    I think another difference is the coverage the steelers were playing, when lewis came in. they were more of a zone team then.lewis was a man corner who had to learn how to play zone. when allen came in last year, they were playing more man, which was to his strengths. i think that with a year of game experience and being able to play his game this year, lewis will far exceed expectations.

  • BallSoHard

    Allen and Brown will compete for nickel

  • Broderick Wallace

    Cortez Allen was drafted in the 4th round! It never ceases to amaze me how ppl write about the Steelers yet fail to fact check the simple things. The writers for Pitt PG r the worst, they routinely screw up players’ positions.