Thursday is final day of the Pittsburgh Steelers first OTA session of the 2013 season and on Wednesday Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review passed along a little nugget on Twitter about the secondary that\’s worth mentioning. Kaboly reported that the Steelers plan to use cornerback Cortez Allen in the slot on nickel downs in 2013, and that sounds like a solid plan.
Last season, Allen played well in the slot as Pro Football Focus has him logging 204 coverage plays at that position while only giving up 26 receptions in 43 times thrown at for 237 yards with no touchdowns allowed and one interception. That equates to a 60.5% completion ratio and an opposing quarterback rating of 65.7, according to their numbers.
As Kaboly pointed out in his tweet, Allen has the speed to cover slot receivers and the size to match up against tight ends when playing inside.
As a rookie in 2011, Allen got his first real test at playing the nickel role in the Steelers defense in the Week 8 game against the New England Patriots. While the Citadel product didn\’t shut down Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in that game, he did hold him to just four catches on six targets for 44 yards and no touchdowns, which in my opinion, was a stellar performance.
With Allen believed to have that role in 2013, that means that fellow cornerback William Gay will more than likely come in and play outside when the Steelers use their nickel personnel. In 2011, Gay reportedly played 310 regular season snaps in coverage on the outside and allowed 25 catches in 48 times thrown at for 247 yards with two touchdowns allowed and one interception. That equates to a 52.1% completion ratio, a 5.15 yards per target his direction and a 72.1 opposing quarterback rating. Last season with the Arizona Cardinals, Gay didn\’t register numbers as good as that, so the hope is that a return to Pittsburgh in a more limited role will help him duplicate, or even better his 2011 stats.
While the above looks to be game plan in the secondary for the Steelers in 2013, they still will need a more improved pass rush than they\’ve had the last two seasons. It won\’t matter who plays where in the Steelers secondary if the opposing quarterback is allowed to sit in the pocket consistently.
While it might not have felt like it at times last season, the Steelers only allowed 3.3 yards per passing play on third downs in 2012 and that ranked them second in the league in that stat behind only the Denver Broncos. Just imagine how good the defense would have been last season had it provided more pressure on the opposing quarterback.
The Steelers allowed cornerback Keenan Lewis to walk off uncontested via free agency this past off-season because they are confident that Allen can fill his shoes as a starter. Gay was brought back because he fully understands the defense and because he can deliver roughly 500 snaps of playing time in the nickel personnel.
As long as the secondary can remain healthy, and as long as the pass rush can improve, I see no reason why the 2013 Steelers defense cant play at a championship caliber level once again.