By Matthew Marczi
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen entered the 2013 season targeted as a player ‘on the ascent’, both within the organization and on the outside, perceived as a possible breakout player after a supposed explosion of turnovers late last season that was taken as a clear sign of the next Charles Tillman.
To me, that was never why the team was so readily willing to part ways with Keenan Lewis in order to hand the reigns over to Allen, even though the defense has been starving for turnovers the last few years. Rather, it was because he never blew an assignment and was always a sure tackler.
In his first two seasons, in over 600 total snaps, Allen only missed five tackles while making 55. Yet coming off an ankle injury, the third-year cornerback missed three tackles—four if you count the diving attempt on Greg Jennings near the goal line—against the Minnesota Vikings. A recap, for your viewing pleasure:
Third and three. A simple pattern for a first down turns into a 70-yard touchdown because Allen overcommits outside, allowing Jennings to turn inside. Not that the rest of the defense helped much. Allen at least shows the hustle to miss another tackle at the end of the play.
First and 10, Steelers now down three early in the third quarter. Allen is isolated one-on-one with Jerome Simpson, who outmaneuvers him inside and then stiff-arms him for about an extra eight yards.
Early fourth quarter. This is essentially the same play that Jennings turned into a touchdown in the first quarter. This time Allen gets a somewhat better angle, but Simpson turns outside rather than inside and swims under the tackle attempt for a first down that need not have been.
The Steelers are making sure to point out to Allen that William Gay has played well in a starting role during the two-and-a-half games that he has missed.
In yesterday’s practice, the Steelers had Gay running the first team outside corner instead of Allen. When asked, Gay answered that he was “just stepping in”, saying that "Cortez is dealing with an injury issue".
Yet, as Jim Wexell writes, Allen was not so injured that he could not play the nickel in that very same practice. Make no mistake that this is a message to Allen that he must play better. But don’t be surprised if that message carries on into next week, with Allen resuming his nickel role from a season ago until the team feels he can be trusted again on an every-down basis.