The Pittsburgh Steelers look awfully smart one year out for having re-signed William Gay last offseason, turning in arguably the best year of his career in 2013 and stepping into the starting lineup in representative fashion when Cortez Allen was injured, and then again when Allen struggled on the field.
It’s quite a luxury to sign a nickel back who has the ability to step in and play on the outside if necessary, but the Steelers would probably like to get Gay back into the slot.
Not because he disappointed on the outside, but rather because he excelled while covering the slot. In fact, he was among the best last season.
While he spent 541 snaps in coverage in 2013 for the Steelers, about half of those snaps—267 to be exact—came in the slot. And while his overall numbers are good, they are even better when he played in the slot.
In total, Gay ranked eighth among cornerbacks in allowing just 0.91 yards per snap in coverage. Only Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman allowed less than 0.84 yards per coverage snap.
In the slot, Gay ranked second in the league, allowing just 0.73 yards per coverage snap. He allowed just 194 yards on 23 receptions in his 267 snaps from the slot.
When it comes to cover snaps per target and per reception, he was just middle of the road, having been targeted once every 6.1 snaps, and allowing a reception once every 10.4 snaps. Both ranked him within the 35-40 range among 81 qualified cornerbacks.
Those numbers improve dramatically in the slot. Nobody with the required snaps was better, in fact. He was targeted the least often and gave up receptions less frequently than every other qualified cornerback league-wide. He was targeted just once every 7.4 snaps and gave up a reception just once every 11.6 snaps.
While his overall passer rating allowed ranked a respectable 21st overall at 72.9, he had the sixth-best such rating while working in the slot, relative to other slot corners, at 66.2.
His sole interception, which he returned for a touchdown, came in the slot, while the only touchdown that he gave up came while working on the outside.
The Steelers brought Gay back to Pittsburgh to play the slot, and when he was allowed to focus on doing just that, he excelled. Playing in the slot allows him to mask some of his physical shortcomings while accentuating his football intelligence.
There’s no doubt that the defense benefited greatly from Gay’s ability to pinch hit on the outside for Allen while he was ailing or struggling. But for the Steelers to play their best on defense this season, they need to be able to count on Allen holding up his end of the bargain by becoming a reliable outside corner and allowing Gay to stay in the slot.