Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake cemented his place on this team last year with his special teams work, but in his second year with the organization, he plans to get himself on the field with the rest of the defense.
Blake figures to be battling with Brice McCain as the fourth cornerback on the depth chart, but safeties Will Allen and Shamarko Thomas will also likely be in contention for playing time in sub-packages this year.
The third-year corner got a long look on the outside last week in the preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers, and performed well overall before slipping up late and allowing a long reception.
Early in the game, Blake was lined up with Jerricho Cothery with the Panthers facing a third and six on the opening drive. Blake allowed the underneath route, but was able to push Cotchery out of bounds before he got the first down and gave the Steelers defense a chance to force turnover on downs on fourth and one.
During the Panthers’ second drive, the offense was faced with a second and long near midfield. With the defensive backs playing off coverage, Derek Anderson was able to find Kelvin Benjamin for an easy reception, but Blake was again able to come up and make the tackle before giving up a first down, bringing the big receiver down by the leg.
Anderson went back to the Benjamin-Blake matchup to open the Panthers’ third possession, given the significant height discrepancy. The quarterback fired a deep ball with Blake playing 10 yards off from the snap, and the defensive back was able to stay in front of Benjamin all the way, even having a chance at an interception.
Still in the game late in the second half, Blake showed good awareness in zone coverage on this play, coming back to the underneath receiver to tackle the catch after just a four-yard gain. The Steelers value strong tackling from their corners.
Blake would seem to have had another strong pass defense down the field two plays later on a ball that was a bit underthrown, but a roughing the passer penalty negated the play. Still, Blake was in good position on this play even if the ball were on target.
It’s still difficult to determine was exactly happened on this play because of the poor quality camera work and lack of sufficient replay, but Blake was obviously beaten in some way for a 53-yard gain, on which he wound up trailing by five yards.
The most likely explanation is that he was beaten by a double move or a fake to the inside, but it’s impossible to rule out Blake stumbling or getting tied up with the receiver in some way. Either way, the play was a clear outlier on the night, but it only takes one to open up a game. The Panthers scored the game’s only touchdown on the next play.