Steelers To Find Out If Secondary Is Worthy Of Postseason

If there is one thing that we can be certain about when looking back at the start of the season and speculating about this team, it’s that the Pittsburgh Steelers clearly don’t have the secondary that they thought they might have. But that tends to go without saying when you lose both of your starting cornerbacks for one reason or another.

The Steelers are 10-5 with a strong chance of finishing the year at home with a 11-5 record and finishing as the third seed in the AFC, however, securing a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2011. They’ve been able to accomplish much of this with the secondary that they have now.

But that raises the question of whether or not that secondary will be good enough for the postseason, or if it will be their downfall once they only have playoff teams to play, and in games in which it’s win or go home, when the intensity level increases.

The Steelers thought that they had their two starting cornerbacks for the year in Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, but it’s possible that neither of them play another down for the team this season. Allen, of course, has already landed on injured reserve with a hand injury, while Taylor has already missed most of the season and is battling further injuries now, unlikely to play in the season finale.

For the better part of the season now, the Steelers have relied on some veteran slot cornerbacks to play on the outside in William Gay, a longtime Pittsburgh veteran, and Brice McCain, an experienced but inexpensive free agent acquisition in the offseason.

They have supplemented that pair with Antwon Blake, the third-year speedy cornerback whom the Steelers acquired late in the preseason last year. He has seen extensive time lately as the outside cornerback in sub-packages, logging 51 snaps on Sunday and largely playing well, even if he nearly got beat deep on one occasion on an overthrown ball.

The Steelers have even managed to work in B.W. Webb, a second-year former fourth-round pick whom they acquired just before the regular season started, over the last two weeks, playing a total of four snaps on defense.

But is this a group of cornerbacks that can handle the playoff firepower of the likes of Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady? There are plenty of defensive passing metrics that readily suggest there is reason for concern.

The Steelers have given up the sixth-most yards through the air this season, as well as the fifth-most touchdown passes, giving up more than three touchdowns for every interception that they get back. Opponents are averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt against this secondary, the fifth-worst mark in the league.

They are allowing a quarterback rating of just under 100 and have surrendered 50 plays of 20 yards or more on the year, including 15 of 40 or more. As has been the case for much of the season, it seems that the Steelers’ best defense will have to be a good offense.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • dgh57

    Pressure on the QB from Tuitt , Heyward, Worilds, McLendon, and Harrison up front to help mask the deficiencies in our Secondary in our only hope from a defensive perspective.

  • DoctorNoah

    Wondering if you can break down opposing QB rating for games where Ike/ Cortez played vs Blake, Gay and McCain. Also, Troy, as much as we love him, has been a profound liability in coverage all year, with Mike Mitchell taking terrible angles as well.

  • steelster

    The last sentence said it all. It’s up to the offense and keeping the defense off the field. Controlling time of possession is the key.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    And last time I checked they were tops in time of possession. Keep up the good work. And, yes, the game plans against potential opponents may be very, very different, but they must gamble some and blitz often to find any success.

  • Julius Axel

    Huge mistake to put Taylor back on the field under any conditions. The top tier QB’s will attack him unmercifully with great success and blow open a tight game. The jelling & improved D Line is playoff worthy, if LB’s raise their consistency to playoff worthy we can eek out AFC playoff wins with the DB’s we’ve played in KC & Atl games provided Ben’s offense stays dynamic. Troy physically is finished, I hope he listens to his wife and retires, but mentally he’s still there. I think he helps out these two young corners.

  • steelster

    Yes. If they make it past the first round and then play against the Broncos. I really didn’t think they could beat the Broncos a couple weeks a go. Now they might be able to.

  • steeltown

    At the very least, McCain and Blake have speed to run with almost anyone, they do a much better job of shadowing WRs than Taylor and C.Allen were at the beginning of the season. But we are going to give up some yds and some big plays in the passing game, that much has been evident all season.

    Stop the run, tackle the catch and pressure the QB upfront is the recipe for this Defense in the playoffs this year.

  • Steelers@2010

    That’s the same logic the Franchise has used far too long. They need to stop ignoring the back-end of their defense, draft some quality DB’S. Far too long they have ignored fixing the secondary. But even when they tried, they’ve gone with scrubs! Drafting guys in the 5th and 6th Rds of the draft to only release them later. Then picking up scrubs and leftovers from other teams. Placing too much faith in Ike Taylor, a guy that clearly is playing on fumes; going with Cortez Allen, a guy that we all knew was too inconsistent coming into the year. The team has over achieved in 2014 mainly due to the high potent offensive weapons they have. I have no faith in their secondary, they give up far too many big plays. It will be interesting to see how the defense responds Sunday night. “GO STEELERS”

  • Leon Mcnair

    Troy just need to zstay back and play centerfield safety

  • dkoy85

    I think the way Bryant came in and helped push the offense to the next level, Tuitt will do the same for this defense. Pressure will be king for this defense in the playoffs and I’m excited to see what our front 7 can do from here on out. Unfortunately it’s probably too late to experiment with the Shark and Mitchell backfield.

    Oh, and dammit, why can’t Harrison be 6 years younger!!!???

  • blackandgoldBullion

    I miss all those great INTs Troy used to get. Now, when he plays beck there, he gets to the tackle or just a fraction of a second too late. He’s just lost a fraction but it’s enough to make a huge difference as the spectacular plays have diminished.

    Having said that, Atlanta’s coach was actually preaching to look for #43 and go the other way. They wanted no part of him. So he is still respected and can still blow up a lot of plays.

  • Weiss Chad

    I think Brice McCain has done a pretty good job.Blake is gritty and unlike Allen can keep the ball in front of him.

  • Biophys

    Pressure from the front 7 can help to prevent a QB from consistently throwing deep balls, but it won’t do much against the bubble screens that teams have been using against us. Gay, Blake, and McCain have all exceeded my expectations, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be drafting highly at that position. I cringed when we didn’t take Pierre Desir in the 3rd last year (nothing against Dri– I love the kid!).

  • Orlysteel

    If they bring the same heat that they put on Luck on Manning and Brady they have a shot.

  • Biophys

    I slightly disagree. I think that Ike could still be very effective against in covering some of the big play TEs out there. He is the only one big enough to match up against their physical play (except maybe a linebacker). If we face Gronk in the playoffs, I want Ike covering him (unless Shazier’s coverage skills have improved a lot).

  • Biophys

    They’ve played admirably for an undersized group. Who would’ve guessed that Willie Gay would score more points for us this season than Dri Archer and LaGarrette Blount combined?

  • Lack of pressure upfront has left the secondary exposed quite a bit.

  • Rick M

    The Steelers Front Office and MT deserve total credit for drafting guys like Bell, Bryant, Tuitt, DeCastro and some others. You have to be fair and recognize this.

    But, yeah, they have made some monumental errors in the secondary: not getting Keenan Lewis on the field early enough, rewarding Cortez Allen with $25 Million after a season in which he was benched; believing Ike Taylor whose performance plummeted in 2013 would somehow rebound at age 33; and going 10 consecutive drafts without choosing a CB in the first two rounds. If they do choose a CB in the first two rounds next spring – how can they not – I sure hope it’s the right one.

  • Mhocommenter

    Dear Depot nation: happy holidays. Had Odell Beckham fallen to us as #1 pick, would Martavis B be taken at round #4? Interesting what if.

  • IndianaCarson

    Speaking of what if–What if the Steelers had traded their 1st round and 3rd round picks to trade up 2 places to take Aaron Donald?

  • Scott

    I actually think our young defensive backs are starting to get more comfortable in Lebeu’s scheme. Remember, much of those stats were derived from the poor early season play of an ineffective Cortez Allen and Ike Taylor. Of course the improved pass rush has helped too. A better gauge would be to look at the stats over the last 5 games.

  • Reno

    Totally agree and very well said. The mindset of the Steelers and some fans has been all we need to do is bring pressure and we can get by with a below average to average secondary. Well what happens if you can’t get consistent pressure? The Steelers have managed to get consistent pressure in 3 out of 15 games this year. Combine that with lack of talent in the secondary and the end result are the stats in this article. The Steelers can’t simply keep gambling that they will get consistent pressure while ignoring upgrading the talent in the secondary any longer.

  • Matt Manzo

    Did the bengals do anything to the Broncos that we should be scared of? Besides win? I haven’t been able to see the game yet!

  • Steelers@2010

    Swell, we still need to beat Cinncy Sunday Night, that game will not be easy to win. The Bengals will be playing for pride just as they were Monday night. I think the Steelers will edge them in a close contest. But even then, most likely they will face San Diego, they’re no scrubs either.

  • steeltown

    Two things of note: Jeremy Hill had another solid game (147 rushing yds) and the Bengals D had 4INTs…some of that could be on Manning, he has really looked bad the last 3 weeks. Dalton had a below avg game, he too has looked bad the last couple weeks.

    My takeaway is, a) stop the run and b) don’t turn the ball over… but that’s basically the game plan every week.

  • SteveM2

    The Bronco team’s offense which played the Bungles on Monday was one-dimensional. If this continues into the postseason; they can be had.

  • JAMESH

    Tuitt is making Worilds look better who is making Harrison look better who is making Heyward look better, all making the secondary look better.

  • Dan

    Our secondary has clearly not played at a playoff-worthy level during the season. But the offense has shown some good spurts. The Steelers overall are playoff-worthy, but the team will really have to step it up if they want go to Arizona in Feb. We might consider this the year to get a little playoff experience for the years ahead when we may do some real damage in the post-season.

    If memory serves, Arizona isn’t a great Super Bowl location for the Steelers.

  • steelburg

    They actually tried to fix it with a few 3rd picks in Keenan Lewis and Curtis Brown and then a 4th with Cortez Allen and add in a few 5th round picks and they have put a lot of mid to late round picks in the position

  • NinjaMountie

    The secondary has issues, no doubt. I don’t think they are good enough to get us through Denver or NE; not a chance in my opinion. We have a chance to win our opening round game but that’s about it. The big question is what do we do about it for next year.
    I think our D has 3 big holes: Safety, CB and OLB. We may be able to put something together with what we have at OLB to make it through one more year but the Safety and CB positions will need upgrades galore. Seriously, the best case scenario is that Cortez can become mediocre again and Shamarko can upgrade Troy. We would still need a legit No.1 CB.
    If I were the FO I would gamble on this plan. You keep Mitchell and Cortez as starters as well as starting Shamarko. You have to resign Harrison if he’s willing to come back cheap and also Moats. Then you have to draft CB and OLB high in the draft. We would then need to address CB in FA as well and that’s probably all we could afford to do after bringing back our own guys. Lots of gamble in that plan because we really don’t know what Shamarko can do and it would be surprising if Cortez can be who we hoped he was.

  • steeltown

    I agree with most of this.. Mitchell and Shark starting with W.Allen and Ventrone behind them and WillieG and C.Allen as starters (atleast initially) with Blake and Webb and HOPEFULLY an early Rd CB.. at OLB, I don’t see how they can afford not to bring Moats back and then of course draft OLB early

  • sean mcmartin

    The secondary could be the downfall. Brady loves to pic apart the zone defense and does it well. give any of the top QB.s the usual 10 yard cushion and it will be no fun to watch.
    Unless they can keep pressure coming so there is no time to throw,

  • NinjaMountie

    I am really curious about Shamarko. He gets zero playing time and that concerns me. Do they have no faith in him (most likely) or is there another reason (less likely)?

  • dgh57

    I’m well aware of the problems we have in the secondary and the troubles finding the talent these past few years. In fact I wanted 2 CBs in the draft last year. What I am talking about is the here and now because not much can be done about the CB situation now either through the draft or FA.

  • dgh57

    You have to start somewhere and PRESSURE on the QB is the best place to start. I’m not saying the secondary doesn’t need fixing because it does.

  • Steelers@2010

    I agree, as they say, “it is, what it is.” I just hope Mr. Rooney gets more involved in next years draft. I can’t stand it when they waste a 5th and 6th Rd draft pick on a player they already know has very little chance of making the squad. I understand and respect their logic as well; it would be foolish to draft a player in the 1st Rd if they didn’t have them graded that high. However, what good is it to keep all their draft picks if the majority of their late picks aren’t going to make it anyway? Why not trade up and get a couple of quality individuals that could potentially help the team? Yes, every now and then you strike Gold in picking up a guy like Antonio Brown and Kelvin Beachum. But rarely does that happen. Imagine how lethal that defense could be it they had one decent corner and one decent safety?

  • Steelers@2010

    Yes, they did; I really thought Curtis Brown would turn out to be something special too. It just seems far too often as good as they have drafted WR’s, they simply have no clue when it comes to selecting DB’s. Keenan Lewis is the only decent CB they have selected since picking Ike Taylor back in 2003, I believe it was the 4th Rd. Since then, they have stunk-it-up!

  • Steelers@2010

    No, Troy needs to sit! Toss in Shamarko Thomas and lets see if he was worth giving up a 3rd Rd pick to draft a player in the 4th Rd. Oh Yeah! SMH

  • Tracy L Trent

    wasnt sb 43 played there where we beat kurt warner and the cardinals?…or no?

  • Mr jack

    did you see the same game i saw?

  • Mr jack

    I could see him doing that but only that…and im not sure he would be able to tackle him .

  • Mr jack

    Mitchell will shine with troy and ike on the bench .Mitchell will make 3-4 pics in playoffs if we keep those two on the bench.

  • Mr jack

    smart fan…many people do not understand that..

  • Mr jack

    I agree i love pittsburgh but the one things we tend to do is hold on to older players and let the young ones go who are on the upswing.Allen will be a stud but it still would be nice to have lewis.

  • Mr jack

    would not fit on our defense.

  • Rick M

    I don’t see them getting through Denver or N.E. either, unless their pass rush comes up really big. Manning and Brady are different QB’s when they have to contend with strong pressure (as are all QB’s). But that’s the only possible way we beat them. it’s scary thinking about Denver’s receivers going against our secondary with little pressure on Manning.

    As for the future, I agree with your suggestions. But I really don’t feel that Cortez – after being benched in both Years 3 & 4 – will suddenly become consistently competent in Year 5. That just doesn’t make logical sense to me. As for Shamarko, who knows. If ever there was a draft where the Steelers need to nail some secondary choices this is it. If I was them, I’d be prioritizing the review of college game ‘tape’ for OLB’s and secondary players the moment the season ends. Forget combine results next spring. Get the ‘tape’ on, focus on these areas and start analyzing.

  • Mr jack

    If they let sharmarko play they would have never be able to put troy back out their the fans would have a fit.Pittsburgh takes care of their players and they never want to make their players feel bad.

  • Matt Manzo

    Cool! I saw Dalton had like 147 yds passing, so I was wondering how they did it! I don’t foresee Ben throwing 4 ints!!!

  • Steve

    Well said, Broncos don’t scare me but the Pats always do. Jets made the Pats one dimensional, something our secondary will have trouble doing.

  • NinjaMountie

    Yea, the Cortez thing is a huge gamble but his cap numbers aren’t great for a cut, so I figure hope for the best! You are correct in saying we can’t afford to miss anymore on drafting the defensive side of the ball and nor can we push CB to late rounds anymore. We need to take the best one possible, unless the draft position is a total reach. CBs and OLBs…that needs to be the mantra of the FO and scouting personnel this off season.
    Hope you have a Merry Christmas

  • Steve

    Sure was, it was in Dallas where Green Bay beat our Steelers.

  • Steve

    Shark need to study his playbook and watch lots of tape, to prove he is our next safety.

  • Jeff Johnson

    That’s all they can do right now. We’re talking about this years playoffs and that is what they have to rely on is the front seven. They can’t fix the secondary until the off season and that won’t happen until after the playoffs are over for the steelers. They have to rely on their front 7 if they want to go far in this years playoffs.

  • Jeff Johnson

    I hope so to. I hope the Rooneys say enough is enough and tell Colbert and Tomlin to fix that secondary just like Dan Rooney told Colbert and Cowher in the 2004 draft that he wanted one of the top QB’s

  • Rick Eger

    You can’t fix everything at once the O-line and D-line as well as linebackers all needed up grades. I hope we go heavy for D.B.s in next years draft. We haven’t drafted a Cornerback on the 1st. round since Chad Scott in 1997 or a Safty since Troy in 2003. It’s time.

  • Rick Eger

    These guys are all 5’9, 5’10 we need D.B’s with some height!

  • Rick Eger

    Lol it’s not rocket science.

  • Rick Eger

    Ike took a huge pay cut to stay with the team.

  • Rick Eger

    Good to great talent can be found in the middle to late rounds for recievers. I like Bryant better than Beckham straight up.

  • Rick Eger

    Excuse me, not play off worthy? I guess we’ve been watching different teams?

  • Rick Eger

    You’re so far of base, Shamarko would be playing more if he had the talent. It’s not a popularity contest, they don’t play Troy for nostalgia. the secondary is make shift, just like the O-line was the last 4 or 5 seasons. It will be addressed and soon.

  • Rick Eger

    Shark needs to grow about 4 inches.

  • Rick Eger

    Funny I take a different approach, I see them winning the Super Bowl. But then I’m, an optimist!

  • JAMESH

    Neither is brain surgery.

  • Mhocommenter

    doesn’t sound logical to mee.

  • BlackNGold

    No, it was in Tampa

  • Tomislav Ivan Mikula

    I don’t think we need 2 cbs in the draft. We got Richardson next year, spend a 1st or 2nd rounder on a CB, we got Gay as a 2nd, and we will fill that 3rd spot. Webb, Richardson Blake Allen will fill

  • Tomislav Ivan Mikula

    I am Sorry but Troy does not need to sit. He has playoff experience and will make a big play.

  • Rick M

    Thanks! You as well NM.

  • Rick M

    Probably it’s right down the middle, i.e. little faith. They’ve clearly played rookies this year so the routine of not playing young guys in Year 1 and sometimes even Year 2 is gone. They just mustn’t like what they’re seeing in practice. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me as they’re smart enough to know it would be beneficial to get a sense of what they have in him before the draft.

  • dgh57

    It depends on what they do in FA and how many comp picks we get in next years draft. It may also depend on the flow of the draft as a DB/CB might fall to us. With the way our luck has gone drafting DB/CB it wouldn’t hurt to draft a late rounder to develop for down the road beyond the 2015 season.

  • Weiss Chad

    Another B lol that would be great

  • Weiss Chad

    I don’t think they take him if he was there.Not a good fit.

  • Weiss Chad

    We had no three to trade..

  • Weiss Chad

    I try to re sign worilds for about six mill a yr.let Mitchell get another year at safety because this safety class blows.Re sign Harrison and unfortunately let moats go due to cap providing Harrison don’t retire.This is where I know nobody will agree but I draft nose tackle Danny Shelton first rd just because this dude is sick.(if you haven’t seen him he is Casey Hampton 2.0.I love Mclendon but he is in my plans for second rd.Second rd try to trade your second and Mclendon to Browns,texans,or another 3-4 defense looking for dt.Use that pick for Alex carter cb Stanford.In the third u once again try to trade your third and fourth and if need be next years third to move up to end of second(maybe w patriots) and grab Ifo ekpre olamu cb from Oregon(would be top ten pick if it weren’t for torn acl and size .With my comp pick providing we get one for sanders I take either lg hopefully Tomlinson (duke)or maybe Kevin hogan qb Stanford or if rumors are true and Cody prewitt safety ole miss drops I’d look at him.Fifth rd cause I trade my fourth I try to steal jermaine crowder wr duke.He could be the steal of draft after fourth rd.Then I look for rb,and olb.That would make your future defense Tuitt,Shelton,Heyward,harrison(jones)Timmons,shazier,worilds,equals close to best front seven then you would have Carter,olamu,and gay at corners with shark and Mitchell at safety.I just feel like if we let worilds go we are temporarily taking a step back

  • lorrielorrie

    Pressure on the QB is KEY!

  • Rick M

    Ike Taylor plummeted to something like the 83rd rated corner in the league last year. If you think his play last year, and his age this year of 33, still warranted a $2.75 Million base salary (his revised salary) we’ll agree to disagree.

  • Steven Vincent

    It all depends on the pass rush. If there is pressure I think the secondary can hold up, but without it they are in trouble.

  • Steven Vincent

    I mostly agree with what you wrote. I would also like to see us go get Justin Houston in FA. We need a game changing pass rusher. Let’s put that baby to bed and just go get one. JJ, JW are not the answer. JJ is going to be a backup at best. JW will want too much money for the production he brings. I agree that James and Moats need to be resigned.

  • Danny Bowlin

    It seems to me it does not matter if you have good CB’s the way the game is today it is set so the O gets all the calls. Game is set so the O is to put up a lot of points. We need to look at all these teems and ask who can stop our O when it is on. I do not think any one can stop us when they are playing well.

  • Steelers@2010

    Gay has been superb! But he is more suited to play in their Nickel Defense, according to threads I’ve read coming out of Pittsburgh. Richardson? I thought they cut him, he is still there? Or is he on IR? I disagree, I think they need to look at two CB’s, the only thing Cortez Allen has done in the last three years is play inconsistent. Sometimes he looks as though he will be a star, then he looks like he isn’t even worthy of being on the P.S.

  • Steelers@2010

    I agree, all we can do at this point is talk, nothing the Front Office can do until off-season. But you know, its not like they haven’t addressed the issue in the past, its how they have gone about doing it. Second, who the hell is in charge of their Scouting Department? Apparently they have some issues there because the guys they have drafted have been scrubs. Allow me to elaborate, take a look at the DB’s selected in the past seven + years:
    2011 – Curtis Brown 3rd Rd – Cut
    2011 – Cortez Allen 4th Rd – Scrub?
    2010 – Crezdon Butler – 5th Rd – Lasted for one season – Cut
    2009 – Keenan Lewis – 3rd Rd – Allowed to leave via FA
    2009 – Joe Burnett 5th Rd – Cut after one season
    2008 – Ryan Mundy 6th Rd – Backup Safety at best – NY.
    Giants
    2007 – William Gay 5th Rd – Starter
    2006 – Anthony Smith 3rd Rd – Decent, but was an idiot
    2005 – Bryant McFadden 2nd Rd – Had two solid years, left
    via FA, was resigned but never panned out
    2004 – Ricardo Coclough – Bust!
    So you see, they have addressed the issue in years past, they just haven’t done a good job of evaluating players. Yes, they never know nor understand how a player will turn out, a famous quote by Kevin Colbert. But that is a poor excuse for drafting duds for over a decade.

  • Steelers@2010

    I just replied to Jeff Johnson, take a look at it when you can, would like to hear your feedback.

  • Steelers@2010

    I agree with you 100%!

  • Steelers@2010

    Ike is done Julius, I’m a huge fan of Ike Taylor, I have his Jersey as well. But he’s done, too slow, he doesn’t have it anymore.

  • Steelers@2010

    You know, you could be on to something there, I’m not optimistic about Mitchell as of yet. I’m not impressed at all with what I’ve seen thus far.

  • Steelers@2010

    Exactly! Wasting late draft picks on scrubs. I agree with as well that the Rooney’s have allowed D. LeBeau to get too emotionally involved with his players, having a hard time to know when it’s time to say goodbye.

  • Steelers@2010

    Troy is done! I’m glad he wasn’t selected to the Pro-Bowl too. Truth be told, the previous two times he was selected was based on pass performances. Troy is done just like Ike Taylor. The Fans need to move on just like the Front Office and D. LeBeau.

  • Leon Mcnair

    Cortez Allen,is,done can’t anybody see,that keep,Blake and McCain

  • Mr jack

    At this point in his career Troy should not be on a NFL roster..

  • steeltown

    People said the same exact thing about Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, both were benched at some point in their careers

  • Rick Eger

    Troy’s earned the right to decide when he retires……not some bandwagon @sshole.

  • Rick Eger

    You make very good points, it seems funny that the Steelers can find good too great Wide Outs in the mid too late rounds. But can’t find help in the Defensive Backfield. that’s a trend that has too change.

  • Rick Eger

    Probably, they can break down anything these days. You’re right about Troy I hope he retires this year and doesn’t hang on and embarrass himself.

  • Rick Eger

    Every team has bad luck in the draft. Look at the year Clowny just had.