Film Room: Brian Allen Figures It Out Friday Night


It’s been an up-and-down camp for rookie Brian Allen. His run fits and tackling looked better than his coverage. In the latter, he looked like how he was billed out of Utah. Raw.

But on his one target Friday night against the New York Giants, Allen was perfect. Color me surprised. And excited.

The Giants had a final drive to try and tie up the game. On 3rd and 9, rookie QB Davis Webb heaved a pass down the left sideline. On paper, in the box score, Allen and Malik Golden broke up the pass. But it was the how that was interesting.

A common misconception about playing cornerback is that they always have to get their head around to the ball. Find the ball, pick it off, reduce the chances of pass interference. But it’s a blanket statement that isn’t always effective.

In the NFL, quarterbacks are just too accurate. Receivers too fast. Look back for the ball, take your eyes off your man, and you’re likely to get burned. You’ll get “out of phase,” meaning you’re no longer in a hip-to-hip relationship with the receiver. And being a step behind is all it takes to allow a huge play at this level.


Unless the coverage is airtight, there’s a better solution. Keep your eyes on the receiver. He will take you to the ball. After all, that’s where the quarterback is throwing it, not to the DB. Of course, you can’t see the ball but the receiver will tell you when it’s coming. Their body language, eyes getting big, hands beginning to extend away from their body. That’s when the ball is there and that’s when the corner can make a play.

From Brophy Football, one of Nick Saban’s DB coaching points.

“When a corner is “out-of-phase” (i.e. low-shoulder with no help) he cannot look for the ball (he is not in a position to be a receiver) and must play the ball through the reception (catch up to receiver and discourage the completion).”

Allen does all that really well. Off the line, he’s arguably a little out of phase, working against rookie WR Keeon Johnson (who is a good athlete). In practice, I’ve too often seen Allen try to become the wide receiver – that’s his background – and look back for the ball. And it would put him out of position, far behind the play, and unable to compete at the catch point (where the WR grabs the ball).

One, brief example of that came from Brandon Dixon earlier in the game. Looks back for the ball, winds up grabbing the receiver because he can’t see him, and gets flagged.

Instead, Allen keeps his eyes glued on the WR’s eyes, maintains his speed (looking back often slows the defender up, hard to turn your head and still run at full speed).

When the receiver begins to extend his hands, Allen swipes down to play the catch point and knock it away. No penalty, remains in-phase, and can finish the play.

Allen is in there to initially break it up and Golden comes across to finish the play.

If Allen is able to do this consistently, he has the physical traits to thrive. The speed, physicality at the top of routes, and length to finish that will make him an effective press/man corner.

Because playing man isn’t about picking off 10 passes. Zone corners get to have their eyes peeled to the quarterback and ball. Man corners have to play, just that, their man, which means technique and finishing at catch points makes all the difference. This is really good tape for him and hopefully something he consistently does the rest of the preseason.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • Michael Mosgrove

    sorry alex he was gettin turned around all night. he didnt show much of anything outside that play.

  • VaDave

    For his first pro action he showed what he is, potentially a year or more away from being a big time player in this league. Nothing more. That said, I am interested to see how he reacts to seeing himself on tape over the next couple of games. For some it’s a good thing. Others might go in the tank. We will see.

  • Ace

    Nice work here Alex. Better work by BA. Picture perfect way to play the catch. Feel like he gave up a catch early when he got spun around the wrong way. He will have his growing pains, but if he “gets” this part of the job, I think he will develop nicely. I mean, this is pretty much the hardest part of the job right? The moment of truth, if he turns around here to look for the ball he loses that step. Golden still might disrupt the catch but still…

  • Michel Smiffi

    I agree. He had one Curl run against him where he just kept on running about 10 yards downfield despite the receiver turning back to the ball and catching it.

  • Lambert58

    Good stuff Alex. Glad to hear that Allen made the most of his opportunity and is learning to be the CB rather than the WR. We sure could use his talent on the field.

  • Rob H

    Nice piece and clip.
    I think some fans have a hard time grasping what they need to be looking for from a player like Allen right now. The ability to learn, and show incremental improvement each week, with the occasional flash of what he could bring to the table with those physical tools of his. He’s going to look bad at times, often in the beginning, he’s had two weeks of training camp and one preseason game.
    Now we see if he continues to show growth in practice this week, and the next game.

  • Alex Kozora

    Baby steps. This one play was really critical considering how he looked in camp.

  • hdogg48

    I see him as more of an in the box zone cover
    guy in the dime to lay some wood on the
    crossing patterns over the middle and offer
    run support than a man cover guy.

    I like his size, length and speed. Teach him to
    tackle first, then teach him to cover.

  • john bennett

    A 5th round draft pick that makes a big time play, you need to be happy for him and have faith that Lake coaches him up.

  • Dave

    Nice write up on his growth in man-to-man defense. I think a lot of people forget that even many first round talents need a year or two coming into the NFL. With his speed and length I could see him making the 53 since we have nobody on the roster with his combo. His receiving skills make him intriguing as extra free safety depth playing the ball.

  • Ace

    Alex did you do a one step to take on BA? Or is that mostly for vets? Would be cool to take your ‘one steps’ and expand onto articles like this to see if they are taking those steps forward or backward.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Disagree. Allen was jamming his man at the LOS better than any DB we put on the field last night. Sometimes knocking his man completely off his route. That’s why he didn’t get targeted very much.

    Allen gets “turned around” when he’s playing ZONE, not so much with MAN press. I saw 3 distinct plays where he jammed his man and turned his head to look for the ball (just like Sherman does). Perfect form.

    Is Allen still raw? Of course. Does he make mistakes? Of course. But our #2 CB (Cockrell) had a couple of bad gaffes as well (and he’s been playing the position for much longer).

  • Alex Kozora

    It was vets only. Didn’t write anything on the rookies since they’re pretty much a blank slate. But we’ll definitely follow Allen’s progression closely.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Very well said. You have know what you’re looking for to evaluate a project like Allen. You’re looking for improvement. And flashes of brilliance.

    Look at Artie Burns last year. TONS of mistakes. But flashes of brilliance as well. Now (after one year) Antonio Brown is calling him a worthy opponent.

  • Wayne’O

    Great play and technique by Allen. And he looks very smooth running, showed great recovery speed.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    Off coverage is the hardest coverage to play…give an NFL WR any wiggle room and it usually ends in a completed pass. Offenses are designed for the QB to read the coverage pre snap and get the ball to a designated receiver in a disignated spot within a certain allotted time (3/5/7 step drop backs, the back foot hits and the pass is on the way).This is why QB’s now complete 65%+ of their passes. If a D has CB ‘s who are talented enough to play man timing is off and the defense can catch up to the machinations of the offense…sacks/incompletions/QB hits/passes defensed/pics begin to happen when timing is thrown off.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    That play is how it was drawn up…

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Alex -excellent analysis and use of photos to illustrate your points.

    I wasn’t sure if Allen had a good game; just didn’t notice him until that one break-up. but you explain cogently why he had a very good game.

  • Mr. Goodkat

    All I want for Christmas is for this guy to make the roster/PS and be ready to shadow Gronk (at least in the RZ) week 15 (and hopefully the AFCCG)

  • Alan Tman

    Nice Alex!!

  • newguy68

    Nice write up. Been in this guy’s camp since the day Steelers drafted him. Be nice to see how he (and the rest of the young’uns) play in their 2nd preseason game against ATL.

  • John Pennington

    Well if playing corner doesn’t work out they can always put him back as a reciever just saying.The young man has upside you never know when you might need his service as a reciever.Gives Ben another tall target to throw to.This could be fun.

  • joe triplehorns

    Doesn’t matter. Allen gets to practice squad. Then another team steals him. Sorry people that’s how this all works out in the end.

  • MC

    Great time on the breakup. I’ve seen previous corners on our team draw flags by breaking it up too early.