By Perry Biggerstaff
December 9, 2014
Week by week, we suffer through some terrible defensive football. We have seen deficiencies at virtually every position at one point or another this season.
But there is hope at most of the defensive positions due to new or young players who seem to have flashes of legitimate talent, even as they stumble through the expected first year mistakes of a complex defense. Tuitt...McCullers...Shazier...Moats. All these players have shown something that can make Steelers fans look forward to their second year in Pittsburgh.
That is the good news.
The bad news is that we have a secondary that can be upgraded at EVERY position. Both of our starting cornerbacks and our nickel corner have spent this entire season getting beat like they stole something. Yes, they have helped eek out wins. Yes, they have had a good play or two per game. But cornerbacks that have a good play or two a game are called "backups" on most teams. Ike Taylor wasn't good last year, yet we convinced ourselves to be optimistic about his return from an injury. Cortez Allen has imploded and nothing short of a change of scenery might motivate him into finding that player that teased us with hints of being special. I want to like William Gay. He is obviously a good person. He has made some memorable plays for us this year and if you are a stat watcher he appears to be an above average player. The problem is that he is a good "nickelback" that has been forced into the #1 and #2 cornerback positions in which he is woefully inadequate to handle. He is 5'10" and doesn't have quick twitch reflexes or straight line speed. Short and slow are not conducive to success as a starting NFL cornerback.
And yes, I know I said EVERY position in the secondary can be upgraded. Mitchell has yet to be the player that all of us were hoping he would be when we picked him up. Poor tackling and poor field awareness have been the norm more often than not. We can also add a fiery and immature temperament to the equation, that has cost us field position with stupid penalties.
Now we come to Troy Polamalu. I love Troy. I appreciate the fact that he is one of the best that has ever played the position. I appreciate the fact that he has given us a lifetime of plays that can only be called supernatural. But Troy v.2014 isn't the same player that he was a few years ago. It pains me to watch this version of Troy, who is not only out of position more often than I care to admit but it has become obvious that we have built this defense around some of his deficiencies. Quarterbacks used to fear Troy. They avoided his side of the field and they lived in fear of not knowing where he was. Now, not only does he not shut down his side of the field, he is rarely asked to cover at all.
I have hopes for Shamarko Thomas and I pray he becomes a starter. I occasionally like what I see in Brice McCain and Antwon Blake, but when I take off the black and yellow glasses, I realize that I often give them more credit than they deserve. They are wave players. It's only through the low standards that this secondary has given us over the last two years that I find myself excited about players that are probably little more than decent nickel cornerbacks on most teams.
In this next draft, and through free agency, the Steelers need to focus on bringing legitimate young talent into our secondary. There is zero possibility that we draft less than two cornerbacks in 2015. There is a better than average chance that we try and lure a seasoned vet or two to the friendly confines of Heinz Field. Both of those options are probably more likely than anyone in our existing defensive backfield having the light bulb suddenly go on. So start your search among the upcoming free agents and scour the notes of your favorite draftniks. More importantly, pray that the front office is doing the same.
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