Why Steelers Need Cortez Allen on the Field


Cortez Allen had a rough time last year. After scoring a big contract that should have secured a long time starting corner for the Steelers Allen did not perform up to that level. It’s not unfair to say the contract was more hope than evidence based. He doesn’t have to be a pro bowler though; he just has to be good enough that they can put him on the field. This is the case for one simple reason: He’s over six feet tall.

Allen was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 out of Citadel. He was a solid performer, having made second team all-conference twice, but his measurables were really what sold the team on him. Allen was tall, long, strong, and ran well, particularly for his size. On top of that he was a solid tackler with a nose for the ball.

His rookie year was limited due to injury but he did see the field on special teams and occasionally on dime and nickel packages.

The 2012 season is really what gave the Steelers the confidence that had, and continue to have, in Allen. He played on nickel and dime packages and performed well. He really shined though when he moved to the outside due to injury.

Allen made a number of those “splash plays” Tomlin always talks about. Starting the last couple games he picked off Bengals twice and forced a fumble from AJ Green. In the final game he forced two fumbles against Cleveland. He was an Ike Taylor build that could force turnovers. It seemed the sky was the limit for this young corner. So much so that the Steelers let Keenan Lewis walk.

In 2013, as a starter, Allen didn’t really grow. His stats were nearly identical to the previous season. He struggled with injuries during that time. It was overall disappointing in light of expectations but he was still young and did have some injuries.

Before the start of the 2014 season Allen received a 5 year contract for over 5 million per year on average. In the major statistical categories Allen didn’t do that bad. He got tackles, he got interceptions, and he deflected passes. The major problem was when he messed up, it was a big mess up. He gave up several big pass plays, and yards after catch as well.

Steelers corners aren’t really expected to carry the defense. It’s great if they’re great, but at the very least there is one thing you cannot do as a Steelers cornerback and that’s let the receiver get behind you and let him get yards after the catch. That is the only unforgivable thing for a corner in this defense. He was benched in favor of relatively unknown Brice McCain and Antwon Blake.

Coaches spoke of a confidence problem, whatever that means. They compared it to when Ike Taylor was benched earlier in his career. We’ll see if Allen rebounds like Ike did. It’ll cost just north of 5 million per year as we wait for the answer though.

Maybe Allen will never make the Pro Bowl. Maybe he’s not going to the Hall of Fame. Maybe he won’t even be able to start full-time. The Steelers can get by in that scenario. What he does need to accomplish is getting off the bench though.

The reason for that becomes apparent when looking at the rest of the cornerbacks. Antwon Blake is 5’9”, William Gay is 5’10”, Robert Golden, 5’11”, Senquez Golson is 5’9”, Doran Grant is 5’10”, Gerod Holliman 5’10”, Shamarko Thomas is 5’9”, BW Webb is 5’11”… seeing the pattern here?

Mike Mitchell is 6’ and Will Allen is 6’1”. The Steelers secondary is small, too small. The only players 6 feet or over is the free safety and back up strong safety. All the corners besides Allen are 3 or 4 inches shorter than he is.

This is not to say a small corner can’t be successful in the NFL. They can, but not against a player like Mike Evans or Jimmy Graham. A player like that needs someone with some range on them or the quarterbacks going to just toss it up. That’s exactly what happened when Shamarko Thomas covered Gronkowski in that unfortunately memorable defensive disaster a few years back against the Pats.

Sure, you could put a linebacker on a TE sometimes. But we have some young linebackers, and pass coverage is typically something linebackers have to adjust to in the NFL. On top of that, that’s one less pass rusher. On top of that, a linebacker can’t cover Mike Evans, or Calvin Johnson, or AJ Green.

As the only secondary player with any height the Steelers have to be able to get Allen on the field at least some of the time or with at least some matchups. If not, we better hope the offense can make up for our defense again. Luckily, they might be able to, but everyone has an off game. The Steelers would rather not have to rely on the offense to play defense too.

Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com has reported that Allen started off OTAs at the nickel spot. For now, that’ll do. Let’s hope it sticks.

Next: Steelers Training Camp Schedule Set

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