Steelers stubbornness on cornerbacks must end for playoff push


The Pittsburgh Steelers’ stubbornness regarding their inept cornerbacks must end if the team wants to succeed in – let alone reach – the 2015 NFL Playoffs.

The ignorance of this problem by the Steelers organization has been nothing short of embarrassing. Week after week, the secondary gets torched, and week after week, the issue is merely swept under the rug. Against the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday, Pittsburgh surrendered 336 passing yards and 5 touchdowns to QB Russell Wilson.

Coach Mike Tomlin’s response?

“We gave up some big plays on defense, that’s part of it,” said Tomlin in his postgame press conference.

SOME BIG PLAYS?! Watching Wilson slice the defense apart on every possession does not equate to giving up ‘some big plays’. Letting a run-of-the-mill receiver like Doug Baldwin erupt for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns on six catches doesn’t, either. Nor does allowing Jermaine Kearse, another ham-and-egger, to score twice when he previously caught a single touchdown all season.

Over the last three games, the Steelers’ secondary has allowed a whopping 964 total passing yards. That averages out to 321 yards per contest. On the season, the team ranks 28th in the NFL against the pass. The bye week probably threw for 300 yards against Pittsburgh.

Evidently, this defense has a massive problem on its hands. At 6-5 and clawing for an AFC Wild Card spot, a shakeup to the depth chart seems like the rational solution, right?

Nope. Not when Tomlin’s ego stands in the way.

Cornerback Antwon Blake, the primary culprit in this whole saga, has done nothing this year to uphold his starting status. He’s made two clutch interceptions, sure, but his pure man-to-man abilities are atrocious. His awful tackling doesn’t help matters either.

Blake was burned by Baldwin all game. The most glaring miscue was seen in Baldwin’s 80-yard touchdown that sealed the game for the Seahawks. Biting on Baldwin’s quick move and then whiffing on the tackle, Blake could do nothing but watch as the ‘Hawks clinched the win.

Fellow cornerbacks Ross Cockrell and William Gay didn’t fare much better. After a stout first quarter, Wilson made one third-down conversion after another, almost always thanks to the out-of-breath cover men. Safeties Mike Mitchell and Will Allen certainly aren’t excused, although it is hard to effectively play safety when your corners are getting torched every play.

Side note: Allen is 33. This team had better find his replacement at strong safety. Based on current trends, it seems likely that the Steelers will just blindly throw in Shamarko Thomas next season and pray for the best.

Ultimately, though, the real issue goes back to Tomlin’s refusal to accept defeat. Through of all this mess, the best cornerback on Pittsburgh’s roster has only taken a handful of defensive snaps, and for no other reason than pure stubbornness.

Brandon Boykin is the cure (at least temporary treatment) to the Steelers’ cornerback troubles. A former slot standout with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Steelers wasted traded a fifth-round pick for him in the offseason to merely have him provide an extra jersey. Boykin has made a splash on special teams for consecutive weeks. His eagerness to take over at corner is palpable, but Tomlin refuses to acknowledge that his homegrown corners are a disaster. 

The #1 excuse circulating around Boykin’s absence is that he doesn’t know the playbook. What’s worse, a talented corner who makes a mistake every now and again or a whipping boy corner who makes a play once every five weeks?

Pittsburgh’s next three games are against the Colts, Bengals, and Broncos. Three AFC teams in better standing than the Steelers, and three teams with electrifying wide receivers. With Ben Roethlisberger constantly fighting injuries, this defense needs to be exceptional to keep the Steelers’ playoff dreams alive.

Next: Steelers team quotes and comments

No more film breakdowns, no more dodging questions, no more excuses. If Mike Tomlin is serious about being an AFC contender, he needs to swallow his pride and give Brandon Boykin the #1 cornerback spot that Antwon Blake has handed him.