Most Steelers fans would probably agree that the team’s weakness over the past few years has been their cornerbacks. Some would even argue that the weakness at cornerback is what cost the Steelers another ring in Super Bowl XLV.
In Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers used a formula that is becoming the template for beating the Steelers. They used 3, and even 4, wide receivers to spread the Steelers’ defense. They focused on the passing game, knowing that running on the Steelers’ defense is basically futile. They picked on Bryant McFadden early and often. And they took advantage of mismatches against the Steelers’ 3rd and 4th cornerbacks.
This wasn’t a new battle plan. The New England Patriots have used this formula for years against the Steelers. In fact, I remember one game several years ago in which Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw the ball on over 90% of the offensive plays. They used short passes to Wes Welker as their de facto running game. The Patriots understood that running on the Steelers is almost impossible, but passing against them is relatively easy.
We’re less than a week away from the first game of the 2011 season, and the obvious question is, “Have the Steelers strengthened the cornerback position?”
To answer that question, we have to look at the Steelers’ roster at cornerback. The starters at cornerback in 2010 were Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden. According to the Steelers’ current depth chart, the two starter for the 2011 season opener will be………..Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden. The only difference will be that both players will be a year older, and Ike Taylor will be playing with a broken thumb. Yikes!
The Steelers’ 3rd and 4th cornerback in 2010 were William Gay and Keenan Lewis. Neither player inspired much confidence in Steelers fans. Gay would occasionally make great plays. But he was just as likely to get burned for a touchdown. And Lewis seemed to be such a knucklehead that his mental errors offset his significant physical tools.
So what have the Steelers done to upgrade their nickel and dime defenses? According to the Steelers’ current depth chart, the 3rd and 4th cornerbacks in 2011 are ……..William Gay and Keenan Lewis. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
Admittedly, Lewis has looked a little better than he did last year, but William Gay looks like the exact same guy.
In 2010, the Steelers’ 5th & 6th cornerbacks were Anthony Madison and Crezdon Butler. But the truth is that Madison was used almost exclusively as a special teams ace, and Butler saw about as much playing time as I did. In other words, they were both non-factors in the Steelers’ defense.
So how have the Steelers upgraded their 5th & 6th cornerbacks for 2011. Butler and Madison are both gone, and they’ve been replaced by two rookies; Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. Both Brown and Allen were hurt for much of training camp and the preseason, so neither got on the field very often. So in essence, the Steelers kept two rookies who have little chance of seeing any action this year. In other words, Brown and Allen are likely to be non-factors, just like Butler and Madison before them.
Simply based on physical tools, I would say that Brown and Allen have an advantage over Butler and Madison. But until they translate their physical tools into actual on-field play, it’s hard to determine whether they’ll ultimately be better than Crezdon Butler and Anthony Madison.
So, it seems that the Steelers have 4 cornerbacks who are likely to see the majority of the playing time, just like in 2010. In fact, the 4 cornerbacks are the exact same guys.
Only time will tell if the Steelers’ cornerbacks will perform better in 2011 than they did in 2010. But the fact that the first 4 guys on the roster are exactly the same, doesn’t leave me with a whole lot of optimism.
Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. For the Steelers’ sake, let’s all pray that he was wrong.
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