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Will Steelers’ 2011 cornerbacks be better than 2010?

September 06, 2011 By: Admin Category: Players, training camp

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.

William Gay gets burned....again.

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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10 Comments to “Will Steelers’ 2011 cornerbacks be better than 2010?”

  1. eye-in-the-sky says:

    I think Lewis will be the difference. What you call mental errors were what I call untimely penalties caused by over aggressiveness. Not uncommon for young players desperately trying to earn playing time. I like aggressive corners, Lake will help him temper that, He’s hardly a “knuclehead” he was an academic all-american 3 of his 4 years in college. The more playing time he gets the better he will be, he’s probably the best cover guy on the team already…he’s got a helluva upside.

  2. I believe the Steeler CB’s will be better this year because:

    1) Troy will be healthy
    2) Aaron Smith will be healthy
    3) James Harrison will soon be healthy

    I agree with the overall point that, after Ike, we don’t really have much at the CB position. We can hope one of the young guys will step up and amaze us but it isn’t rational to expect it. As such, my belief is based on the defensive system.

    The Steeler defense is not predicated on having Revis at CB. It’s based on taking away the run, taking away the big play, and creating pressure on the QB. CB’s in the Steeler system are expected to keep their guy in front of them and sure tackling. Anything more than that is a bonus. We have an excellent D-Line, the best LB core in football, Troy, a quality FS, and 1 good CB. Yes, CB is our weakest defensive position but, with a salary cap, you can’t be great at every position.

    So, if the defense continues to take away the run (a near certainty barring a rash of injuries) and pressure the QB (a good chance unless facing an elite line and a quick accurate QB), the CB’s will be able to take away the big play and provide adequate overall coverage.

    On the template - yes it exists but it can be overblown at times. The conditions necessary for it to succeed are very hard to come by - you need an elite and accurate QB, quality and surehanded WR’s, and an ability to stop the Steelers pass rush. How many teams have all of that? 3?

    In those situations, Yes, those teams will be able to move the ball and put up points. It will be up to our offense top put up enough points to win those games. We can’t expect the defense to stop everybody all the time.

  3. Walter Maselli says:

    I have to laugh. They won the superbowl and they have been back to the superbowl. These guys are good. You can’t be great at every position.

  4. Hopefully, Lewis or the rookies can step up this year. I don’t feel like watching Brady in the playoffs repeatedly going after William Gay.

  5. @Eye-in-the-sky - I agree with you that Keenan Lewis has a lot of potential. But to name him the best cover corner right now is a bit insane. He’s not in the same class as Ike Taylor. If he were, he’d be starting.

    I don’t think that you can equate good grades in college to not being a knucklehead. Lewis has been hampered by mental mistakes, not physical limitations. Many of his mental errors have simply been a matter of him being too hot tempered. In other words, he behaved like a knucklehead.

    Antonio Brown got several penalties during the preseason for taunting. I absolutely love the kid. But despite that, he behaved like a knucklehead.

  6. @Walter - Yes, they won the Super Bowl, and lost another. Despite that, wouldn’t you have been happy if Keenan Lewis or Crezdon Butler had beaten out Bryant McFadden during the preseason? That’s what I thought.

    Similarly, the offensive line has performed well enough to get them to 2 Super Bowls. Yet, I was praying that Marcus Gilbert would play well enough to win a starting job.

    It’s true that no team can afford to be great at every position. But it’s quite reasonable to hope that one of the young players will beat out one of the more mediocre veterans.

  7. eye-in-the-sky says:

    @admin - I have to give you that, Ike IS a better overall CB without a doubt(even though Lewis is faster). But Ike has been in the league for 9 years. I just think fans sometimes are too impatient with the young guys. Go back and look at both Ike and Troy’s first 3 years and you’ll see what I mean. I think Lewis did earn his way into Tomlin’s dog house, but I think Tomlin kept him there too long. It was just growing pains.

  8. Eye-in-the-sky,
    Nothing will make me happier than to see Keenan Lewis supplant Bryant McFadden in the starting line-up. This is his 3rd year in the league. Let’s just hope that this is the year that Lewis finally gets it all together. :-)

  9. Dan Reisner says:

    I agree the key to beating the elite QB / receiving corps is to prevent a total meltdown on defense by bringing pressure and scoring multiple touchdowns on offense. Our D was good enough to beat GB in the SB but our offense did not score when it needed to and gave up a pick-six.

  10. @John, totally right about the template for beating the Steelers being difficult to actually put into practice. That’s what I say all the time. Our secondary (with the help of a great pass rush) will be fine against just about anyone who is not GB, NE, and maybe NO and SD. Of course, we’ll probably need to beat GB and/or NE to get another Superbowl. That’s where Roethlisberger, Mendy, Wallace, Sanders, Brown, Ward, and Miller need to win the shoot out, which I believe they can.


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